PARK CITY, Utah — At the Power of Story: Serious Ladies panel at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 24, Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling — who were joined by Kristen Wiig and Orange Is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan — talked about a number of issues they face as female creators in Hollywood. But one of the most insightful exchanges came from the fact that, unlike male creator-actors such as Larry David or Woody Allen, the two said that they're often confused with the characters they've created. Both Dunham and Kaling have been accused in the past of having their characters — Girls' Hannah Horvath and The Mindy Project's Mindy Lahiri — parrot words for them, evincing philosophies or viewpoints that their creators must therefore embrace.
It's a double standard that goes along with the notion that these characters and their shows are automatically autobiographical in some way. The duo embarked on a dialogue with moderator Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker about the maddening trend, which came out of Dunham praising a Mindy Project plotline that had Kaling's character briefly embracing the notion of getting a gun — which some then took to mean that Kaling was against waiting period laws.
"More than any other male characters, people really do think that what my character is saying is what I believe," Kaling said.
Dunham quickly followed up. "There's a reason people have trouble differentiating between me and my character, Mindy and her character. We basically share a name; you guys share the same name. There are stylistic similarities. We have the same voice; we have the same face. But at the end of the day, I don't think that Larry David or Woody Allen or anyone else playing some version of themselves are walking around with a million people who think they know and understand you on a deep and abiding level."
"Woody Allen is proof that people don't think that everything he says in his films is stuff that he does," Dunham continued. "Because all he was doing was making out with 17-year-old girls for years and we didn't say a word about it. And then he did it. A bunch. No one went, 'Oh, Woody Allen is making out with a 17-year-old in Manhattan; I guess he's a real perv.' And then lo and behold…"
Wiig said facetiously that Allen had fallen in love. "And who are we to stop that?" Dunham asked, also sarcastically. "Whereas I say one thing in the show and I'm accused of having erred."
Kaling then offered a specific example about Dunham and Girls: "I remember at the very beginning, I can never forget how she says in the pilot, 'I think I'm the voice of a generation. Or a generation.' And everyone went, 'Lena Dunham thinks she's the voice of a generation?' Obviously, her character, she falls to the floor, high on drugs—"
"And says, 'I think I'm the voice of my generation,'" Dunham jumped in. "And it's like a Beat Generation joke. I have accepted now, for better or worse, that that will be on my grave ... Larry David does heinous things on that show and people don't accuse him of being someone who walks into women's shelters and triggers abused women ... It is a confusing thing when people equate the words that come out of your character's mouth with some real-world philosophy that you absolutely don't possess."