18 Famous Women Who Called Out Hollywood For The Way It Portrays Them Onscreen

In terms of the patriarchy and its stereotypical portrayal of women, Hollywood is one of the worst offenders.

In recent years, actors have spoken out and changes are occurring, slowly but surely. 

For instance, take Frozen, a Disney movie that defied the oft leaned on damaging trope of its past movies by making princesses Anna and Elsa independent women who don’t need NO man, no sir!

Anna and Elsa from Frozen the movie

For Disney heroines to be independent of the male gaze and find empowerment in their own feminine physicalities, and not for a suitor, is groundbreaking, indeed. 

Another animated classic that defies gender stereotypes is Mulan

The original cartoon version is a retelling of a popular Chinese folk tale. It revolves around a young woman who reaches the age where she is expected to find a husband with the help of a matchmaker. 

Instead, posing as a man, she goes off to war, a crime punishable by death, to protect her ailing father from entering the mandatory draft.

Look at you go, Disney!

We cannot overlook Wonder Woman which I took my nieces to see in a theater packed with little girls and their moms. 

Gal Gadot plays princess Diana of the Amazons who lives on an all-female island where she is being trained to become an undefeatable warrior. 

When an American pilot crash-lands on her island and warns her of the destruction happening in the outside world, Wonder Woman leaves the island to fight for the pursuit of justice. 

Yes, she happens to fall in love but that does not diminish the message of an independent woman superhero who literally kicks ass all day, every day. 

Being in that theater and seeing little girls cheering on a female warrior was pretty close to a religious experience. 

Still, women in film are fighting for change and greater equality in representation. Here are some notable famous women who have clapped back at Hollywood!   

Halle Berry

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Halle Berry first got the Bruised script, which “Was written for a 25-year-old Irish Catholic girl,” but she convinced the producers to “Reimagine it for a middle-aged Black woman” and let her direct it.

At the Toronto International Film Festival, she said, “I slept on [the idea of directing this movie] overnight, and I woke up thinking, Yes, I can. I knew I’d worked harder than I ever worked in my entire life on a character, and the last thing I wanted was for all of that work to be for naught and mistakenly fall into the hands of a visionary who didn’t see it quite the way I saw it.”

Meryl Streep

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As Meryl Streep was preparing to audition for Kramer vs. Kramer (which, unsurprisingly, is based on an anti-feminist novel), she felt that the script had its lead female character, Joanna, all wrong — and if they wanted her to star in the film, they’d need to rewrite the part to make Joanna a more realistic and sympathetic reflection of the struggles women like her face.

Streep’s position and understanding of Joanna got her cast in the lead role and she kept pushing for changes that made the story better. It was Streep’s idea that the character gives her “Somebody’s wife” speech before revealing to her ex-husband that she planned to take their son back. She also personally rewrote Joanna’s compelling final courtroom speech.

Streep won her first Oscar for the role of Joanna.

Tessa Thompson

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Tessa Thompson raised the idea of making Valkyrie openly bisexual (as the character is in the comics) in Thor: Ragnarok to director Taika Waititi. Even though the scene confirming her character’s sexuality ended up on the cutting room floor, Tessa confirmed it to her fans.

Thompson was also intentional about playing Valkyrie as a bisexual character. She told Rolling Stone, “There’s a great shot of me falling back from one of my sisters who’s just been slain. In my mind, that was my lover.”

Thompson also confirmed that Valkyrie will “find her queen” in the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder.

Gemma Chan

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Gemma Chan, who was targeted by internet trolls when she played Bess of Hardwick in Mary Queen of Scots because she isn’t white, clapped back at the long history of actors of color only being allowed “To play their own race” and even losing out on those roles to white actors in racist makeup.

She told Allure, “In the past, the role would be given to a white actor who would tape up their eyes and do the role in yellowface. John Wayne played Genghis Khan. If John Wayne can play Genghis Khan, I can play Bess of Hardwick.”

Lucille Ball

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Despite refusal from her network, Lucille Ball fought for her real-life pregnancy to be written into her show, making I Love Lucy one of the first series to show a pregnant woman on camera.

Even though her pregnancy storyline eventually got the go-ahead, Ball wasn’t allowed to use the word “pregnant” — at least not in English. They steered clear of the term on the show but the episode in which Lucy told Ricky she was having a baby was titled “Lucy Is Enceinte,” using the French word for pregnant.

Lupita Nyong’o

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Lupita Nyong’o worked with Black Panther director Ryan Coogler to make sure Nakia was “More than just the love interest” and had her own power and space in the story, separate from T’Challa.

Nyong’o told the Hollywood Reporter, “One of the things we worked on was making her part and parcel of the main argument of the story about whether to keep the borders open. At the heart of it, she’s an activist, which is a spirit I relate to.”

