Freida Pinto Reveals the Reality Behind Roles for Women in Hollywood

May 11th 2016

You know the hot babe. You've watched her on-screen as she inches her way out of a crystal blue pool, slowly shimmying to some sexy tune in the background.

But if you ask actress Freida Pinto, and a growing group of voices in Hollywood, there simply has to be more powerful roles for ladies.

The actress and producer, in collaboration with her partners at We Do It Together, wants to change the way female voices are presented both on and off-screen.

The nonprofit film production company is creating more women-driven projects with a group of actors, filmmakers, and producers, whose collective goal is to introduce bold stories and feature powerful female characters to help inform and develop our culture as a whole.

And Pinto and Chiara Tilesi, founder of the nonprofit, say there's a serious demand for these roles off-screen, too.

You might hear jokes about the "celluloid ceiling," but according to a recent report, there are as many women directing films in 2016 as there were in 1998.

This year, just 19 percent of the big decision-making jobs in film were held by women in the top 250 domestic grossing movies, including director, writer, editor, executive producer, and cinematographer.

In the coming months, you can expect to see Pinto attempt to shatter many outdated clichês in her upcoming films, as she and the organization work to write new narratives for women. They're thinking about the future. They picture the children, both boys and girls of today, looking for heroes like they did. ATTN: sat down with Pinto and Tilesi to talk about why they want to break these stereotypes and help inspire women. They want to show that women are sexy, smart, and much more than just objects.

This interview was edited for clarity and length.


ATTN: Why are there limited opportunities for women in entertainment?

Freida Pinto: I don't think there is the lack of wanting to go out there and creating more roles and opportunities, but I feel there's been a lack of doing so far. We've been hearing for a very long time, studio heads, and producers, and agents, and actors themselves saying that there should be more women roles, but I feel it takes a lot of doing to actually make it happen. And I think that is the harder part, and it's a longer part, it's a longer commitment. And of course it's mindsets. There's a certain way that women have been viewed in film for years. To break that stereotype, you have to go out there really, really hard. I feel like there is an opportunity now, more than ever before, with all this conversation about equal pay and women standing up, saying that we want more roles that are not just the mother or the girlfriend or the hot babe, and I feel with all this chat now, the next thing for us to actually do is to do it.

ATTN: What do you think are the most typical or standard portrayals of women in films?

FP: I've played a few of them. I've played a few of those stereotypical roles: the girlfriend, who usually is a useless sidekick.

The hot babe. There has to be a hot babe. How can you sell a film without a hot babe?

The mother, and usually as they get older, women are stuck in roles that are devoid of any sexuality or sensuality, like they don't feel the need for being sexual or sensual after the age of 40, and that's really sad. And not to say there aren't women who aren't defying that.

The other one that I feel is the other extreme of it, is when you want to sell a woman as a strong person, she almost has to wear male pants, or else it's [almost] impossible for a woman to be wearing a normal dress, or jeans and t-shirt, and still be powerful. I feel there is a sense of lack of understanding, that women can be women and still be powerful.

ATTN: And for minority women, what does that standard portrayal look like for you?

FP: Doctors and nurses. There is an overpopulation of them in the film world, and the TV world. There is also this constant need, in my opinion, for studio heads to make minority women exotic. Unfortunately, I have played one of those as well. I learned from my mistake, because I kind of feel in a way, 'That's great, that's great to do that. But what more am I giving my character, and what is the impression that I'm giving a whole population that looks up to me as their representation?' I feel like the exotic, or the nerd, or the doctor, the nurse — [these stereotypical roles] need to stop.

ATTN: Can you describe some of the ageism that some women in film are facing right now?

FP: I feel like because there are so few women who go out there and defy ageism, I end up watching a lot of their films. There's Meryl Streep, there's Helen Mirren, there is Sally Field.

I think it's absolutely admirable to see what they are doing, because the opposite is the larger chunk: Women who are not given the power of being in their bodies, whether they're sexual or sensual, within their bodies — and powerful, just because they've crossed a certain mark. Whereas with men there isn't such a problem. Tom Cruise is still Ethan Hunt in "Mission Impossible."

He can age and age and age and he'll still be a super hero of sorts, and I feel that is definitely lacking in women's roles. Women automatically become the wise mothers or the wise grandmothers, imparting all this amazing knowledge, funnily enough, in one move. And for me, that does not make any sense.

ATTN: What roles are we seeing that are positive examples of movies doing things the right way with women?

