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Mindy Kaling on Women in Movies

posted by Nell Minow

Producer/writer/actress Mindy Kaling of “The Office” has a great piece in the New Yorker about women characters in movies.

[W]hat I’d really like to write is a romantic comedy. This is my favorite kind of movie. I feel almost embarrassed revealing this, because the genre has been so degraded in the past twenty years that saying you like romantic comedies is essentially an admission of mild stupidity. But that has not stopped me from enjoying them.

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I like watching people fall in love onscreen so much that I can suspend my disbelief in the contrived situations that occur only in the heightened world of romantic comedies. I have come to enjoy the moment when the male lead, say, slips and falls right on top of the expensive wedding cake. I actually feel robbed when the female lead’s dress doesn’t get torn open at a baseball game while the JumboTron camera is on her. I regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world operates according to different rules than my regular human world. For me, there is no difference between Ripley from “Alien” and any Katherine Heigl character. They are equally implausible. They’re all participating in a similar level of fakey razzle-dazzle, and I enjoy every second of it.

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Kaling describes some of the outlandish categories assigned to women characters from the clumsy klutz (“When a beautiful actress is cast in a movie, executives rack their brains to find some kind of flaw in the character she plays that will still allow her to be palatable. She can’t be overweight or not perfect-looking, because who would pay to see that? A female who is not one hundred per cent perfect-looking in every way? You might as well film a dead squid decaying on a beach somewhere for two hours.  So they make her a Klutz.”) to the ethereal weirdo, the career-obsessed no-fun girl, the skinny beautiful woman who eats all the time, the “mother” of the young actor who is only a few years older than he is (Jessie Royce Landis was actually the same age as Cary Grant when she played his mother in “North by Northwest”), and the girl who works in an art gallery because “It’s in the same realm as kindergarten teacher or children’s-book illustrator in terms of accessibility: guys don’t really get it, but it is likable and nonthreatening.”

Read the piece to see what the guy-equivalent of art gallery worker is and why it is just as unrealistic.

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