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Netflix Panel: ‘Strong Female Leads’ and What it Truly Means

By Flora  /  18 Feb 2017 (Saturday)

Photo Credit: Netflix

At the Netflix panel held at New York City earlier this month, a ‘Strong Female Leads’ Q&A panel was set up for actresses to talk about their experiences as a woman working in the entertainment industry that has a disreputable image of it being sexist. 

For starters, the need to organise a panel in 2017 titled as such speaks volumes. I was fortunate to attend the panel in person, and this topic was one that I truly enjoyed. If 2016 was about pushing boundaries, then 2017 should be about achieving those dreams.

Speakers of the panel included: Jessica Henwick (Marvel’s Iron Fist), Kate Del Castillo (Ingobernable), Gillian Jacobs (Love), Logan Browning (Dear White People), and Danielle Brooks (Orange is the New Black). Eliana Dockterman from Time Magazine.

Here are some of the highlights from the panel: 


Photo Credit: Netflix

Eliana Dockterman: What a leading lady is in 2017 is maybe a little different from when it was when we were all growing up we're seeing different types of women on TV know so for all of you, what does leading lady, a kick ass woman, mean in 2017?

Danielle Brooks: I do feel like there's an array of people that are gender fluid and so for me I hope that in, you know, the months to come that we really expand the definition of what it is to be female and what it is -- what that means because there's a lot of people out there that identify in different ways. So I feel like if we hit on maybe some of that as well I think it could be really cool storytelling.

Kate del Castillo: I also think it's important that we as actresses can go along with the writers. Because before it was like a strong leading actress, a bad ass as well call them. They were always trying to be seductive and very, you know, voluptuous and I'm a Latina, I know what that means. They would always want us Latinas to be all these things. That's okay if that's the case of the role but now at least what I'm doing -- trying to do with Ingobernable I'm playing the first lady but she’s bad ass. She doesn't have to show herself. I think being a bad ass, strong female actress, leading actress, it means so many other things that we need to care for. It's not I am not a bad ass because I know manipulate men because of sex or because of my gender or because of my kids. I am because that's the whole of me.

Jessica Henwick: When you talk about a female strong character it's a woman who could use a gun or could fight but I mean she's fleshed out. They can be all those things but also intensely vulnerable and also have self-esteem issues and all these things for me it's just about being strongly fleshed out. I don't mean physically strong when I talk about a strong female character

Logan Browning: I feel like being unapologetically who that person is. Most of the time women are put in a category of if you are prim and proper then you're good. If you have a little bit of sass maybe you have like the daddy issues or -- people like to label women and put them in these two categories and I feel like being unapologetically who you want to be and not feeling limited to being one or the other. 

Gillian Jacobs: I think the most iconic characters in TV have been male anti-heroes whether it's Tony Soprano or breaking bad and comfortable audiences are drawn to male characters who are incredibly flawed, put other people in jeopardy and I think it's a struggle for female characters to be that three-dimensional so I'm encouraged to see all of these women today and programming that helps push female characters in that direction.


Photo Credit: Netflix

Eliana Dockterman: What do you all think still needs to change? Lot has changed for women by when you look at scripts when you look at parts, what needs to change still?

Kate del Castillo: I can tell you the stereotypes still. I remember the first show I will be here was American family and I remember I had my hair just like this colour and them — it's like, no, it has to be black. And you have to talk like this so you can -- you know? I was like, okay, whatever, and then all my house supposedly was all like very Mexican. But it's getting better. It's better roles but still, there's a lot of stereotypes for sure. At least with latinas.

Jessica Henwick: Same with Asians as well. Also, I'm interested in right now. I’ve been doing this only eight years but I've made an effort to stay away from stereotypes. I took a lot of roles which weren't specified as Asian but now I'm interested in roles that are specified as Asian and what are roles telling an Asian story. 

I remember, and it’s not a perfect film and I remember growing up and watching Joy Luck Club with my mum and I burst into tears and I looked at my mum and I never I'd never ever seen my relationship with her, my mum, as Chinese, portrayed on the screen. And I said is that what it's like for you and she said yeah, that's exactly high I feel when I look at you and I said the same and I want to give, I want to make that moment. I want to recreate that for someone else.


Photo Credit: Netflix

Question: So television has become such a great landscape of nuanced, flawed, interesting women and a lot of these shows are huge hits and I might be wrong about this but why don't you think the film industry has caught up with that?

Logan Browning: I don't think it's limited to the film industry. I think it's also network television. Tells different stories than mediums like Netflix get to tell. With fewer parameters and less, like Netflix in my opinion, when I watch shows doesn't feel like it’s trying to appease people. It feels like it's trying to give to the viewers. Give them a voice, give them themselves back.

Danielle Brooks: I think it's about formula going to -- because I feel people say we know what sells. We know how to make money. This formula works. But Netflix, like what you're saying is, Netflix, they are showing you that there are other avenues, there are other stories that people want to know and hear and see. So I feel like -- in my opinion, I think it's there are some people, I don't know who they are, but the top of the tier they know this is -- has worked for them in the past and they are not willing to take risks.

Jessica Henwick: I agree it's a question of what films do well. The only films that only seem to do well in China are big CG affairs I'm talking like the transformers, teenage mutant ninja turtles type or romantic comedies. Only now you're seeing CGs that are more clever like arrival where you have hard sci-fi and it's an intelligent CG film.

Gillian Jacobs: I will say hidden figures has surpassed la-la land. Hopefully, people will see them more as an anomaly.

Danielle Brooks: And that's the first time that three black women have been the leads in a movie and this is 2017. 

Question: Earlier you guys were talking about when you grow up with media that you looked up to do you feel that responsibility or rather that pressure for what those growing up now are watching in media.

Gillian Jacobs: I am excited by things that I'm trying to do not just as an actor but try — things I'm trying to produce like I made a short documentary about a female court computer coder and I'm trying to make more documentaries about women in technology which I think is a really burgeoning area of our economy. And so I'm trying as a person to highlight people who have accomplished in that area and also encourage young people to go into that field.


What are your opinions on women portrayed in films and television series? Shout out in the comments below!

Love Season 2 premieres on Netflix on 10 March.
Marvel's Iron Fist premieres on Netflix on 17 March.
Ingobernable premieres on Netflix on 24 March.
Dear White People premieres on Netflix in April
Orange is the New Black is currently showing on Netflix.
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