Mindy Kaling on Changing Hollywood: ‘Sometimes Terror Is Not A Bad Thing’

Constance Wu couldn’t help but notice the similarity between Mindy Kaling’s real life and her character on “Late Night” and Kaling’s career itself. The film which breaking up the writer’s room boy’s club on a late night comedy show.

“The character is definitely based, a lot, on the way that I was when I started ‘The Office,”‘ which Kaling wrote produced and acted on. “I was the only person of color and the only woman, in a staff of seven. It was a small staff, that was 2004 and now that would be absolutely insane.”

Kaling continued explaining the worry she carried with her due to the lack of representation, “A lot of times when you come into a room and you’re the only person of color or only woman if you’re working with a lot of white guys and they say something dumb or have a bad day it’s not like you [think] ‘Well, all white men must be like this,’ because you have a sense of context. But when I was a writer there if I had a bad day or said something lame or unfunny, ‘Oh this is what they think Indian women are like.’ Not only are you trying to make it on a show and be funny and get asked back. But you also have the mantle of all Asian women or Indian women or just women, are this way. If I have a bad day it doesn’t feel so good to be a representative.”

Hustlers” actress Constance Wu asked Kaling if she’d heard of the term “rep sweats.”

“I think it was coined around the time ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ came out,” she said. “You’re sweating because you have to rep, but you’re just one story. There’s no possible way that you could rep every single person who looks kind of like you. But, because you’re the only one, other people might do that. So, you have the rep sweats.”

Loosely based off celebrity chef Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same name, “Fresh Off the Boat” follows the story of a Taiwanese-American family who moves from Washington, DC to suburban Orlando in the 1990’s. Wu has been a regular on the show since it first aired in 2015.

The pit fall of being the trusted representative of an entire race as Kaling points out is that, “Totally, and smart, young, well-meaning people who are Indian or Pakistani, or in your case, Asian, Chinese, Taiwanese, they must write and say, ‘That’s not what it’s like.’ There’s so much hope and expectation put on you and if you let them down ––you’re going to let somebody down, because there’s not so many of you.”

Though, Wu seems to be interpreting the term from another perspective that wasn’t originally thought of when blogger Phil Yu of Angry Asian Man blog, comedian Jenny Yang, and podcast host Joanna Lee coined it.

“We originally coined it for the anxiety felt when we see Asians on screen. But her take is the actor’s flip side of the equation — both come from a historical lack of representation,” Yu tweeted.

“It’s a natural emotional reaction that marginalized people will have when they know something that they see is going to be representative of them and that the kids in the school yard are going to assume that they’re like that,” Wu continued. “And for me, as an actor, I think you can’t win them all. I think if you try, it just waters everything down and then the content isn’t as good. So, you just have to be truthful to your character and hopefully that spurs on more projects so we don’t just have the one representative.”

Financial incentives and social scrutiny may have inspired some change in Hollywood. Kaling recalls an online moment where creators were asked to post a picture of their writing staff. “I think it got a lot of people really scared,” Kaling said. “I was so happy for my two shows, ‘Great let’s take a photo’ because you feel so proud of how diverse your staff is. I think those types of things that terrify certain showrunners is great. Sometimes terror is not a bad thing.”

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