“WE CAN USE OUR VULNERABILITY AS WE MOVE FORWARD FROM THE #METOO MOVEMENT”
Freida Pinto on the power of revealing your truth.
“People think life changes overnight when you become famous. That’s not quite true. It’s more gradual than that, but life definitely changes. People recognise you in the street. You get invited to fancy parties. And you get offered more films.
You’d think that being part of a film like Slumdog [which won Oscars for best picture, director and adapted screenplay, among others, in 2009] would put me in this amazing position – everything would be handed to me on a platter. Wrong! I started at the top, but I had zero experience, zero contacts. I knew nothing about the film industry. Before Slumdog, I was a model and a travel TV host. After Slumdog, I was getting film offers almost daily. They weren’t the roles I wanted, but I felt like I should take them. So I played the girlfriend, the scientist who runs everywhere in heels. It didn’t feel like me, but I did it anyway.
After a few years, I realised I needed to start standing up for myself. I turned down scripts where I was “the goddess” or “the puritan woman” or “the oracle priestess”. Give me a break. I wasn’t going to do that again. These roles aren’t complex. Women are not defined by a single characteristic – being a mother or being a virgin. No. I told them to write the character the way they’d write a man or I wouldn’t do it.
I thought I’d have to turn down two or three scripts. In the end, I lost count – it was script after script after script for about a year. People stopped calling. Casting directors thought I was trying to tank my career on purpose. So I took a break. I didn’t act for three years. I joined a company [We Do It Together] that funds female-led films and female filmmakers, and I asked producer friends to mentor me. When I learnt more about producing, I realised what I needed to do to start acting again: tell my own story. I went back to casting agents and told them my truth. I was jobless. I’d been unemployed for years, and I was ready to work. I realised that my honesty – and vulnerability – was actually a strength. I wasn’t going to say, “Oh, it’ll be hard for me to squeeze in a meeting with you because I have six other scripts to read” when, really, I had nothing to do. My thinking was: I can lie to them and still lose the role, or I can tell the truth and at least get their respect, even if I don’t get the job. And what happened was that my honesty completely baffled people. They realised very quickly that I was baring my heart, and they knew that I had no other agenda than the one I’d just told them. It worked; I started getting the roles I had always wanted.
Women have a tendency to put on a brave face and act like everything is all right, but actually I think that opening up and being vulnerable can be a huge strength. Let me be clear: I don’t mean victimhood – playing up your obstacles to make them seem harder than they are, or wallowing in them. I mean telling the truth about your experience. It’s so much better to lay bare your truth peacefully than to rage and boil and lose your mind over something. Anger never gets you very far.
I see a lot of anger now with #Metoo and it’s understandable. Sexual assault is a stain on our industry and our society at large. What I hope happens now is that we let go of our anger and use our vulnerability to make lasting change. Now is the time to talk. With each other, but with men, too. And, most importantly, to little boys and girls. Because this problem is bigger than Hollywood – it’s everywhere. We need to start at the bottom. We need to teach kids to have empathy for one another and for themselves. That it’s okay for boys and girls to cry. And that it’s fair that boys and girls take on equal amounts of work. I’ve learnt that anger – even if it’s justified – cannot be sustained, and it doesn’t lead to results.
Ultimately, my goal is the same as every other woman’s: to have control over my narrative. I want people to see me as someone who is complex, who has many sides, good and bad. I was made out to be the most beautiful girl that Jamal [played by Dev Patel] had ever laid his eyes on [in Slumdog]; this perfect person who never did anything wrong. But that is not my story. Now, whenever I see a script, I ask myself, “What’s the conflict here? What is it that makes us question her intentions?” If I don’t have an answer, then I’m not interested.
” Sometimes saying “No” is the best way to take control.