Pride and Prejudice, The Duchess, Anna Karenina, Atonement, the list goes on. Keira Knightley is best-known for her roles in period films and it turns out there are feminist reasons why the actor gravitates towards historical dramas.
Knightley has revealed she doesn't do many modern-day films because of the amount of sexual violence against women they tend to show. Speaking to Variety, she said that while streaming services like Netflix and Amazon were producing "strong female characters and female stories," the portrayal of women on the silver screen left a lot to be desired.
"I don’t really do films set in the modern day because the female characters nearly always get raped. I always find something distasteful in the way women are portrayed, whereas I’ve always found very inspiring characters offered to me in historical pieces."
However, she said there has "been some improvement" recently and she is finally receiving scripts "with present-day women who aren’t raped in the first five pages and aren’t simply there to be the loving girlfriend or wife."
In her experience, she continued: "When there are female writers and directors and producers, the parts for women are better, and so the way that society views women through drama is much better and much more well rounded."
When asked about the harassment scandal that has absorbed Hollywood over the past months, Knightley said that while she was "surprised by some of the specifics," she was all too "aware of the culture of silencing women and the culture of bullying them, and I knew that men in the industry were allowed to behave in very different ways than women."
She continued: "What was fascinating about the #MeToo movement was I was sitting with friends who weren’t in the industry, and there wasn’t one of us who hadn’t been assaulted at some point. We’d never had that conversation before. That was an eye-opener."
While she has never been sexually harassed or assaulted on set, Knightley said she had been "assaulted in a minor way" in bars. "For too long, you really did go, ‘Oh, this is just normal.’ It’s terrifying that was our response. It must have been awful for all of those brave women who have come forward and spoken publicly about their experiences."
Knightley said she has also noticed the ways in which male and female actors are treated differently, particularly since becoming a mother in 2015. "Why don’t journalists ask men how they balance their home life and their career?" she asked. "Why don’t you ask male actors how they feel being a father and going off to shoot a movie? And yet more times than not, that’s the first question that I’ll be asked — how do you balance motherhood with your career?"
On the topic of the pay gap, she admitted to "putting [her] head in the sand" for fear of becoming "really angry". "I haven’t tried to push back on it much. I think I probably should have," she said.
Cheeringly, Knightley also said she finally felt comfortable embracing her reputation for "corset roles" after years of "feeling quite guilty about it". "I realised that these were the films I’ve always loved watching. I think some people find escapism through science fiction or fantasy, and I suppose my escapism into another world has always been through period drama. It’s nice that in my 30s I can finally admit that."
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