The actresses on the EW Women Who Kick Ass panel at Comic-Con start off soft and come on strong when moderator Sarah Vilkomerson asks them if they’ve ever experienced sexism on the job. Have they ever. It was like turning on a faucet as the women compared notes on surviving in what is still very much a man’s world. They admit that while they can act tough on-screen–and train hard to be able to embody what’s on the written page–navigating the treacherous entertainment industry requires an equally valuable set of skills.
Dealing with sexism in Hollywood:
Michelle Rodriguez (“Fast & Furious”): I was doing a weird movie about dogs that attack people, shooting in South Africa, and the director says ‘Michelle, you’re in the front seat of the car, the boys run in and take off, you fly the car off the cliff.’ The actor said, ‘A girl is not going to drive the car.’ I said, ‘What are you stupid, want to race me, homie? Obviously you are retarded.’ Yeah, that was the most sexist thing anyone said to me on set.
Katee Sackhoff (“Battlestar Gallactica”): On one movie fight scene, an actor a lot bigger than me–I had called him out on something a couple weeks before, and he didn’t like that, he was drinking on set. In the fight scene, he physically hurt me, pulled my arms out of their sockets, I had tears down my spine afterwards. I was crying, I walked off set, came back and had to finish scene, do it over. I said, ‘take it easier, I’m still a girl, I’m a lot smaller than you.’ He said, ‘I’ve seen your work, I thought you could take it.’
MR: Dude, I’m so glad I wasn’t here. I would have flipped out.
KS: They either think you’re tough, or people go the opposite, ‘you’re a girl, no way.’ I cried like a baby.
Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”): One director said, ‘Don’t think too much.’ I had ideas I wanted to bounce off. ‘She’s smiling, she’s sweet.’ They’d never say that to a male actor who’s working a long time, so condescending. ‘I don’t want to have intellectual discourse.’ He wants what he wants. I was treated by the crew in a specific way, as a young girl on set, because I look like 12. They said inappropriate things when I was tied to a bed. Crew members were hitting on me, that was inappropriate when I was 18 years old.
Danai Gurira (“The Walking Dead”): It’s so tricky. It’s a difficult space women have to occupy. Do you call it out, how do you handle it? There are so many subversive ways that sexism manifests, how do you state that it happened, was it really that? How do we handle it, when they don’t really include you, is another thing. We have men making decisions, women are there, but they’re not trying to get her input or involvement, and just tell her what to do in the end. How do you inject yourself, you have to come across as a chick in their face a little. How do you do that with class, without them saying, ‘she’s crazy.’ It’s a constant negotiation.
On a film, the male lead was worshipped by the director, but I was playing the title role. The juxtaposition would get intense. We had to have a talk. I just can’t hang with that, it has to be dealt with, to see it through in a civil way. I have to do it, we all have to as women, have to see it through, we can’t leave it.
KS: This business in our world is hard on women. I’m the same size as when I moved here at 17. I was told I was fat, ‘you need to go on diet.’ You have to be headstrong. I grew up with a strong mom, I didn’t put up with that shit. ‘This is who I am, if you don’t like it I will move back and sell real estate with my dad.’ You only have one body. Treat it right.
I was lucky enough to have the strongest mom I ever met in my entire life. She never did anything spectacular, but she taught school for 35 amazing years, and raised a daughter to be headstrong and never take any shit. You don’t have to go out and change the world on a massive scale. But you can change one person with a smile. That’s being a superhero.
MR: I follow my joy. I feel happy playing someone I respect. If not, my stomach churns, if the character is not there, my stomach doesn’t feel right. Until I fix that I’m not going to go on set and play that character. I need to believe, and like, be attracted to who I’m playing. My gut has to feel right… Vin [Diesel] is not scared of strong women, which is a rare thing in Hollywood.
KS: He pushes you: ‘do this to make you look stronger, put your body this way.’
MR: [Women] are always bickering and fighting when we should be working together to balance everything out, all that destructive male energy.
KS: [On the female ‘Expendables’], men can’t imagine 15 women fighting together.
MR: I made video when I was about 10. I looked back on it, ‘what do you want to do when you grow up?’ I said I wanted to be a boxer.
TM: When I was a girl I wanted to be a boy because I equated it with strength. As I’ve grown into womanhood I see how warped that is, to equate male qualities with strength instead of our own female qualities.
MR: That’s the writers, honey.
DG: I was a loud mouth girl and a jock, I wanted to be a D.A. like Susan Dey (“L.A. Law”), take down the guys in cross-examination, in charge, she took control, feminine power. I realized I wanted to play a lawyer on TV. I was attracted to her power.
