When it came to representing the work of women, by women on screen, Oscar voters failed to open their eyes this season.
But not the Sundance Film Festival, which in a year when 42% of its competition film directors are women, premiered a comedy that’s prime for Time’s Up times: Late Night, directed by Nisha Ganatra and written by Mindy Kaling, inspired from her experiences on NBC’s The Office, where she was the only female staff writer .
Following Late Night‘s premiere at the Eccles Theater, there was truly an electricity in the air not common with other comedies that have played Sundance’s signature venue. Yes, there were plenty of laughs, but women in the crowd were stoked. While it’s quite common at Sundance for boutique publicists to hawk their own slates, one rival female PR president screamed: “Did you see that? That was such an awesome ride!”
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On tonight’s stage, Kaling confirmed an audience member’s observation: In the end credits is the gender-parity logo, meaning the number of women who worked behind the camera on Late Night equaled the amount of men. While many in Hollywood make pledges to reach gender parity, Kaling is doing it, immediately.
When asked if film or TV has made more progress in its representation of females, Kaling specified the latter, mentioning that back in 2005 during her writers room days on The Office, she was the only female of Indian decent on staff. “Now, that would be unheard of,” said Kaling, noting that it’s becoming more common to see more diverse writing staffs, with females repping around 40% of the room.
“Tina Fey has a quote about hiring female staff writers,” ” Kaling told Deadline. “Females on staffs use to be considered cappuccino machines: ‘We have one. Why would we need another one?’ That was the old sentiment. Now they’re not considered that; the idea of tokenism is dissipating.”
In Late Night, Kaling plays an earnest young comedy writer who scores the job of a lifetime as a writer on Tonight with Katherine Newbury, a major TV network late-night talk show whose British female host (Emma Thompson) is becoming something of a dinosaur in the era of fratboy stand-up comedians and late-night talk show hosts who’ve embraced social media and expanded their audiences.
Earlier today, Ganatra, Kaling and Late Night stars Amy Ryan (who plays the network boss who wants to replace Katherine with a Dane Cook-like comic played by Ike Barinholtz), Reid Scott and Paul Walter Hauser stopped by the Deadline Sundance studio (presented by Hyundai) and took us behind the scenes of Kaling’s feature screenwriting debut (see video above).
Ganatra, who directed an episode of The Mindy Project, and Kaling bonded over their love of Mike Nichols comedies like Working Girl and workplace pics like Broadcast News.
“It was an adult comedy we haven’t seen in a long time,” says Ganatra. “It wasn’t ‘When will I get married? When will I meet the guy of my dreams?’ It was a beautiful ode to hard work.”
Kaling opted to have the movie center on a female late-night talk show host since we haven’t seen a full-time one yet on a major network. “That felt like a world I wanted to dramatize and because of Emma [Thompson].”
“Emma seems like she can inhabit that role really seamlessly,” continued Kaling, “It makes little bit less sense for her to be the star of her own mutli-cam sitcom, although I would watch that too.”
Added Hauser, “I would totally watch 2 Broke Girls with Emma Thompson.”
Off which Kaling responded, “So, that’s the next movie.”
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