Actress Jessica Chastain is a famously outspoken actress, especially via social media. When the Weinstein scandal began, and other actresses hemmed and hawed about whether they’d known about former Hollywood mega-producer Harvey Weinstein’s predatory pursuits, Chastain was quick to point out that yes, she did know.
“I was warned from the beginning,” Chastain tweeted. “The stories were everywhere. To deny that is to create an environment for it to happen again.”
Chastain was also quick to point out how the countless demands that women address their complicity in the Weinstein scandal was foolhardy.
“I’m sick of the media demanding only women speak up,” she wrote. “What about the men? Perhaps many are afraid to look at their own behavior…..”
The point is, Jessica Chastain is very outspoken, and shockingly woke (as far as actresses go) which is why it was so surprising to see her fall into a very visible social media brouhaha over the holiday weekend.
This month, Chastain was selected as part of a Los Angeles Times roundtable over Hollywood’s “shift in focus.” While this was a laudable effort on both the part of the LA Times and Chastain, there was just one tiny little problem…
Everyone on the cover was white.
If this was a “shift in focus,” then there didn’t seem to be so much shifting happening. People on social media were quick to react to this oversight, the most noted and thoughtful analysis coming from WNYC editor Rebecca Carroll.
@jes_chastain as an outspoken voice for equality how do you pose for a photo like this and not feel absolutely mortified by the blatant exclusion? How is it possible to not understand the msg this photo sends?” Carroll asked.
Chastain was quick to reply, stating, “Its a sad look that there’s no WOC in this pic of us promoting our female lead films. The industry needs to become more inclusive in its storytelling.”
Chastain then continued, tweeting, “Its TERRIBLE that I can’t think of at least 5 female lead films with woc this year,” and “In 12 months there’s not even 5?!”
Its TERRIBLE that I can’t think of at least 5 female lead films with woc this year.— Jessica Chastain (@jes_chastain) December 24, 2017
In 12 months there’s not even 5?!— Jessica Chastain (@jes_chastain) December 24, 2017
If this seems like a deflection, that’s because it is, and the Twitterati duly responded.
Then why did you accept the cover? Honestly? If not you, then who? Who will stop this?— Anna (@candidginger) December 24, 2017
An “activist” like her knows exactly what she’s doing – publicity for her work, hollow after-the-fact mea culpa. Easier to ask for forgiveness than to do the right thing and lose front page real estate— Betamaxine (@MeghanIvany) December 25, 2017
As a combined powerhouse of women why did you not challenge that the cover be a representation of female actresses! Lead & supporting! Instead of trying to ‘think’ if there had been any WOC leads this year ?why did you not use your voice to change the rhetoric? Shoddy defection!— Chloë (@Simply_Ms_Chloe) December 24, 2017
This was the PERFECT platform to pull off a magnificent protest, by accepting and then showing up to the shoot with a group of actresses of color.But instead we got a post-injury, lousy, “wait, I’m still aware, I’m an activist”, tweet. OK. — GISΞLLΞ (@voidofchill) December 24, 2017
And then, behind the cover, is where the real power lies. Behind that single glossy image are all the photographers, writers, editors and other such creatives that conceived and approved the concept.
There were, no doubt, several layers of verification and approval that went into making this cover. After all, the six actresses on it are all notable, and there had to be countless approvals before they even sat down for the LA Times.
The point is, it’s all good and well to blame Jessica Chastain for her hypocrisy, but she didn’t approve or conceive this cover. True, she could (and should) have walked away at any time, but let us not place all the culpability on her.
It belongs squarely on the shoulders of an industry that thinks it is acceptable to have only one or two women of color leads in an entire year of film, and, furthermore, that it is acceptable to talk about change when there are only white women involved.