Kerry Washington says female representation in TV, film isn't a 'political act'

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Elise Solé
·3 min read
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(L-R) Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington starred in and executive produced Hulu's "Little Fires Everywhere." (Photo: Erik Voake/Getty Images for Hulu)
(L-R) Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington starred in and executive produced Hulu's "Little Fires Everywhere." (Photo: Erik Voake/Getty Images for Hulu)

Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon have played powerful women in film and television but don’t call their work “political.”

The women, who executive produced and co-starred in Little Fires Everywhere, an eight-episode Hulu series that aired in March, discussed female stereotypes and motherhood, in a virtual Saturday Q&A moderated by Natalie Portman.

In the series, based on the 2017 novel by Celeste Ng, Witherspoon plays Elena Richardson, a wealthy, married mother of four in Shaker Heights, Ohio, who rents her home to Mia Warren, a single mother and artist who also works as Richardson’s housekeeper. But as the families grow close, Richardson suspects Warren of hiding dark secrets. The show, on which both women also served as executive producers, earned an Emmy nomination for outstanding limited series and Washington was nominated for outstanding lead actress in a limited series or movie.

(L to R) Natalie Portman, Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon participated in a Jan. 16 roundtable about the Hulu series "Little Fires Everywhere." (Screenshot: Hulu)
(L to R) Natalie Portman, Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon participated in a Jan. 16 roundtable about the Hulu series "Little Fires Everywhere." (Screenshot: Hulu)

Both women have found success in film and television producing, Witherspoon for Big Little Lies, The Morning Show and the upcoming Luckiest Girl Alive, and Washington for American Son and the political documentary The Fight.

One creative choice endorsed by both women is a diverse writers’ room — women of all different backgrounds, including moms, worked on Little Fires Everywhere. “I do think motherhood is a great equalizer,” said Witherspoon. “It doesn’t matter where you are in your life, status, class-wise, race-wise. The ferocity of feelings you feel about your children and the choices you make for them....that’s the commonality between all of us. We will fight to the end for our children.”

Witherspoon, 44, has three children: daughter Ava, 21 and son Deacon, 17, whom she shares with ex-husband Ryan Phillippe, and 8-year-old son Tennessee with husband Jim Toth. Washington, 43, shares son Caleb, 4, and daughter Isabelle, 6 with husband Nnamdi Asomugha.

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However, telling women’s stories is frequently regarded as a political act, says Washington. She adds, “As a Black woman, whenever I center the things that matter to me as a person who’s marginalized, bringing my full self to the table is seen as political, because I’m bringing light to folks who are pushed into the sidelines, into the dark corners.”

“We can’t help but be political because our bodies are politicized in different ways,” agreed Portman.

“A story told from a woman’s perspective or a woman of color, is a completely different story than that same story told from a man’s perspective,” added Witherspoon. “All three of us grew up in a Hollywood that really had the same 20 to 30 white men making the movies over and over again....and it just didn’t represent our hearts or minds, our journeys as women, as mothers.” Representation, she adds, makes for better stories.

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