Elizabeth Olsen

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After Elizabeth Olsen publicly expressed her wish to change her Scarlet Witch costume from a “cleavage corset,” she co-designed her new gear for WandaVision and tested it to ensure she was able to move in the ways her role required.

Director Matt Shakman told Entertainment Tonight, “[Elizabeth] knows what she has to do better than anybody, having done this for years now.”

Saoirse Ronan

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After Saoirse Ronan spent a stressful year doing a lot of press and a Broadway play her skin broke out, but Lady Bird director, Greta Gerwig, suggested she keep the acne as part of her character rather than cover it up.

Ronan told Elle, “I think it happens to a lot of girls in their 20s and it seemed like it would’ve been a missed opportunity if we didn’t see this as a way to make [my character] as authentic and relatable as possible.”

Reese Witherspoon

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Originally, Reese Witherspoon wasn’t going to be in Cruel Intentions. She found Annette to be “Too demure and too much of a woman influenced by a guy’s manipulations,” but then she spent a week rewriting Annette’s dialogue with director Roger Kumble to turn Annette into a more well-developed character.

Witherspoon told Entertainment Weekly, “I was starting what, I guess, became my bigger mission in life — of questioning why women were written certain ways on film.”

Patty Jenkins

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Director Patty Jenkins didn’t include any “eye candy” shots of Diana in Wonder Woman and a Tumblr post about a specific scene where Gal Gadot’s thighs jiggled, instead of being digitally altered, went viral.

The user writes, “[Diana] wasn’t there to be sexy and alluring and flirt her way to victory, and that means she has big, muscular thighs, and when they absorb the impact of a superhero landing, they jiggle … Thank you, Patty Jenkins, for giving me a movie about a woman, told by a woman, so I can see it through my eyes.”

Mindy Kaling

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Mindy Kaling started her career as the beloved character Kelly Kapoor on The Office but has become a powerhouse in Hollywood. She created Netflix’s Never Have I Ever and its character Devi Vishwakumar because, as she told Elle, “We are programmed to see Asian girls in a certain way on teen shows.”

The show is loosely based on Kaling’s own teenage experience.

November brought us another new show Kaling co-created, HBO Max’s The Sex Lives of College Girls. It’s empowering and full of life lessons and a show I wish had been around when I was at school. It depicts both female friendships and the difficulty of adjusting to college life in a funny, real way and shows that Kaling is hitting her stride creatively. 

Katharine Hepburn

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Katharine Hepburn was one of the first women in Hollywood to wear pants, both onscreen and off.

At the time, pants were only socially acceptable for men to wear in public. There’s a legend that Hepburn’s costume department once stole her pants and, refusing to put on a skirt instead, she walked around in her underwear until the pants were returned to her. I smile every time I see this story.

In a 1981 interview with Barbara Walters, she said, “I put on pants 50 years ago and declared a sort of middle road.”

Jennifer Lawrence

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While training for The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence was uncompromising against dieting or losing weight to portray Katniss Everdeen, instead, focusing on becoming “Fit and strong.”

She told Elle, “I’m never going to starve myself for a part…I don’t want little girls to be like, ‘Oh, I want to look like Katniss, so I’m going to skip dinner.”

Viola Davis

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In 2015, Viola Davis became the first Black woman to win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series and, in her acceptance speech, she said, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.”

She continued, “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

Anna Kendrick

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Anna Kendrick pointed out the fact that she had to wait for all of the male roles in a movie to be cast before she could “Even become a part of the [casting] conversation.”

She told Glamour, “To me, the only explanation is that there are so many fucking talented girls and, from a business standpoint, it’s easier to find women to match the men. I totally stand by the belief that there are 10 unbelievably talented women for every role.”

Bette Davis

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In 1941, Bette Davis became the first woman elected president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences but she quit two months later because the board wanted her to “Be a figurehead only.”

Almost 40 years later, she told interviewer Whitney Stine, “Because I was a woman, I had to be controlled.”

Shonda Rhimes

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In 2018, Shonda Rhimes and her production company, ShondaLand, partnered with SeriesFest to create a mentorship program specifically for women directors — the first of its kind.

Rhimes told Deadline, “ShondaLand has long been known to defy industry standards through dynamic female characters, but we have also always felt it was important to have equal representation behind the camera. To have talent and sets that reflect the world we live in has always seemed natural.”

Geena Davis

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And last but certainly not least, after Thelma and Louise was released in 1991, Geena Davis believed the press’ reaction that “It was going to change everything and that there were now going to be far more female lead characters in movies.” As that failed to materialize, she took action and founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 2004 to investigate the portrayal of women in film.

She told the Guardian, “The bigger picture is that gender discrimination and harmful stereotypes still dominate onscreen. This undermines girls and young women and has a negative impact on their aspirations to leadership in all walks of life.”


We love it when women clap back at stereotypical norms! What do you think about these inspiring stories? Tell us below!

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