In the wake of #MeToo and the Time’s Up movement, and the dialogue that has been opened about the unfair treatment women receive in the entertainment industry, there was a lot to to discuss in Entertainment Weekly’s annual “Women Who Kick Ass” panel. Moderated by EW’s Jessica Shaw, the panel included Amandla Stenberg (The Darkest Minds), Camila Mendes (Riverdale), Chloe Bennet (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Jodie Whittaker (Doctor Who) and Regina King (Watchmen).
Childhood seemed a good place to start and the panel were asked which women inspired them when they were young. Regina King and Amandla Stenberg gave quick answers, citing Wonder Woman and Raven-Symone respectively. In a heart-warming moment, Chloe Bennet excitedly explained that she looked up to Mulan and “now I get to work with her (fellow S.H.I.E.L.D star Ming-Na Wen) everyday”. Perhaps more bittersweet was Camila Mendes’ answer Summer Roberts from The OC – “She was the closest thing I could find to a Latina actress simply because she had brown hair and was a little tan”.
And so the discussion moves to representation and why that’s so important. The need to see not just women, but women of colour in well written and complex roles is agreed upon by the panel. Amandla Stenberg recognises that she “creates representation” but that it’s not a perfect situation – “We continue to sacrifice to see the representation we want”.
Someone who had to sacrifice a lot is Chloe Bennet. Her real last name is Wang but she changed it to Bennet when she failed to book acting jobs. As soon as she changed it, she started getting parts. She still has mixed feelings about this but did it so “other girls after me won’t have to do that”. Part of the problem, she feels, was that she didn’t look Asian enough or white enough. Camila Mendes shared this issue, stating that casting directors told her she wasn’t “urban” enough for Latina roles. They were both stuck in an in between. This is why Mendes is so happy to be playing Veronica without being tokenized. It’s a sign things are getting better.
Another positive change in the entertainment industry is the rise of female directors. Regina King recently directed the season finale of hit HBO series Insecure. She was joined by a female AD, as well as a female director of photography – “It was so empowering, and there was a shorthand with our communication”. The rest of the panel agreed on the shorthand, citing their own fantastic experiences with female directors. Amandla Stenberg excitedly announced that the last 4 directors she had worked with were female, drawing cheers from her fellow panellists, and showing a move in the right direction in Hollywood.
But it’s not just Hollywood. The rest of the world seems to be progressing as well. In the UK, the BBC have cast Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor Who. The concept of a female Doctor was first brought up in 1981 but took over 3 decades to actually happen. Whittaker never thought she’d have the chance to play the part because “The Doctor is played by a guy”. Then she questioned why – “I’ve got as much on my CV to qualify me for that as any of the other guys. None of us have really come out of alien school”. She spoke of being younger and having to stand on the sidelines, even though she wanted to play the hero, and how things have changed for her now – “The thing that’s exciting for us is that we now look like what we’re potentially inspiring to be”.
The rest of panel agree. They know that they are role models to lots of women across the world and accept that responsibility whole-heartedly. Whittaker brings up the incredibly important point that as women they don’t just influence women, they can influence men as well – “You want to inspire little girls, but you also want to say, ‘Look, little guys, you can look up to women. We’re all right, we’re not that scary. We do all the same things and, sometimes, a bit more!’” Bennet adds that “Being inspired by women can make young men see them as equal rather than instilling a “we are better than them” mentality”. And that equality is what these women, this panel and the discussion that it creates, is striving for.
As it always is, the EW Women Who Kick Ass Panel was an inspiring, exciting and empowering hour of talented women sharing their experiences with an eager audience. I can’t wait to see next year’s panel at SDCC 2019!