FP: The positive examples, and they have to be mentioned, otherwise it just seems like we're out there being negative about the change that is actually taking place as well, as slow as it may be. In recent times, "Blue Jasmine" definitely empowered Cate Blanchett's character, and she did not need to be the perfect, beautiful woman playing that. She was empowered in her own way, with her own dysfunctionality, and it was a thrill to watch a performance like that. She kept it very organic and real.

I loved Helen Hunt in "The Sessions." It was nice, for a change, to see a fully sexually liberated woman. There was not a sense of objectification. That was the main thing about that film. There was no objectification of her naked body. It was serving a purpose that was graceful and almost noble, in a way. There were so many emotions running deep, it wasn't just 'Helen Hunt's naked body, look at it.' And I think that was definitely another brilliant example of a film in recent times.

Of course, everyone will go back to Erin Brockovich, everyone will talk about "Blindside," because those are amazing films and role models, as well, for us younger actors to look up and say, 'These are the roles we need to aspire to, the roles we need to be in."

ATTN: There's a lot of conversation about the pay gap, what do you think can be done to solve these problems?

FP: I don't have necessarily the answer to the pay gap problem in Hollywood, because I'm not an expert on how to solve this problem, but I feel women need to band together as well. Female actors need to make sure their voices are being heard right at the level of negotiation. I feel there's a sense of fear, in a way, that 'You know what, I have a job, I might as well take it and just be quiet about it, because at least I have a job.'

But I feel we need to start changing that attitude. And I feel changing that attitude is going to meet a lot of resistance at first, hence, changing the attitude with a little bit of bravery will be very, very important for this actual shift to happen. All I can hope is that agents and producers and studio heads don't shun this as women rising up for no rhyme or reason, but actually pay attention to what they're saying.

ATTN: For the young people out there, including our audience, how does it affect them when they don't see somebody on the screen who looks like them?

FP: I will give you my example when it comes to not having enough role models or enough people who they can actually look up to and say 'I relate to that person.' There were hardly any strong, female, brown, Indian characters in films before. It was always the nurse, the doctor, the teacher, the social worker, and it was always in these roles that if you pulled them out of the script they would hardly change the course of the film. And I felt that was nerve-wracking at first, when I did my first film, when I did "Slumdog Millionaire," and I was like, 'Here I am, thrust onto this international platform, with not many women in the past who've come from India or South Asia who've done it before, how am I going to change the game? How am I going to make it known that I am not willing to play these roles that don't do anything to the film?

It's not about just wanting to play the lead roles, but even in a supporting role, to make sure that it is truly supporting the crux of the film. It was really difficult at first, and I did have to play some of the stereotypical roles, to be honest. But now, having done all that, I feel it is my responsibility, in a way, to make sure that the next generation of boys and girls, whether they are from India, South Asia, brown, not brown — doesn't matter — that they just see strong female characters from now on. Especially for boys as well, because you can really shape the way they think about girls and women, their future wives and girlfriends in general, if the representation in film is not just objectification, and if it is someone who is powerful.

ATTN: What important stories are you fighting for right now?

FP: At the moment, with the films that I'm producing, I am kind of hell-bent on doing the first three films of South Asian women. I think it's very important, as someone who comes from that part of the world, that I tell a few stories about women from my part of the world, and in making sure that when I tell the stories of these women, that there is no demonizing of men, because that is something I'm strongly opposed to.

Freida  PintoJessica Lea/Department for International Development - wikimedia.org

In order to tell a strong woman's story you don't have to make the man look bad. There are always gray characters, there are always the characters in the middle, but no one needs to look like a bad person, just keeping the humanity intact while telling the stories.

ATTN: What's it like to work with women, on women-driven projects? Is there a big difference?

FP: You know, the truth is, I have never worked with a woman. And I am working with one right now, but I've never gone on floors with a female director, and I'm yearning so very badly to do that, just because I want to experience a different perspective. I've not had trouble communicating what I really want, because I'm not the kind of person to have trouble communicating my perspective even with a male director, but I just want the experience of working with someone who I will not have to spend a lot of time explaining a lot of things, where I can just go out there and go with the flow.

What I love about the women that I'm working with right now, with We Do It Together, with Chiara, with my director Kátia Lund, who is producing the next film with me as well, which we're working on, the working relationship with them is we complement each other. There is no sense of competition. Every time you think about women in a work field together, for some reason, there is, again, this stereotype of them being competitive. But I love the fact that we complement each other because of our different upbringing and backgrounds and experiences, we bring so much richness and flavor to what we're doing right now, it almost feels like we're unstoppable, and I can't wait to actually go out there and film the things that we're planning on doing.

To learn more about We Do It Together, check out the nonprofit's website.

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