[Image credit: Universal television]
Mindy Kaling, AKA “Kelly” from The Office, recently announced that she’s five months pregnant. (Congrats, Mindy!) While she intends to keep the baby’s father a secret – for now, anyway – she did disclose that the pregnancy was a “surprise,” leaving us all on the edges of our seats, but also forcing us to examine a larger issue about minorities in Hollywood.
Kaling’s news makes her the first unwed Indian actress in Hollywood to announce a pregnancy. While it’s common for Hollywood stars to get knocked up, I don’t think people fully comprehend the magnitude of an Indian woman, in the arts and in her late 30’s choosing to have a child while still single. Kaling getting knocked up is a huge step in the right direction for intersectional feminism.
Let me put this in context. Despite Hollywood’s slight-but-subtle progress with diversity, Kaling remains an anomaly. While she isn’t the only Indian actress to make waves in Hollywood, she is the only Indian-American one to, and with the amount of influence she has, that says a lot. I don’t have to tell you about how underrepresented South Asians are in Hollywood (east Asian-Americans have it even worse), and because she’s scored major successes in both film and TV even with the odds against her, women of our race are about ten times as likely to be influenced by her every move than they are by any other Hollywood actress.
Sure, it’s true there are a number of Bollywood stars that have announced their decision to have kids before marriage. But Kaling has set a precedent for Indian-American women in Hollywood by producing and starring in her own show, starring in and co-writing The Office and authoring a best-selling book. And while Bollywood stars tend to influence consumers of the media strictly within India, they do not have the same vast influence as Hollywood stars, who tend to touch the lives of people worldwide.
So why is Mindy marching to the beat of her own drum so important? Well, because Indian-American society is still very much patriarchal in its nature. It was just a few weeks ago that I was on vacation in Tuscany with my extended family. We’d rented a villa, and of the five bedrooms on the property, one had a twin bed, the other two had king beds, and the final two had their own mini-apartments. There are five cousins in my family: two of us are girls, three are boys. When auctioning off the rooms, my two older, engaged, PhD-holding-and-soon-to-be-rich male cousins ended up with the mini-apartments, while the rest of us were left with what was left. Coincidence? Methinks not.
But hey!, I thought. What about Sheena over here, the cool writer with the awesome personality? Alas, her needs were unimportant.
It’s not like I’m not used to my needs being deemed “unimportant.” Indian women are always silenced. They are silenced on larger scales – movie roles for Indian women practically don’t exist in Hollywood unless they’re supporting roles (like Freida Pinto’s character in Slumdog Millionaire) – and on smaller scales, like in a room full of cousins that are trying to decide who gets which bedroom.
But Kaling has refused to be silenced. Instead, she’s done some silencing of her own: she’s silenced all the Indian men who’d sooner die than to have their daughter, niece, cousin, sister or family friend dare to pioneer her own show and influence the young minds of brown women everywhere, while – gasp – publicly admitting to having sexual intercourse outside of marriage! (The ultimate sin, because obviously Indian women aren’t allowed to have sex. But we did invent the Kama Sutra, so none of this sexism and discrimination even makes any sense at all).
Women like me want to see other women who look like me show up in Hollywood. We don’t want to see them just in supporting roles (Freida, you’re beautiful, and you deserve to be given more roles); we want to see them conquer the way Kaling has. We want to see them produce their own shows and, in those shows, challenge the modern issues that plague Indian-American women in their everyday lives – like interracial dating, lack of self-identity and the very silencing I just spoke about – the way Kaling has.
If anything, Kaling getting knocked up accidentally shows Indian-American women that they can be boss bitches and baby-mamas all at the same time. My fellow brownies, we can have it all: if Hollywood is where you think you belong, it’s still going to be three times as hard for you to break through, but it isn’t impossible. Thanks, Mindy.