Mindy Kaling is Changing Casting for the Better

Mindy Kaling in the Mindy Project

The lack of diversity in Hollywood is evident. It’s an issue that we’ve been criticized for years without much change. However, there is some promising progress, ranging from which stories get told to how actors are chosen. Because what we see on screen starts with good plot, characters, and cast – and Mindy Kaling understands that.

The Office alum solidified new ways to cast when she posted a call via Instagram: Her team is looking for the next Latino star for the Netflix comedy she’s working on. “We love this role and we cannot wait to find the special person to play him,” Kaling wrote.

This is not the first time Kaling has used social media to spread the word about auditions. Never Have I Ever stars Maitreyi Ramakrishnan (Devi) and Richa Moorjani (Kamala) reached out to Kaling after a similar open call.

Moorjani wrote in Kaling’s post: “The last time you posted something like this is the reason I am where I am today. Can’t wait to see who’s life is changed next.”

Mindy Kaling turned to Instagram to provide opportunities to actors who are not usually represented by the big agencies or who are not yet established, she explained in a conversation with Constance Wu in Actors on Actors. With Never Have I Ever, she proved her point: there is plenty of South Asian talent out there. The evidence is Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, a 17-year-old girl who landed the life-changing role after submitting an authentic, confident, and humorous audition video, something the producers weren’t getting via Hollywood’s standard routes.

“We love a good open casting call,” Ramakrishnan wrote in Kaling’s post.

Kaling’s post about auditioning for the role of an 18-year-old Latino male lead had an overwhelming response. At a time when audiences are asking the entertainment industry for greater inclusion and diversity, these initiatives by Kaling stand for a transparent selection criterion. The results are among the reasons why she’s listed as one of the top 20 producers behind the most diverse shows, according to The Inclusion List from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.

The actress and producer, also known for The Mindy Project, has defied stereotypes by writing her own stories with strong, relatable, and flawed characters that represent what today’s world looks like. Yet for some, it’s never enough – Kaling faced criticism for casting white guys as her character’s love interests.

“Do people really wonder on other shows if female leads are dating multicultural people?” she asked in an Entertainment Weekly cover story. “Like I owe it to every race and minority and beleaguered person. I have to become the United Nations of shows?”

Early in her career, she may not have been as purposeful in her current inclusion efforts but she has clearly evolved. Plus, Kaling didn’t make the rules and we should remember that, in the past, Hollywood seemed more willing to invest in shows that promoted lessons about diversity, without actually embodying it. In her new crop of shows, it’s clear Kaling doesn’t want to teach inclusion, she wants to normalize it with entertaining stories and a less traditionally seen cast. After all, new, inclusive narratives shouldn’t be forced – audiences notice when a story isn’t authentic.

Kaling, an American-born woman of Indian roots, knows the real picture, she doesn’t need to have it pointed out to her. It seems that imperfect women of color face more criticism than white guys who produce narratives that reduce minorities to background characters.

In Kaling’s productions, the characters are not filling a gap just to meet a quota, they exist for a reason. The characters’ identities are necessary for the development of their stories.

Kaling doesn’t need to include every race or culture to silence critics. Instead, she should stick to developing characters close to reality, something she has thought about for future works, such as the script for Legally Blonde 3. She’s writing that one after Reese Witherspoon personally requested Kaling’s help.

The thing is, once she settled in, Kaling decided to use her power, in her own way, to help shape a Hollywood with greater representation. Mindy Kaling is not flawless, but she is building diversity into her shows, playing in the world that exists. She is not obligated to change the entire Hollywood industry, nor pay homage every five seconds to her heritage. She should just keep doing what she’s doing – bringing her perspective as the daughter of immigrants and for all who seek to be comfortable in their skin while feeling different.

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