America Ferrera, Lena Dunham, and Jenni Konner recently led a Tribeca Film Festival talk that focused on 'Girls' and women in film and television.
As the moderator of the discussion, Ferrera noted how Konner and Dunham have disrupted the entertainment industry's idea of how a female character should be portrayed. "You [Dunham] changed the landscape of television, and beyond, for women and how they see themselves and what they think is possible for their voices," Ferrera said.
Both Dunham and Konner responded to Ferrera's statement and admitted that Ferrera broke the mold of what a "traditional" female role should look like, which speaks volumes about the industry as a whole.
After explaining to the audience how beautiful Ferrera is, Dunham said, "The fact that she [Ferrera] was one of the examples of a 'nontraditional' person you could see on television is sort of a fucking joke." Konner then chimed in and reminded Ferrera of a quote she said during her first upfronts for "Ugly Betty" that really resonated with her. "Until I got on television I didn’t know I wasn’t pretty or that I was fat," Konner recalled Ferrera saying.
The conversation prompted Ferrera to reveal the comments she constantly received about her physical appearance when she began playing ‘Ugly Betty’ — and she still gets them to this day.
"Having played 'Ugly Betty' on television, I got so much of, 'You’re not ugly! You’re so pretty!' Like people wanting me to know that I wasn’t ugly and I still get that. I was 21 when I started ['Ugly Betty'] and when you are in it, you don’t know what to make of it other than to say 'Thank you?'"
Ferrera also went on to unravel why this frame of thinking is so damaging for women.
"In retrospect, I find it so messed up that through all of the work that I did, the thing that people thought was the bravest thing a woman could do on television was be ugly. I thought that was so indicative of something that was wrong in our culture and the way we were having a conversation about women."As an FYI, in 2007, Ferrera made history as the first Latina to win an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a comedy.
What Ferrera said is important and a dialogue that needs to be had when it comes to women in media.
Focusing on what women should look like is taking away from a bigger problem women in Hollywood are facing: landing jobs as directors and producers. In 2016 women made up a mere 7% of all directors, and a combined 17% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films.
"It’s not about starting and ending with how we feel about our bodies. To me, I feel like it’s more and more about: how do we get over the distraction of what our bodies are supposed to look like so we can go on to direct and write and produce and create?" Ferrera added during the Tribeca talk.
Although the industry claims it's making strides for representation on screen, it needs to do better.