Maggie Q (“Nikita”): I got the action box and the ethnic box, it’s a very small box they put you in. It’s a lot of effort to climb out. At least it’s something to climb out of. They think I wake up, brush my teeth and do kung fu. It’s a weird thing, minority/woman/action. I do have to show up and have to say, ‘you see me as this, you think that’s all I am. This is what I’m capable of.’
MR: I ended up boxing myself in all these years, not doing things I was not comfortable doing, my corner is so tiny little-tomboy-in-hollywood weird. You got into the game 13 years ago to be a writer. These dudes don’t get it, don’t see the beautiful women who climb mountains, the beautiful stunt doubles who do back flips into the ocean, who ride horses. We have to write about it cause nobody else will…80% of the writers in Hollywood are dudes. You’re not female, you don’t know what it’s like to be one, to write 80% of roles for women. I’m asking women out there to come up with some cool stuff for women!
Hollywood’s media images and the world:
MR: Chicks have to come up with their own content, start production companies. Compete with the guys. Girls work with each other, they’re better at it… Who gives a rat’s ass if the director doesn’t respect the movie? It’s not how big the franchise is, that’s meaningless if the girl isn’t respected. They’re perpetuating the same treatment of women around the would. Our movies make it global, we can’t perpetuate that kind of image of women worldwide. It’s stupid and outdated and not the world we live in today.
Today the market is global. America [box office] is 25% of the rest of the world. You only see women in sci-fi in ‘Star Trek’ or ‘Fast & Furious,’ the only action movie franchise with a lot of ethnic characters…I am basing my writing on global empowerment, the eccentricities of our reality, Let’s put dumb stereotypes behind us. We’ll have bigger fish to fry in 25 years.
MQ: But movies and TV set the trend for the world. We have so much power.
DG: We are just as capable of carrying a universal audience. The guys in the room don’t get that. Also the story of immigrants living in America, they have stories too, which are neglected… I grew up Zimbabwe. Women in far less stable societies, we grew up on American shows. I watched ‘Girlfight’ in Zimbabwe. There is something we’re projecting to the world. Media image is America’s biggest export, what we are putting out, the buck stops with us. Sometimes we have to bring consciousness. They’ve been allowed to do it so much, he’s functioning within his privilege and outside of his consciousness. And I have to bring it to him.
TM: Images are fed to us. Men are brainwashed into thinking, ‘this is the kind of woman I should be attracted to.’
KS: Being blond and tough, I’ve been told so many times, ‘blonde girls are not tough, nobody will believe a cute little blond girl can beat somebody else.’ They want me to be androgynous. It’s a crazy business.
DG: Even when we do sit in the same room as the writer, they say, ‘can we really sell that?’ It’s a constant struggle, we can’t let any of this stop us! Bigger barriers have been broken and we have to keep coming!
MR: Get a hedge fund on Wall Street!
TM: I’d like to see more representation of queer culture as well. So many gay films are personal, make it universal, about humanity about the personal becoming universal. So it becomes just a given. I hope to see a lesbian character as a lead… That would be incredible.
DG: ‘Orange Is the New Black’ is created by women, it’s an insanely large female ensemble. You get to see Latina actresses, we’ve not seen that yet, on TV. Black women, queer culture, different religions. It’s an amazing ensemble of people. That’s life, that shouldn’t be new to us.
MR: I see strong women in franchises… in a realistic setting for things that are possible and tangible, so she feels it’s closer to her than these far away fantasy situations.
TM: Every single woman and man in this room has something about us that makes us special, regardless of what we’ve done… Strength comes in the revealing of flaws, vulnerabilities, and intellectual or emotional strength.
DG: I’m deeply connected to stories want told on larger scale, things women can do, I want their stories to be known more. Three African women won the Nobel prize in Liberia, for a reason. They stood up against Charles Taylor in the diamond war madness. They refused to back down until something changed, they used their intricate powerful feminine ways to stand up: ‘You men aren’t leaving the room.’ They made sure to fight what happened to women and children when men sat around and had good time and resolved nothing. We don’t know these stories. I’d love to see them put out to the world, to deeply give girls more understanding of their own power.
MQ: Strength is in what you do every day. When somebody helps you at hotel. Teachers and nurses are always everyday heroes for me..Men are dumb to think we’d fight in heels. I hate to go from a scene in a dress to a fight scene.
MR: There’s five different movies there. Let’s make all that content into one movie, and translate into emotions the things that would make guys cringe. Cool, seriously! Too emotional turns people off. They’d rather watch a bunch of people get killed in a massive action sequence. Jim Cameron is great at walking the line of emotion, heart and commercial filming. I hope people will be inspired to write and get out there and put our voice out there. [Women] need more content. Support it.