Undoubtedly television is a media platform that continues and will forever remain as one of the major symbols regarding the progression of representation of different groups and diversity. This medium has undergone transformative changes in diversifying who and what we see onscreen, as well as how fairly and accurately they are portrayed. I thought about ‘power positions’ and ‘power players’ in the industry and though women representation onscreen, whether it’d amount to films with female heroines, all female casts, or women leads in television shows on major networks, these tenets allowed me to look at the meanings of those depictions. It occurred to me how a majority of women that fit into the frameworks of those categories and narratives were white women. Indeed, it is a historical indicator of change for the sudden surge of women who take on these roles, but my issue here is, why exactly is that representation in the different kinds of women we see so limited?
I began to wade through the pools of women minorities who are less equally represented in such lead roles, as well as these women being able to voice the entirety of their own creative input and become leaders in fields that have consistently remained to be male-dominated. So upon reading the prompt for this assignment and seeing the phrases ‘women and minorities in the media industry’ and ‘alternative media sources,’ my mind immediately drew to the power hierarchy in the entertainment industry and positions that require leadership, agency, or a woman taking control into her own hands. Statistically, there has been a subtle increase of writers, producers, directors, authors, etc., in the industry today, but these statistics are not substantial enough to even be deemed significant changes for female representation in Hollywood.
The other night I was watching ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallon’ on NBC solely because one of my absolute role models (and most importantly someone I’d want to be BFF’s with more than anybody) was a guest on the show. It’s very significant how Mindy Kaling has established her place in an industry largely dominated by white males. Of course, she’s not the typical woman you’d see in Hollywood. Her influence is bred from not only being a director, actress, producer, author, and writer, but as a woman of color and a minority. She’s written, acted, and directed in the NBC series The Office and now directs, produces, writes, and stars her own sitcom show titled The Mindy Project on Fox. She gives a voice and representation on television for people who rarely see themselves represented onscreen. For someone, especially a female, to have those credentials is incredibly inspiring. What I love about her, is that she is fine with who she is and the media praises that. There is an issue here, however. She is very aware and acutely in-tune with how the industry tries to categorize her. For example, when it comes to body image, she remains puzzled as to why the media celebrates her choice into being who she is and staying true to herself.
It’s easy to simply celebrate Kaling’s statements on body image in Hollywood, but the actress reminds us how ridiculous it actually is when a statement like “I don’t have any use for being any thinner than what is healthy” translates into “I don’t subscribe to beauty ideals.” Kaling showed Kimmel a much-celebrated picture of her in a crop top, and lampooned the bizarre assumption that average-sized women don’t care how they look:“My career has only become what it has out of sheer need, not because I wanted it that way.” I knew if I wanted to perform I was going to have to write it myself.
On her March 31 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kaling discussed the universal praise she earned for telling Vogue “she doesn’t want to be skinny.” People were like, ‘That’s so great that you said it,’ and I didn’t think that was so weird,” Kaling told Kimmel. “Every woman I know feels that way.
Kaling is vocal and very aware of the ways her gender and ethnic background have impacted her career in the past, but she has never felt the need to define herself by those labels. She acknowledges the backlash she’s received for the media criticism rooted in not incorporating more “diversity” in her show The Mindy Project. While she agrees with this, she also points out the hypocrisy of various media outlets for even pointing that out to begin with. “Would the same be said of a successful, self-confident man? Would the same be said of Chuck Lorre or Lee Arohnson? No — a confident man gets a pass, but a confident woman deserves to be criticized and put back in her place. In an industry dominated largely by white men, Kaling is a threat to the status quo: she’s young, a woman, and a minority. There’s no one else like her in the business right now, which means she has had to work twice as hard and fight to get to the top, and she is no doubt very aware of how much she stands out and how hard she must work to prove herself.”
After the release of the New York cover story, Kaling has become the subject of much internet ire, with bloggers and TV critics calling her a variety of adjectives: smug, too self-satisfied, cocky, “the human equivalent of a retweeted compliment.” But women are supposed to be self-deprecating! How dare she feel confident about her career achievements? (Chitall).
Kaling told Vulture in September, 2012: I never want to be called the funniest Indian female comedian that exists. I feel like I can go head-to-head with the best white, male comedy writers that are out there. Why would I want to self-categorize myself into a smaller group than I’m able to compete in? (Zellinger).
I chose Kaling as a necessary and indeed successful alternative media source, not only because she’s the first woman of color to star, write, direct, and produce her own television show on a major/mainstream television network, but because I became angry that she was being unfairly singled out and held to a higher standard because of her ethnic background. Nobody ever has anything to say about television shows with predominantly white casts, such as CBS’ The Big Bang Theory. They’re rarely or aren’t even asked at all about the possibilities or suggestions of including multi-ethnic characters or the lack thereof.
“I look at shows on TV, and this is going to sound defensive, but I’m just going to say it: I’m a … Indian woman who has her own … network television show,” Kaling said during the session. “I have four series regulars that are women on my show, and no one asks any of the shows I adore — and I won’t name them because they’re my friends — why no leads on their shows are women of color, and I’m the one that gets lobbied about these things.”
She is a woman whose influence is growing larger and larger by the day, and I immediately drew from the ideology of the power hierarchy in the entertainment industry (writers, producers, directors, etc) and how positions that require leadership are severely lacking for women. Kaling defies that and her honesty regarding being an Indian woman in the entertainment industry is certainly important.
Kaling, Mindy. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). Random House LLC, 2011. Print.