Mindy Kaling knew her hit HBO Max show had a title that would sell. “People are far more interested in hearing a show called The Sex Lives of College Girls than the Title IX fight of four girls in college, even though that’s really worthy,” she said Tuesday at the TIME100 Summit. It’s just one example of how Kaling uses storytelling devices like humor and raunch to make larger points about inclusivity and gender.
At the event, Kaling and Netflix head of global TV Bela Bajaria—who worked together to bring Never Have I Ever to the streamer—talked about the importance of creating television shows that entertain, but also ones that prioritize inclusive storytelling at all levels. “What I like about the shows is they’re not like we’re going to teach you how to be inclusive,” Kaling says. “They’re just really entertaining and sexy and fun and what’s so shrewd about the way [Netflix] has programmed its shows is they just happen to have casts that we never see traditionally.”
The streaming company has shown an appetite for diverse casting through hit shows like Bridgerton. It’s also worked to create shows like Squid Game and Money Heist that are targeted at specific international audiences. “We don’t make global shows. We make very local shows that happen to resonate globally with an audience because the themes can be very universal,” Bajaria says. “It’s a really powerful thing to be seen that way—so people actually see themselves and see cultures and people they don’t know about.”
Kaling has established herself as a successful showrunner in the streaming era by telling stories about the inner lives of women of color—such as in Netflix hit Never Have I Ever and the HBO Max show The Sex Lives of College Girls. When Kaling is looking for projects to work on, she’s looking for shows that she would want to keep watching, she says. “As it turns out, those are shows about horny young women who want to be in relationships,” Kaling says. “What they show more than actual sex—they show women who are longing for connection and relationships and women who’ve been traditionally told you can’t want to be in sexual situations or to be sexy, being able to explore that in a funny way,” Kaling says. The narratives and characters are multifaceted; often touching on grief, longing and being the child of immigrants, she adds.
Bajaria also touched on Netflix’s crackdown on password sharing, which many users have expressed frustration with. “Ultimately you want people to pay for watching all of that creative talent and time that goes into it,” she says. TIME correspondent Eliana Dockterman polled the audience on how many people share a Netflix password with someone outside of their household. A number of audience members raised their hands—including Kaling, who jokingly pointed to “the thrill of freeloading.” Kaling added that she does believe these artists and craftspeople should be paid. “I’m sad about it, but I get it,” she quipped.
The proliferation of streaming services has led some viewers to wonder if there’s a compromise in prioritizing quantity over quality. Bajaria disagreed with this idea—arguing that variety is only beneficial and that ultimately, it’s really a matter of taste. “If you like dating shows we should have the best of those. Watch Ultimatum or Love is Blind,” Bajaria says. “If you want to watch the Queen’s Gambit, Maid or The Crown, we also have that.”
The increase in the number of available platforms for television shows has also driven an increase in diverse content, although traditional mediums still provide an avenue, Kaling says. She pointed to Abbott Elementary as an example of a groundbreaking show with a traditional format doing well on ABC. “Good content will always find its way on television,” she says.
The TIME 100 Summit is the live event extension of the annual TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world. It convenes leaders from the global TIME 100 community to spotlight solutions and encourage action toward a better world. This year’s summit features a variety of impactful speakers across a diverse range of sectors, including politics, business, health and science, culture, and more.
Speakers for the 2022 TIME 100 Summit include Apple CEO Tim Cook, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation co-chair Bill Gates, filmmaker Taika Waititi, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, musician Jon Batiste, Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley, NBA champion, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Dwayne Wade, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, ACLU deputy director for transgender justice Chase Strangio, Christian Siriano founder and creative director Christian Siriano, Brother Vellies founder and creative director Aurora James, author and poet Cathy Park Hong, Olympic freestyle skiing champion Eileen Gu, author, poet, and Mellon Foundation president Elizabeth Alexander, filmmaker Betsy West, filmmaker Julie Cohen, BioNTech SE senior vice president Dr. Katalin Karikó, Ukrayinska Pravda editor in chief Sevgil Musaieva, and TIME co-chair and Salesforce chair and co-CEO Marc Benioff.
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