Now more than ever, women are making their voices heard in film and television, and Hollywood powerhouses Reese Witherspoon, Elizabeth Banks, Eva Longoria and Kerry Washington are leading the way.
There’s been a major cultural shift in Hollywood. The Time’s Up and #MeToo feminist movements have brought out of the shadows the widespread prevalance of sexual assault and harrassment, following the sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein last October. In the few months since, a new force, generated by women who have found the courage and liberty to speak their mind, has emphatically arrived.
It’s a voice that’s further amplified by women-led projects and stories coming out of Hollywood. With the recent success of femaledriven shows and films directed by and starring women, including Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled and Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, women in showbiz are increasingly commanding the attention and respect they deserve.
Our four cover stars are industry stalwarts at the crux of this evolution. They know it is their time and they are leading the charge, using their influence – as actresses, directors, producers and social activists – for the good of their “sisters”, industry and society.
“It’s important to talk about women with greater complexity”
One should dream of having a career like Reese Witherspoon’s. She owns production company Hello Sunshine, clothing company Draper James, and co-produced one of 2017’s biggest TV series, Big Little Lies, with friend and co-star Nicole Kidman, which was a breakthrough TV series for women in the industry.
“I’m very proud of being able to bring together so many extraordinarily gifted women like Nicole, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern and Zoë Kravitz for Big Little Lies,” says Reese. “What made me really angry was the lack of interest that our industry had in telling stories from a woman’s perspective and, even worse, seeing fantastic actresses forced to play only wives or girlfriends. It’s important to talk about women with greater complexity.”
The 41-year-old, who has three children, says: “I’ve seen how much you can do when you work hard and don’t wait for the phone to ring. I decided to stop being complacent and start creating my own projects and working with people I admire.
“I’m in a good place in my life as an artist, and have high expectations not just of myself, but for other women to write and direct.”
“Remember that you are no less than any other person”
One of the most powerful role models for black women in the US, Kerry Washington is an icon in her own right. Starring in ABC’s political thriller Scandal, where she plays formidable political fixer Olivia Pope, Kerry is the first African-American female lead in a network drama in 40 years, and a vocal supporter of the Time’s Up movement.
“I am a feminist, absolutely,” says Kerry, 40. “I think it means being treated as equal human beings, whether it is equal pay, equal access to voting all over the world, or the ability to have access to family planning.”
Kerry also supports the Purple Purse campaign, where she designs a purple purse every year to raise awareness for financial abuse and financial literacy through the Allstate Foundation. “Purple is the colour of domestic violence awareness, and a purse symbolises a woman’s financial well-being, so a purple purse helps raise awareness and funds to end financial abuse.”
When asked what advice she would give to young girls, Kerry says, “Anytime somebody makes you feel like less than a person, or less human or less valuable because of your gender or your race, or your age, it’s a lie. You just have to remember that it comes from their belief, sense of disconnection and low self-worth, but you are no less than any other person.”
“I love to be part of the storytelling of my community”
From her breakout role in Desperate Housewives to producing, directing and starring in her own series, Telenovela, Eva Longoria has come a long way. The Latina actress, who is 42, wants to share more about her people through her TV and film work.
“I love to be part of the storytelling of my community, and I think film and television should represent the audience which consumes it,” says Eva. “Latinos are the fastest-growing demographic in the world, but we’re the least represented on television and film. The only way that’s going to change is to get behind the camera and bring those stories to life.
Married to media mogul Jose Antonio Baston and pregnant with her first child, Eva is also passionate about women’s rights: Last January, she spoke at the Women’s March in Los Angeles, urging social and political change by persuading women to vote.
Through her activism and entertainment work, Eva aims to empower women and the Latino community, one role at a time.
“I want to make it easier for young girls looking for role models”
Think of the most powerful women in Hollywood, and Elizabeth Banks definitely comes to mind. In 2015, she smashed the glass ceiling by directing, producing and starring in Pitch Perfect 2. The runaway hit made US$287.5 million (S$376.2 million) worldwide, sealing Elizabeth’s status as a highly sought-after director.
“I just want to make it easier for those young girls looking for role models. We need those fresh voices in Hollywood, and they need a leg up,” says Elizabeth, who is 43. “I was told growing up, ‘The world is your oyster, and you can be whatever you want.’ The fact is, that is empirically untrue for most women. We need those barriers to be broken down by young people, as well as us seasoned pros.
“All I try to do is show up on time, work hard, work to the camera and be nice to the crew, just as I’ve seen other great actors do my whole life. I want to be like that.”
TEXT: JANE TAYLOR, JESSICA YOUNG & SANDRA MORRIS/ FAMOUS FEATURES, ADDITIONAL REPORTING: LISA TWANG