This year’s Entertainment Weekly’s Women Who Kick Ass panel at San Diego Comic-Con showcased a fantastic line up of kick-ass women – which includes the first woman to play The Doctor.
Moderated by EW’s Jessica Shaw the panel featured the woman of the hour, Jodie Whittaker (Doctor Who), Regina King (Watchmen), Camila Mendes (Riverdale), Amandla Stenberg (The Darkest Minds), and Chloe Bennet (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).
This years panel is the most diverse yet including two Black women, a Latina woman, and a half-Chinese woman. The women spoke on various issues and topics, such as their experiences in the industry, what it is to be a kick-ass woman, the importance of representation, and the current climate for women in Hollywood.
The panel kicked off with the actresses discussing on-screen heroes growing up and the women who inspired them. Whittaker will be playing one of the most iconic sci-fi heroes, The Doctor, on series 11 of Doctor Who. She said, “Now we look like the people we are inspired by because of all the parts I wanted to play were played by men. Now, we can see ourselves in those parts.” She added a cute note about how in the 80’s she looked up to the character that was in the midst of fights, kicking, screaming, and taking everyone down. Now, she will be saving the world as the 13th Doctor!
In recent years more women have been taking on traditionally male roles; in most cases it is reboots like Ghostbusters or Oceans 8 and consist of women in lead roles which were previously played by men. The Doctor has been played by a male actor for over 50 years, and Whittaker is painfully aware of the responsibility and scrutiny this change will get.
On the topic of childhood heroes Regina King — one of the leads in HBO’s much anticipated Watchmen TV series — said, “There weren’t many like me kicking ass. The ones that didn’t look like me that I was a fan of…I was a Lynda Carter Wonder Woman fan.” For King, Carter’s Wonder Woman was a rare treat, a woman who wore a skimpy outfit yet still retained ownership and confidence that exuded female strength.
Stenberg mentioned Raven Symone of That’s So Raven, Penny of the Proud Family and Keke Palmer from Akeelah and the Bee as some of her heroes growing up. King and Stenberg also added that for them, there were very few characters that looked like them and they are pleased that we are now seeing more.
Camila Mendes mentioned Summer Roberts from The OC as she was a character that spoke her mind and was fearless. Mendes explained that Summer was the closest to Latina representation because she had brown hair and a tan.
The discussion also focused on the term “strong female role” and the women on the panel were unanimous on how off-putting that term is. Such a term would never be used for male characters, as it is just understood that men can be multifaceted and exude various types of strength. The women on the panel would rather play strongly written female roles rather than strong females.
Amandla Stenberg — who has made a name for herself as one of the most talented performers of her generation — will be starring in two highly anticipated book-to-movie adaptations this year, The Darkest Minds and The Hate U Give. On the topic of “strong female roles” and representation, she said, “I create representation because of the accessibility I have. When it comes to these roles, there is a give-and-take game. We continue to sacrifice in order to see the representation we want.” Sternberg‘s delves deeper into how the system is rigged, but one has to play by the rules to do right by representation, in whatever form that comes in.
More women in major roles on TV or in movies are not only vital for young women, but also young men. Whittaker says, “We want to inspire and tell little guys that you can look up to women, we can do the same things…and even more.” It goes without saying that since the beginning of the entertainment business young girls and women have found many male characters to look up to, The Doctor is one of them. Now, young boys and men are finally going to have a woman embodying the role and that is a beneficial change that needed to be made.
Stenberg agreed with the Whittaker’s statement adding that more representation of women encourages empathy and explained that for so long women and people of colour have been cross-identifying with people they don’t look like and that instills empathy. Now, as Hollywood seems to be getting the message, white males will now have to do what women and people of colour have been doing all along.
These incredible actresses also tackled the discussion of power and women in other roles in the business and the incredible challenges marginalized women face during the audition process. The discussion delved into some dark truths which showed that there is still a lot more growth to be had in the industry. However, the hopeful women are positive about the future of women in the industry.
Check out the full panel here: