Yesterday, we began our countdown of inspirational ladies in pop culture and beyond - all as part of our International Women's Day celebration. Keeping in with the theme of pop culture, we will now turn our focus to some of the brilliant actresses who are not only known for their time on-screen, but for their actions off-screen too. Constance Wu, Viola Davis and Angelina Jolie are our leading ladies this International Women’s Day - find out why by reading on.
Actress and activist
As the star in one of 2018’s most eagerly-anticipated movies, Constance Wu has become something of a darling on the Hollywood circuit - as well as a powerful voice for equality.
The success of Crazy Rich Asians was not just a ‘win’ for the boxoffice, but for representation, too. It was the first major release in 25 years to feature an all-Asian ensemble (not to mention further opportunity behind the camera), enjoying the presence of major names such as Michelle Yeoh whilst also catapulting others (Awkwafina, Sonoya Mizuno) into heights unknown. The film was a breath of fresh air for movie-goers, who had grown tired of the typical white male-lead films; critically, it was a rare opportunity to enjoy the talents and creativity of actors who, for too long, have been delegated to comic relief and caricature. Here were fleshed-out, well-written characters, displaying a rich tapestry of personalities: from steely matriarchs to the daughters of Chinese immigrants; the humble to the extravagant; Malaysians, Singaporians, Hong Kong-ers and so forth. In an instance of rarity, here were individuals that minorities could relate to - not to be compared to in parody, but to understand and be understood - so upon the film’s release, it was no surprise that the praise and love-letters came flooding in.
Wu’s portrayal of Rachel Chu was a powerful one, not only for her representation of an Asian-American coming to terms with a sense of belonging, but for her representation of women in general. In an interview with Flare, Wu described a scene in which she turns down a proposal from the love of her life as not to cause a rift between him and his family. In the film, she talks about how she was ‘not afraid’, but how she knows she is ‘enough’ - a scene which she admits she cried throughout. ‘When you’re a woman, to assert your worth, in a declarative way without apologising for it is scary, because you’ve been chastised before,’ she says.
It is Wu’s unapologetic nature which has won her a legion of fans, and has earned her a place on our list today. From combatting white-washing in Hollywood to battling the gender pay gap, she has stood as a representative and ally for commonly-slighted minorities. She has stood up in defence of others, even when it has threatened her position - something which she undoubtedly would have fought tooth-and-nail to obtain to begin with. In a series of posts on Twitter, the actress slammed Casey Affleck, an Oscar-nominated actor who had recently been accused of sexual assault allegations. ‘I've been counseled not to talk about this for career's sake,’ she tweeted. ‘F my career then, I'm a woman & human first. That's what my craft is built on.’
In the light of the ‘#MeToo’ movement, new and serious allegations are being made about Hollywood’s upper-echelon almost every day, and while some progress is being made, the threat to those who speak out (either as victims or as allies) remains very real. It’s a disturbing, egregious element of life in the spotlight, but as long as people like Wu continue to be courageous and to speak out, we can work towards a fairer world - for minorities, for women, for all.
Actress and philanthropist
Academy Award winner, Emmy Award winner, and holder of a Tony Award too, Viola Davis is a force to be reckoned with. She is the first black actor to have won the ‘Triple Crown of Acting’ - though such meteoric heights are a far cry from the life she once had.
Born on August 11th 1965, Davis had a tumultuous childhood. At just two years old, she was taken to jail alongside her mother, who had been arrested for her role in a civil rights protest. Her living conditions thereafter were poor, as she later recalled ‘rat-infested and condemned’ apartments, suffering from ‘abject poverty’ and a life of dysfunction. ‘I did everything that you could possibly imagine to get food,’ Davis once confessed, ‘I rummaged in the garbage cans, I stole from the local store constantly.’
Davis’ reflection on her youth has impacted her actions later in life, with her considerable success allowing her to make a difference to those who’re still battling for survival. She has been a collaborator with the ‘Hunger Is’ campaign since 2014, working with the organisation to eradicate childhood hunger across America. She has also remained loyal to her hometown of Central Falls, Rhode Island, funding services such as the public library as to prevent their closure. Notably, she fights on behalf of equality for women of colour and those who are victims of sexual assault, giving an impassioned speech as the Los Angeles Women’s March in 2018:
‘I am aware of all the women who are still in silence. The women who are faceless. The women who don’t have the money and don’t have the constitution and who don’t have the confidence and who don’t have the images in our media that gives them a sense of self-worth enough to break their silence that is rooted in the shame of assault, that’s rooted in the stigma of assault.’ She implores others not only to listen, but to fight for change themselves.
To listen to Viola Davis push for equality, for fairer representation and for justice is a thing to behold. She uses her considerable profile to not only to elevate others, but to make us think and examine (her interview with Net-A-Porter in March 2018 is a particularly evocative piece). Her candidness and outspoken nature is unparalleled, and we salute her not only on International Women’s Day, but on every day of the year.
Actress, philanthropist, humanitarian
The final actress on our list is none other than the inimitable Angelina Jolie, one of the most famous faces in the world not only for her work in front of the camera, but for her dedication to an array of causes off-screen.
Jolie’s career spans many decades, genres and roles: a fixture on the Hollywood circuit since the early 90s, she has starred in all manner of films ranging from the lighthearted and animated to the downright disturbing. While she shows no sign of slowing down, however, her films are not her sole calling, as she has spent much of the past two decades focusing on humanitarian work, beginning with her role as an ambassador for the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).
Then in her early twenties, Jolie had been filming in Cambodia for her role as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. It was here that she had her first exposure to the effects of a humanitarian crisis, and after witnessing a war-torn country first-hand, she felt compelled to reach out the UNHCR for more information. Not long after, she began to visit other areas such as Sierra Leone and Tanzania, before eventually returning to Cambodia and later meeting with Afghan refugees in Pakistan. It was here where she pledged $1 million to the UNHCR’s emergency appeal - the largest private donation in the organisation’s history - and was henceforth named a Goodwill Ambassador in August 2001.
The next decade saw Jolie attending a range of other field missions, where she met with more refugees and displaced individuals across 30 different countries. She purposefully chose to visit locations which were home to ‘forgotten emergencies’ - crises which the media would seldom focus on - in an attempt to raise their profile and to draw attention to the ‘plight of these people’. Incredibly, Jolie’s dedication to the cause saw her taking flying lessons as to help carry aid workers and food supplies around the world - an unprecedented step for an actress.
Elsewhere, Jolie has had a keen focus on the welfare and rights of immigrants, particularly children. One example of this can be seen in her work with Kids in Need of Defence (KIND), a network of American law firms which provide free legal aid to unaccompanied minors in immigration proceedings (Jolie has co-chaired the network since 2008). Since a year prior to that, she has also co-chaired the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict, a programme which provides funding to help educate children in conflict-affected regions. Finally, Jolie has done much for women’s rights, fronting a campaign against sexual violence in military conflict zones and even co-chairing the four-day Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict - the summit saw its largest-ever attendance and resulted in a protocol endorsed by 151 nations.
Angelina Jolie’s advocacy and activism is well-documented, with a huge section of Wikipedia being dedicated to her efforts. The page is a fascinating and inspiring read, covering a multitude of reasons why she more than deserves a place on our list of influential ladies - and why she is the perfect representative of the phrase ‘Balance for Better’.
Join us tomorrow as we lend the spotlight to our amazing female politicians! In the meanwhile, why not catch up on our post about our favourite women in music and art? We’d also love to know who your personal heroines are - let us know in the comments!
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