My Mom made me watch Late Night last night, which I have been avoiding not because I thought it looked bad, but because I thought it looked so good I would be stressed. And I was! Stressed, that is. But also really intrigued by what Mindy is arguing about woman in the workforce.
How can I say this right? I guess I’ll start with the nepotism example. Nepotism has become a bad word just in the past few years in Hindi film. And the first instinct of defense is to say “no! My favorite actor doesn’t do that, my favorite actress didn’t benefit from that” etc. etc. Because it is a Bad Thing. But my policy has been, start to finish, “They do do that, and I do not accept that it is a Bad Thing”. Rather than fighting the line of denial, fight the line of acceptance but reject the judgement.
That’s what Mindy Kaling is doing in Late Night, and it is FASCINATING. It’s also a clever well-written pleasant watch (as is everything Mindy Kaling does). I recommend it just as a nice watch with good performers and so on. But I REALLY recommend it for what it says about a competitive work environment.
Late Night is about the writers room at a comedy show, which is one of those work places that you can sort of fall into sideways, and then it ends up being the start of an incredible career. Mindy Kaling started in a writers room herself, then was thrown into the show (The Office) for a couple of small bits, then her character expanded and expanded, and she was writing more and more and developed a distinctive voice, and then she was offered her own show, and then a movie, and then another show, and so on. Meanwhile, other people in that same writers room probably just stayed as writers on the shows of others, or were fired and moved on to be managers of Pizza Huts or something.
My point is, this is the kind of situation where the first big break is random chance and luck, and definitely not “fair”. But what you make out of it, that’s the difference. And that’s what Mindy shows, very subtly, in this movie. She has three characters that are slowly established as extremely talented, smart, and worthy of success. One of them is herself, who was absolutely hired because she was a woman of color. The other is Emma Thompson’s character who is eventually established as a woman who benefitted by having a powerful older man fall in love with her and mentor her when she was a young woman (and leaving his wife for her). And the third is BJ Novak’s character, who got the job because of his family connections. It’s not about fighting whether or not you were a “token” hire, or whether or not the man who loved you helped your career, or whether or not your father got you the job, it’s about saying “yep, that happened, and I’m not gonna deny it because it’s the truth. And so what?”
On the micro level, this is about accepting that everyone has a job advantage and that’s kind of just life. I am comfortable accepting that. A truly fair world is impossible, so the best we can do is just give people different kinds of advantages. I think that’s what Mindy is saying as well in this film, without quite saying it. These three people “cheated” to get their first shot, but then they proved themselves once they were there. That’s fine.
On the macro level, this is saying “I’m not going to fight the battle you want me to fight, I am going to leave the denials behind and move on to saying it is true and make you prove why it matters”. And that’s what reminds me of Pink.
If you haven’t seen Pink, it’s a well done he said-she said rape court case movie. What makes it really something special is late in the film when one of our heroines cracks under aggressive cross-examination and says “Fine! Okay! I will say I am a prostitute!” She isn’t though. Our three heroines are young urban woman with sex lives and boyfriends, like a lot of young urban woman. But their lifestyle was twisted and twisted until it turned into arguments that they were prostitutes. In most movies, our heroines wouldn’t be sexually active to begin with. Or, after this accusation, the rest of the film would be about “redeeming” them. But what this film says is “okay, we will accept that thing you say and move on to asking why does it matter?” Their lawyer, Amitabh, accepts that his clients are prostitutes but points out that in a rape case, that does not matter. This thing that is supposed to be so important, so heinous, simply does not matter. Does not matter to the degree that they won’t even bother trying to deny it when it is false.
That’s what I keep waiting for in so many of these news stories, for someone to stand up and say “yeah it’s true, and also, so what?” And it does happen sometimes. Kareena and Saif very casually let it be known that they were living together and vacationing together and sharing their lives before marriage. They didn’t announce it, because that would make it seem like they accepted the premise that it was a big deal. And they also didn’t deny it. It just wasn’t worth discussing or considering. Arbaaz Khan on Koffee With Karan was similarly casual about his separation and then divorce from Malaika. He laughed about it, it wasn’t some horrible secret tragic sin, it was just what happened.
So long as you are denying, excusing, explaining, you are playing their game. Just accept it, accept this thing that other people are telling you is terrible, and then challenge them to explain why it matters.