But the television and movie writer/star also has had plenty of experiences being singled out for negative reasons, namely ones she feels are steeped in sexism and racism. In a story with Elle magazine, Kaling opened up about such an experience with the Television Academy in her early days working as an actress, writer, and producer on the NBC sitcom The Office.
Kaling says when the show was nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series, the Television Academy informed her that they were going to cut her from the list of the numerous producers on The Office because of the sheer abundance of names. To prove herself, she told Elle, “They made me, not any of the other producers, fill out a whole form and write an essay about all my contributions as a writer and a producer. I had to get letters from all the other male, white producers saying that I had contributed, when my actual record stood for itself.” Kaling was included in the final list, but the moment clearly still bristles.
The Television Academy responded with a statement downplaying Kaling’s story. “No one person was singled out,” said a Television Academy spokesperson. “There was an increasing concern years ago regarding the number of performers and writers seeking producer credits. At the time the Producers Guild worked with the Television Academy to correctly vet producer eligibility. Every performer producer and writer producer was asked to justify their producer credits. We no longer require this justification from performer producers and writer producers, but we do continue to vet Consulting Producer credits with the PGA to ensure those credited are actually functioning in the role as a producer.”
However, Kaling was not standing by to have her experiences dismissed as business as usual. “Respectfully, the Academy’s statement doesn’t make any sense. I *was* singled out,” she tweeted in response. “There were other Office writer-performer-producers who were NOT cut from the list. Just me. The most junior person, and woman of color. Easiest to dismiss. Just sayin’.”
Kaling then went on to post a series of tweets, elaborating on why she had been reluctant to mention the incident previously and why it was “humiliating” to have to rely on her white male colleagues to have her back.
“I’ve never wanted to bring up that incident because The Office was one of the greatest creative experiences of my life, and who would want to have an adversarial relationship with the Academy, who has the ongoing power to enhance our careers with awards?” she wrote. “But I worked so hard and it was humiliating. I had written so many episodes, put in so much time in the editing room, just to have the Academy discard it because they couldn’t fathom I was capable of doing it all. Thankfully I was rescued by my friends, the other producers. The point is, we shouldn’t have [to] be bailed out because of the kindness [of] our more powerful white male colleagues. Not mentioning it seemed like glossing over my story. This was like ten years ago. Maybe it wouldn’t happen now. But it happened to me.”
While Kaling was eventually also nominated for her writing (for her work on the Jim and Pam wedding episodes), she has never won an Emmy. But the six-time nominated multi-hyphenate has had one busy year, writing and starring in Late Night, shepherding Four Weddings and a Funeral to Hulu, and co-creating the forthcoming Never Have I Ever for Netflix. While she might still be fighting an uphill battle, Kaling isn’t slowing down by any means — and in the process, she’s bringing others up alongside her.
“A lot of times a diverse writer will not have the same amount of credit as someone who is white because they haven’t simply had the opportunity,” Kaling previously told EW. “And so you have to decide that part of your job as an employer is also to be a teacher, and that’s a little bit what as an employer you can decide, that you want to be a mentor or not. They don’t automatically go together, and what I have realized in my 30s is that for me, it is necessary to be a mentor, frankly, if I’m going to have rooms that are comprised of people who look like me.”
Kaling didn’t let the issue drop. Later in the day, she called out the Television Academy in a tagged tweet, saying, “Hey, @TelevisionAcad! I have been a proud member for years. I was the 1st woman of color nominated for writing a comedy script. Why not say “years ago we prevented a deserving woman of color from getting credit for her accomplishments. We’re sorry and it would never happen now.”?”
This story has been updated to include Kaling’s most recent remarks on the matter.