Chastain calls for diversity and inclusivity

American actress Jessica Chastain (above), at the premiere of Dark Phoenix in Hollywood last month, is producing female-ensemble action thriller 355, in which she will star with Lupita Nyong’o and Marion Cotillard.
American actress Jessica Chastain (above), at the premiere of Dark Phoenix in Hollywood last month, is producing female-ensemble action thriller 355, in which she will star with Lupita Nyong’o and Marion Cotillard. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Actress Jessica Chastain pushes for more films about women and minorities and to eliminate gender pay gap in Hollywood

NEW YORK •In a recent interview with The New York Times about the future of movies, actress Jessica Chastain called on Hollywood to employ more diverse voices.

"Audiences have really demanded inclusivity in their storytelling," the It: Chapter Two star said. "I truly believe if we keep seeding this inclusivity and flowering it into learning about the stories of others, not only does the industry change, but society also in some way becomes more tolerant."

Here are excerpts from the interview.

What is something that has changed recently in the movie industry that you think will only continue to develop over the next 10 years?

One big difference is the freedom women have to speak about the industry. In the beginning, I did feel a little bit of nervousness about criticising an industry that I was very lucky to be involved in.

After working my whole life to try to create a career, perhaps I was damaging it. I even had male directors say to me: "You're talking too much about this woman stuff."

But I've noticed that things are different for women coming into this industry. I just did a press tour (for Dark Phoenix) with Sophie Turner and the freedom she has to express herself and talk about injustices she may see, it just comes naturally to her without a second thought.

That means women now feel they can speak out without having their careers harmed.

Do you think that empowerment will affect which films are made over the next decade?

It will definitely affect them, but I don't want to give too much credit to the studio system. I actually give all the credit to the audience because, for years, it's been a known fact that movies with female ensembles had a greater chance of making their money back than those with male ensembles.

The studio system wasn't listening and it kept saying that films about women aren't marketable.

You are producing one of those female-ensemble films, the action thriller 355, where you will star alongside Lupita Nyong'o and Marion Cotillard. How did that come about?

When my career was taking off, I had all these ideas for movies. I shared them with people who could make them, but they just weren't doing it. So I talked to these actresses about my idea.

I'm hopeful that other actors will understand it isn't that difficult to put something together where the control can go to the creatives instead of an executive who is deciding which women are valuable and before which age.

You mentioned the pay gap. Do you get a sense that is changing, especially after stories like the disparity in salaries between Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams on All The Money In The World (2017)?

My sense of it is that shame is a powerful tool. With all of us having a sense of our own platform where we can amplify these issues, people can be called out.

I think it was wonderful that Wahlberg donated his salary to Time's Up after that came out and I truly think that other actors don't want to be in another situation where it comes out that there was a huge pay disparity.

What is your sense of how streaming services will transform the industry?

I'm all for it. I was going to the art house to see foreign cinema so I could see Isabelle Huppert and watch these complex, female-led films that, for some reason, the studio system wasn't making.

So I'm all for streaming platforms and the competition that brings because now, all of a sudden, people are interested in stories that are not just from one demographic's point of view.

I think it's going to bring to the top some very interesting creative talent who would not have had the opportunity to work in the system of old.

Do you think that 10 years from now, a film will still need a theatrical release to be eligible for the Oscars?

I don't think it should. I'm a member of the academy, although I'm not on the board. But there were so many people around the world who got to see (Roma) that wouldn't have if it had played solely in a movie theatre.

Meryl Streep said once (at the 2007 Golden Globes) that if your movie theatre isn't playing these small films, you should demand it, but the realities of our industry have changed.

The pool of what we are looking at has shifted towards spectacle films and as studios have become bigger corporations, the movies have become very large-scale.

So what happens to these beautiful, small, dramatic stories? Are other studios going to make them so we don't lose part of our art form?

It's a complicated thing because a lot of the people who've spoken up about this were very actively making films in the 1970s and, when I look at the films that not only won best picture, but were also the top box-office hits of that time, it's a very different landscape than what is happening now.

The industry has already changed and the Oscars haven't caught up.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2019, with the headline 'Chastain calls for diversity and inclusivity'. Print Edition | Subscribe