Elizabeth Banks Is Committed to Amplifying Women's Voices Across the World
In a world where women make up less than 25 percent of above-the-line positions in Hollywood, Elizabeth Banks is taking it upon herself to make sure women's voices still have an impact in film.
She is a triple threat: actor, producer and director. Not only has she starred in blockbuster films like The Hunger Games, but she is a producer on the Pitch Perfect franchise and is slated to direct the upcoming Charlie's Angels reboot.
In the midst of all that, she is also helping funny women shine by partnering with YouTube and WhoHaHa in a new initiative that aims to support women in comedy by offering mentorships, workshops and a community where these women can grow.
SheKnows chatted with Banks about her efforts in Hollywood and the need for the female narrative to continue growing in Hollywood.
SheKnows: I think recently we've seen a lot about how women aren't included in Hollywood, with the sexual assault scandals, but WhoHaHa seems like something really positive to bring women into the fold.
Elizabeth Banks: For sure. Yeah. I want women to feel like their voices matter and that they have value.
SK: You are mentoring women in this program. What is the best advice you can give women who want careers in comedy?
EB: (laughs) Well, honestly, being a creative person is a really personal process so there is no one-size-fits-all advice, that's kind of the first thing I'd say. Because everybody's goals are different. Everybody's talents are different. Everybody's voice is different. Some women that I'm talking to want to create a television show. Some women want to be a director. Some women just want to be a motivational speaker. They want to use comedy in different ways, and I find that really fascinating. We're really crossing all kinds of ways of being funny with this program and these platforms. The main thing I would say is, start! Just do it. Keep going. When people come at you with the negativity and the nos, you've got to ignore it. Push through.
SK: How many women are you personally working with right now?
EB: So, this morning, I've already spoken to women in Mumbai and London and Tokyo, Toronto, Berlin. That's what's so great about WhoHaHa. The platform that we started here in L.A. to amplify women's voices in comedy, we have a little production space here, we have a great team and support staff that helps content creators, but YouTube is the queen of that. You know, they have these amazing YouTube Spaces all around the world and so this is WhoHaHa's opportunity to go global. By the way, watching video from YouTube Japan, it's a rabbit hole. If you want to lose two hours of your life, you should start watching those videos. They're amazing. It's just so fun to see what other cultures are interested in and what they're doing. I get a lot out of this process, as well. I hope the women I'm mentoring are getting something out of it, but they should know I'm also getting something out of it.
SK: What excites you most about women in comedy right now?
EB: I think we're in a really interesting moment for women globally just in terms of, like, historically, I think we're in an interesting moment for women. Because, it's important to remember, there have always been funny, funny women. Mae West was real funny. Marilyn Monroe was in one of the greatest comedies, Some Like It Hot, ever made. I grew up on Jane Curtin and Gilda Radner, and now we have Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. I mean, it's not like we're lacking. I just think the percentage of women in positions of power in all aspects of our culture is improving and women are standing up and demanding to be heard, and I think that's really interesting. And if I can be supportive and help amplify these new and very current voices, that's exciting to me.
SK: You are one of those women who's leading the way. You're not just acting, you're producing and directing and leading films. What are the benefits of having women in these leadership roles, especially when it comes to comedy?
EB: Well, for sure what it means is more women get to be heard, really. You know, I think my company Brownstone, along with this endeavor with WhoHaHa, we really are attracted to women's stories. It's hard to think about just the feeling of disinterest in women's stories that exists. So much is told from a male point of view, and I really felt like I could help change that narrative. And I have always gravitated toward partners who wanted to pursue that same goal of telling the story from the woman's point of view. Like Pitch Perfect, we could have made a movie about a male a cappella group, but we made the movie about the women's a cappella group, and I'm so happy we did.
SK: Do you feel pressure to accurately represent women or tell the right stories?
EB: I don't know that I feel pressure. I don't think there's one right way to do anything. There's no one best way to be a woman. There's no best way to be a mentor. I'm just trying to be me and be authentic and live my truth and be as inclusive and interested in other human beings as possible. I'm an actor by training, which means that I study human beings and human behavior. That's what I try to do and what I love to do. I'm just very interested in other people and their stories, so being part of a movement to embrace representation of different cultures, different people, different genders, different orientations, that feels really meaningful and important to me, and that feels authentic to me because it's something I've been interested in since becoming an actor.
SK: What are topics you want to see covered more from a woman's perspective?
EB: There's nothing in particular that comes to mind. I just feel like there's so many unsung heroes among women. There have been men in some of these leadership roles. I think it's important to present role models for young women coming up. I really do believe you can't be what you can't see, and representation matters. So, for me, it's the idea of putting women in media in ways that present them as having power, being heard, being true to themselves, and done from the perspective of women.
There's more empathetic representations than we're used to seeing. I honestly feel like in the early days of Hollywood, women did have those. Women had very traditional roles in society of wife and mother, but when they went to the movies, they got to see women be, like, really cool, amazing characters and femme fatales and all of this. And then, I don't know, there was just this systemic reaction where it was all about, you know, "How do we make money?" And everybody wants to sell things to boys. And then women's entertainment became devalued in a way that I think is disrespectful and hurtful.
I remember there was an article about the beginning of HBO and how HBO was built on the back of The Sopranos. And Emily Nussbaum came along and said, "I'm sorry, HBO was also built on Sex and the City. How dare you make Sex and the City some, like, footnote in a story about how HBO built itself on The Sopranos." As if the male entertainment was more important than what Sex and the City did. But Sex and the City could be written off like, "Eh, that was pandering to girls." And it's like, "What?" I love The Sopranos, I have nothing against The Sopranos, but can you find some equivalency with Sex and the City, please? But we're all in a system where men tell the stories. It's a male narrative that's being written. So the man who wrote the story about the rise of HBO was more interested in The Sopranos.
SK: Do you find in your own career that you're pushed to tell stories that fit the male narrative?
EB: I'm very grateful to be in a position now where I have a lot more control to tell the stories I want to tell. I feel no obligation to tell any one story. I will tell you my interest mostly lies in telling stories about empowered women, but I don't feel it's an obligation. But I do feel like I am servicing a voice.
SK: What or who makes you laugh the most?
EB: My kids. My little children, they are so funny. I mean, just everything they do is so cute. It just makes me laugh. And also how they interact with the world and how aware they are of things that I don't even realize they're already aware of. They blow my mind every day.