When Mindy Kaling sat down for her panel at SXSW on a Sunday morning, she immediately complained about how she was inappropriately dressed for the cold weather, instantly charming the crowd. Kaling is known as a shining example of the idea that you don't need to wear pantsuits and act masculine to be a boss. Femininity and florals can go hand-in-hand with writing, producing and starring in your own show. These issues and more were touched on in little over an hour.
Kaling admitted she is highly influenced by the writers' room at The Office, where she was a writer and producer for many seasons. She runs The Mindy Project's room in the same way, keeping a collaborative and open environment. Interestingly, she mentioned that the season 2 writers of The Office are her biggest influences and closest friends. Everyone in that room worked on the show when it really became a critical darling and many of those writers went on to have their own shows, including Michael Shur, creator of Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Working in such a high-talent environment has pushed her and the other writers to aim big.
Since her character Mindy Lahiri is based off of herself, Kaling purposely chose to have Mindy be an OBGYN. Kaling wanted her lead to have a successful career that was as time-intensive as being a comedy television writer but more relatable and redeeming. She admitted that she was tired of comparisons between herself and her character because her male friends in similar situations never seem to get such questions. She complained of the same thing when an audience member asked why there were no other female doctors besides Mindy Lahiri. Kaling lost some of her composure for a few minutes and went off about how her male colleagues aren't asked these questions and aren't held to these standards and that such a question negates the talent of the women already on the show.
As a woman of color running her own show, Kaling is often questioned about her role in the big picture of women on television. Questions, which Kaling made clear, she is tired of answering. A recurring theme of the panel was just how often Kaling is held to a higher standard. Mindy Kaling is a show runner and, as such, wants to focus on running her show. But, because she is a female show runner, she's often taken away from her duties to be the face of women in television. She's also encountered discrimination and criticism about the color of her skin and the way she looks. She emphasized that while she realizes her looks and ethnicity are important, she can't focus on it. It's clear that Kaling has never relied on those things for her success, and you get the sense that her laser-like focus on her goals is a huge contributor to her accomplishments.
It was interesting to hear from Kaling and learn more about her creative process as well as her opinions on her own role in television. If anything could be taken from the panel, it's that Kaling first wishes to be seen and judged on her ability to write, produce and star in her own television show and secondly be seen as a show runner who happens to be a woman of color.