Jessica Chastain has never been afraid of speaking out about the issues that matter to her. For starters, just check her Twitter — she’s passionately vocal about everything from gun control to animal rights to paternity leave to international policy. This morning, Chastain dropped a lengthy essay over at The Hollywood Reporter, in which she details the joys of working on a female-centric film set — and expresses a deep desire to help move the industry forward in terms of gender parity on screen and behind the scenes. Like most things that spring forth from the mind of Jessica Chastain, it’s lovely and powerful.
Writing from the Prague set of The Zookeeper’s Wife — a film based on a true story about a couple who saved hundreds of people and animals from the Nazis by hiding them in zoo cages — Chastain is practically effervescent, expounding upon how happy she is in her current work environment. “I can’t tell you — it’s amazing,” she writes. “I’ve never been on a set with so many women. We’re not even 50 percent of the crew — we’re probably something like 20 percent women and 80 percent men — but it’s way more than I’ve ever worked with on a film before. There are female producers (Diane Levin, Kim Zubick and Katie McNeill), a female screenwriter (Angela Workman), a female novelist (Diane Ackerman), a female protagonist and a female director [Niki Caro].”
On most film sets, Chastain explains, “it would be me and maybe two or three other women, even though there are 100 people there. It’s crazy.” This leads to some loneliness, admits Chastain; though she says she loved making the “masculine” movie Lawless, when Mia Wasikowska showed up on the set, Chastain says she “ran into her trailer and yelled, ‘It’s a girl!'” And while Zookeeper‘s crew is composed of mostly men, Chastain writes that having women in positions of power is what’s making all the difference. “Niki and producers Diane and Kim are not going to think it would be strange to hire a woman — I’m sure that probably helped matters.”
But rather than simply using stories like these to call for more women in film, Chastain writes that she believes men and women both have something to offer. “For me, sex really isn’t the qualifier in the way someone directs — but I just know that when you have a set with predominantly one gender, whether it be all men or all women, it’s not going to be a healthy place,” she says. “I imagine it’s the same thing in the workforce or other environments: When you have both genders represented, then you have a healthier point of view…You don’t feel a hierarchy; you don’t have anyone feeling like they are being left out or bullied or humiliated. Sometimes being the only girl on a set, you can feel like a sexual object.”
Though Chastain’s essay is mostly hopeful, an optimistic call to action, there’s a tinge of sadness in there, too. She writes that while The Zookeeper’s Wife set has been “heaven for me,” explaining that the cast hangs out constantly, free of egos and power plays and “giddy with happiness,” they’re also aware that this type of experience is unlikely to occur again anytime soon: “We know how rare making this kind of film is.”
As such, Chastain is going to take it upon herself to make sure that it does. “I want to make sure I’m contributing to creating diversity in the industry. I want to work with anyone who is talented, but I know that some people have to work harder to succeed in this business than others,” she says. “I read this incredible article Chris Rock did [in the Dec. 12, 2014, edition of The Hollywood Reporter] where he talked about race in Hollywood, and he said that if there is an African-American who needs help, he’s going to be way more into helping them because he understands they don’t have the opportunity that other people do.”
And in the midst of it all, Chastain drops a small hint about her next project, which sounds like it’s in line with this goal: “I’m doing another film with a female director that’s not been announced yet.” Welp, time to start speculating.
Read more at The Hollywood Reporter.