Sci-fi, westerns, and sci-fi westerns are no longer just for men, and we have Westworld to thank for that. Both Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood play complex and powerful characters, and they are loving every moment of it. While sitting on a panel for the acclaimed HBO series, both actors revelled in the opportunity to play their Westworld characters.
Wood shared that she didn’t “feel confined” or try to make herself “smaller” in the role of Dolores, an android host. Newton said that it felt “normal” to play a female character in a traditionally male-dominated genre. She also gave credit to women who had excelled in the sci-fi space before them, such as Sigourney Weaver in Alien.
This past year has been a monumental turning point in the conversation of representation. Newton, Wood, and Westworld are at the forefront, showing the entertainment industry how it can be done. You absolutely can have a compelling and successful show with women playing pivotal roles. Just as importantly, it can be any genre. A show doesn’t have to be specifically about women’s issues to involve women. Both Newton and Wood have been advocating for women on and off screen. Wood testified to her own experience with sexual assault and abuse in front of Congress to promote the full expansion of the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act. Newton has been openly vocal about the exploitation of and violence against women. In an interview with Elle in March 2017, Newton said she often had to make a choice between her work and her belief in equality. "With roles for women, it's tough out there, and very often I feel like I have to put my activism behind when I go to work. I have to just be the actor and do what I have to do. I was an activist every single day I went to work on. I felt part of the solution every single day,” explained Newton.
At the SXSW panel, Wood expressed a similar feeling about her role on Westworld. “I’ve always said playing this role completely changed my life and transformed me, and it’s hard not to go through this same evolutionary shifts as the characters because you’re on the journey with them,” shared Wood. “And you don’t get to know what happens to them, and you don’t get to mentally prepare, and the existential crisis there is very real.”
With her years of experience in the entertainment industry, Newton noted that she often found that it can be difficult for men to work in “an environment where a woman is taking any kind of control in any kind of position of authority.” She was quick to praise her male cast and crew members for being the exact opposite. “I just want to play truth, and very often the truth of the characters I play as a woman is that she’s powerful, she’s intelligent, and she’s able to multitask. So I want to give it up massively to the fucking men on our show to have the generosity of spirit, to have the sophistication, the progressiveness to put a platform up for women.”
Founder and CEO of SpaceX Elon Musk made a surprise appearance on the Westworld panel to discuss the significance of the show created by his friend Jonathan Nolan. “There are a lot of negative things in the world — a lot of terrible things happening all the time, lots of problems that need to get solved — but life cannot just be about solving one miserable problem after another. There needs to be things that inspire you, that make you glad to wake up in the morning and be part of humanity,” Musk said.
While we’re working together to make sure that all industries are more inclusive and equal, it’s important to celebrate the things that are going well, like a sci-fi western starring two badass women.
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