Elizabeth Banks gave a totally inspiring, empowering speech for teen girls

As Effie in the Hunger Games series, Elizabeth Banks portrays a sophisticated woman: hyper-feminine, socially adept, skilled at identifying and navigating complex political obstacles. Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss shows another version of strength and compassion — one perhaps easier to identify, since it’s arguably more plain-faced. However, Effie’s fierce loyalty to her charges, her ability to learn and adapt her views, and her strength of conviction to what she thinks is right are proof that she is no less defiantly brave than Katniss. Overall, the Hunger Game movies portray of all kinds of womanhood and all kinds of bravery —which what makes them so powerful and great to watch.

Elizabeth Banks in real life encompasses all those kinds of integrity and courage. And she’s not afraid to speak out about how to break through stereotypes and labels. Last week, the actress and director was honored at Step Up’s Inspiration Awards — and for good reason! She talked about her role in Hollywood, as well as the message she wants to give to the teens in Step Up’s after-school programs.

Recently, Elizabeth Banks visited a local high school with a large Latino population, and she spoke to them about not being held down by labels. She said the girls she talked to “have incredible aspirations, they have ambitions, they have these beautiful dreams,” but they also know of “boxes and labels that they feared might threaten those dreams.” She mentioned stereotypes perpetuated in society about people like them, who might be “Latina, female, high school student, mother.”

At the Inspiration Awards, she spoke of being struck by how determined the students were to not only move beyond those labels, but to break them. And to be recognized for who they actually are: smart, determined teens with big goals. Banks said, “They obviously knew they could be much, much more…And they didn’t want to be limited or defined by a few labels.”  The girls are totally on track to do so, especially as participants in the Step Up program: this is the sixth year in a row that “100% of Step Up’s active seniors graduated high school and have been accepted to college.” Amazing, right?

Currently, Latina women living in the US are facing major adversity in the work field —this is where the biggest wage gap exists. Right now, according to American Progress, Latina women “make 55 cents to the dollar when compared to white, non-Hispanic males.” Furthermore, the poverty rate for Latina women is at “27.9 percent, compared with the rate for non-Hispanic white women at 10.8 percent.”  While we have ways to go, the more we call attention to the issue, the sooner we get to minimizing the wage gap and poverty levels. By shining a light on the problem and struggles Latina women face, Banks is making more and more people pay attention.

(Image via here.)