In case you’ve been living in a cultural vacuum, you may have missed out on the fact the Sundance Film Festival kicked off in Utah last week. Our own Saoirse Ronan is busy promoting two films at the festival; Stockholm, Pennsylvania in which she plays a kidnapping victim struggling to readjust to life after freedom, and the highly-anticiapted adaptation of Colm Toibin’s novel Brooklyn.
However, while we’re pretty excited to read about all the movies that are sure to be on our radars in the next year, it was the ‘Serious Ladies’ panel at the weekend that really caught our attention. Emily Nussbaum, New Yorker television critic and our writing crush, chaired the discussion with Girls’ Lena Dunham, Bridesmaids’ Kristen Wiig, creator of The Mindy Project Mindy Kaling, and Orange is the New Black showrunner Jenji Kohan. Together these five women served up all the sound bites and talked super honestly about how tough it is be top of your game in a Hollywood still dominated by men.
Kohan spoke about how tough it was to thrive as a woman in the writers’ room. One older male writer even told her “If God had meant women to be in a writer’s room he wouldn’t have made tits so distracting.”
Kaling spoke about how as an Indian American woman she’s expected to be a role model, and how that can keep a female writer and performer in a prescriptive box. “When you’re a feminist, there’s a side of you who wants to have a character who is very prescriptive and an ideal for all woman, even though American women are not representative of all women,” she explained. You have to be brave Kaling explained, “I’m also a contrarian and an artist, so I also want her to say things that could maybe offend. It’s about striking a balance.”
Another difficulty with pushing boundaries is the likability trap when it comes to female characters. Kaling claims that being likeable isn’t important to her creative process, “Relatability is very important to me,” she stressed.
As for Dunham? She addressed that now infamous line from the first episode of Girls – “I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice, of a generation.” – admitting that it will be probably written on her grave. Dunham was also upfront about the criticism she regularly faces. “People have trouble differentiating between me and my character,” she said. In fact, all the actresses spoke about how female actors have to stress they are not their characters, something male actors manage to avoid in interviews.
While some of the stories these creative powerhouses shared were a little bit dispiriting, the good news is that all four women are nmassive successes who get to call the shots. So much for having a pair of distracting breasts.
Have a watch of the panel below.
Follow Jeanne Sutton on Twitter @jeannedesutun