Photo: Chelsea Lauren/Variety/Shuttershock
There’s no doubt that EW’s Women Who Kick Ass panel is a firm favourite at Comic Con. Each year EW brings a group of highly talented actresses to share both their struggles and successes in Hollywood, all while opening an important dialogue on equality and diversity within the entertainment industry. While it’s always enjoyable, it also feels important, and audience members (both men and women) often say they leave feeling empowered and inspired. This year was no different. Moderated by EW’S Sarah Rodman, the panel consisted of Cobie Smulders (Stumptown), Freema Agyeman (New Amsterdam), Shohreh Aghdashloo (The Expanse), Betty Gilpin (GLOW), and surprise guest Jeri Ryan (Star Trek: Picard).
Gordon kicked things off by asking the women about their role models. All of them mentioned their mothers with Freema Agyeman sharing that her mum had told her “As long as you have passion for something, I’ll back you up”. Her support gave her the courage to switch careers from science to acting. Betty Gilpin highlighted her co-star Alison Brie who she noted is very brave and vocal on set – “Seeing someone be likeable and loveable but still taking charge – I have been totally changed by this woman”. Cobie Smulders said that throughout her childhood it was her older sister who played sports. More recently it became Pam Fryman, a director from How I Met Your Mother.
This lead to a discussion about the difference in working with female and male directors. Smulders stated that she thinks it’s more about the relationship with the person whether that’s a man or woman, again highlighting her bond with Fryman as an example. Shohreh Aghdashloo agreed. She doesn’t feel much of a difference between the gender of directors and sees them as her parents teaching her. This was a slight shift in opinion of last year’s panel who felt that there was often better communication with female directors. Perhaps, a year on, this suggests a positive change in communication between male directors and actresses. Or maybe it highlights an issue with the question being asked. To ask the difference between male and female directors suggests that all male directors are the same and all female directors are the same. Gilpin pointed out the problem with this, in particular in respect to women – “There’s a misconception that every woman in charge is the same, and they’re not”. She emphasised this by sharing that she is surrounded by lots of different types of female directors on her show, another positive change in the industry.
Aghdashloo spoke further about how the industry and the world as a whole has transformed for the better for women – “Women have finally come to the foreground. 30 years ago I was asked why there aren’t more powerful strong women on the silver screen. I said we need more powerful female artists, politicians in real life. We have thousands now. Mothers are now pushing their daughters to make something of themselves and not just wait to be married”.
Smulders used her new show Stumptown as an example of change stating that for the first time she’s not coupled with anyone, there’s no will they/won’t they, and the show isn’t about that – “It’s just a woman being her own boss and out for herself – I’ve never experienced that before”.
But there’s still work to be done so Gordon asked the panellists what things they wanted to see happen for women in the industry. Jeri Ryan said that she always thinks about the effect on her children, especially her daughter. She wants more representation. She wants girls to see that there’s every possibility for them and that they can be anything they want to be like an astronaut – “But it needs to be seen so that they can believe they can do it”. Gilpin took it further suggesting that better representation needed to extend to differing personality types. She wants to see eccentric, disorganised, scatter brained women rather than just the stereotypical outgoing and efficient female characters – “There’s a stereotype that women are zoning out thinking about brunch, but I’m usually thinking about throwing a watermelon out of a window”. Smulders agreed – “I get excited about a project that normalises things that haven’t been seen before. The definition of strong is different dependent on the person. Finding the representation of strength even if the person you’re playing is a mess”.
Well rounded, realistic and representative characters are clearly important to every woman on this panel, perhaps because they know they have so many people looking up to them. Aghdashloo asserted “Whether we like it or not, we’re role models for both men and women”. She shared from her experience that girls in the Middle East see her and think if she can do it, they can do it. Ryan revealed that her role on Star Trek had had a major impact on people on the autism spectrum because her character shared a lot of the same struggles they have – “People have thanked me for showing them on screen”. Even one of the audience questions asked the panellists for advice on body image issues. Again, these women appreciate and understand the influence they have with Aghdashloo adding “It’s hard when you know people are looking up to you, there’s certain things that you try not to do. It’s not an easy path but it’s very satisfying”. Perhaps the best advice and the thing to take away from the panel came from Gilpin speaking of what she thinks needs to happen to create a better landscape for women “Something’s happening on TV. Women are releasing their inner Kraken. The thing that can join us all is release the inner Kraken. Release the inner Kraken”.
EW’s Women Who Kick Ass panel was yet again another roaring success. 2018’s panel came after a particularly tough period for women in the industry with the Time’s Up movement having just been created to steer equality in the right direction and a year on it’s clear to see that there have been positive changes. The stories shared by these women highlight that while there is still work to be done, great steps forward have been taken. Consider us inspired, empowered and our Kraken released.