Every Monday, Culturess chooses one woman in pop culture to be our Woman of the Week. These women inspire and empower us to kick ass, take names, fight the good fight, and live our best lives. Today, our Woman of the Week is Mindy Kaling!
Mindy Kaling is so many things. Her titles include writer, actress, producer, TV creator, executive producer, author, and comedian. But I think her most important role is that of example. Because since Kaling burst onto the mainstream comedy scene in The Office, she has been a role model to women who don’t fit a traditional “leading lady” type. Simply by working hard and achieving her goals, Kaling has given inspiration to countless girls and women who aspire to write and act, particularly Indian women.
Kaling got her start with a staff writing job on the American adaptation of The Office. But what first brought the newcomer to the attention of the show’s producers was not an audition or an interview, but her own work itself.
When she was in college at Dartmouth, Kaling co-wrote a play called Matt & Ben. The hilarious tale chronicles the adventures of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and how they came to write the script for the movie Good Will Hunting. The play premiered off-Broadway, where Kaling played Ben, and ultimately led to her opportunity on The Office.
Mindy Kaling in The Mindy Project, Screengrab via Hulu
Kaling’s The Office character, Kelly Kapoor, is iconic. But her status as the most prolific writer on the show, with 25 episodes, contributed even more greatly to the culture. Kaling started her job at The Office when she was only 24. At 30, she received an Emmy nomination for co-writing the episode “Niagara.” At 31, she made her television directorial debut with the episode “Body Language.” And by 32, she was an executive producer on the show.
The Office ended in 2013, but as prolific as Kaling was, we all knew she wasn’t going anywhere. In fact, she was already developing a new show – her own, this time. This eventually became The Mindy Project, which chronicles the trials of Dr. Mindy Lahiri. The Mindy Project has been revolutionary in so many ways. First, of course, it features Mindy Kaling, an average-sized Indian woman, in the role of a romantic lead. But also, Mindy Lahiri as a character has broken every stereotype women face in film and TV. She is a hyper-intellectual, Ivy League-educated OB-GYN. But she also loves romantic comedies and celebrity gossip. The character is definitely sexual and romantic, but eventually becomes a single mom, without sacrificing that part of herself. The show is a romantic comedy, but more and more, it’s about Lahiri being happy with herself.
All these things and more make The Mindy Project one of the best and most feminist shows on TV. And that’s all thanks to Kaling. She is very aware of her status as a role model. And she’s using her platform to do all she can to improve both the media representation and general self-love of women, especially women of color. She is currently working on several female-driven projects, including the upcoming Ocean’s Eight and A Wrinkle In Time. And Kaling uses every opportunity to speak out in support of visibility for women of color who do not fit the standardly-thin Hollywood archetype. As she mentioned in a Sundance Film Festival panel in 2015:
"“I think it’s so important for women who look like me to find that they can be beautiful, or objects of love, attention, and affection.”"
But Kaling is also very aware that the issues that women of color face are great and undeniable. She lives them. If you look back on her career, you’ll notice that up until recently, she’s never really been given a role. She’s made her own. So she offers this piece of advice in her first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?:
"“…Write your own part. It is the only way I’ve gotten anywhere. It is much harder work, but sometimes you have to take destiny into your own hands. It forces you to think about what your strengths really are, and once you find them, you can showcase them, and no one can stop you.”"
Mindy Kaling is powerful, talented, smart, and most of all, hard-working. Despite all the setbacks she’s faced as a woman of color in the entertainment industry, she’s never let it stop her from doing what she wants. From starring in her own off-Broadway play, to starring in her own network television show, she has climbed her way to the top of her field. And now that she’s there, she’s doing everything she can to get every other woman up there with her. She is an inspiration, she is a powerhouse, and she is unstoppable.
Thank you, Mindy Kaling!
You can find Mindy Kaling’s work here:
The Mindy Project: Watch The Mindy Project right now on Hulu!
The Office: You can find all the episodes of The Office on Netflix!
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns): Buy Mindy Kaling’s first memoir on Amazon, or in your local bookstore!
Why Not Me?: Buy Mindy Kaling’s most recent book on Amazon, or at your local bookstore!