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Rashida Jones speaks to us about representation and education in the Trump era

November 13, 2017 3:00 pm

At the Google office in the beachside neighborhood of Venice in Los Angeles, Rashida Jones hosts a Q&A panel with three-fifths of the cast of Netflix’s Project Mc². An Emmy-nominated children’s series, Project Mc² follows a group of teenage girls who excel in science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (known by the acronym STEAM) as they operate under a global elite spy agency of women—all while balancing the trials and tribulations of adolescence.

Following a screening of the latest episode of the feminist series—one with comically smart exchanges like “I want to be his space princess” “Not me, I want to pick his brain about his spacecraft’s orbital velocity”—I sat down with Jones to discuss representation, race relations in the U.S., and the fallout of powerful men in the wake of the entertainment industry’s explosive sexual abuse scandal.

While a group of young girls with an interest in STEAM fiddle with an interactive perfume-making station nearby (equipped with pastel purple test tubes), Jones tells me about Project Mc². “A big thing on the table right now is representation and the idea of giving girls the opportunity to be dynamic,” she says. “That can mean whatever it means to girls, but in this show, it means being fashionable, being a good friend, being cool, being curious, being smart—being things that aren’t generally [characterized as a field] women go into.”

Below are more insights from the Angie Tribeca star.

HelloGiggles: Why is it important for women of color (or people of color in general) to have entry into the STEAM field? 

Rashida Jones: When we think about marginalization, when we think about the injustices we fight against—you kind of have to be the most protective of the most marginalized people. And time and time again, women of color are sort of the end of the line when it comes to the payback, when it comes to promotions, when it comes to opportunity. A field like this is an exciting place to be because there’s all this conversation around trying to find female ownership. It’s an opportunity to be like, “You know, I can make a difference in this world.” Not just being there, but because people are open to maximizing the voices that are being represented. It’s a great place to take people who feel marginalized and bolster them through creativity and skill.

HG: How do you navigate predominantly white professional spaces as a mixed woman of color? 

RJ: I’m lucky now in the sense that I’m in a position where I can hire people. I think earlier in my career as an actress, I just had to wait for people to say yes or no, and if they said no, there’s nothing I could do. But now that I’m in a position where I can bring people with me, I feel a responsibility to make sure that I’m part of the solution of diversifying the room. So that’s part of how I navigate it.

I try in a way that I feel like I can be empathetic and be heard. I try to call people out on their privilege. I try to check myself on my own privilege. It’s an active thing. It’s not just about saying it or accusing other people of it—the only way it really works is if you see yours and see others’ [privilege] at the same time.

HG: We’re in such a strained place right now in terms of race relations in our country, with the NFL protest and alt-right rallies, for example. How should we navigate the Trump era?  

RJ: Education, education, education. The real [issue] here is us not knowing the history of this country. It’s a real shame that that’s the case. There [are] wonderful things about this country, but it was also built on the genocide of a race and a kidnapping of another race. There have been movements toward making that better, and there have been movements away from that ever getting healed, but it’s never really been confronted.  We’ve never really talked about it in those terms. We have to deal with our roots. We have to deal with the shame of how we built this country, or else we’re never [going to] move forward. The African American problem in this country is a unique one. It doesn’t exist anywhere else—there is systemic racism. The sooner the more people understand that—really understand the history of this country—the sooner we can heal.

HG: There’s also fallout regarding the pervasive system of sexual abuse, harassment, and secrecy upheld by powerful men in Hollywood. How can we foster an environment where more women are in top positions of power (in Hollywood, STEAM, and beyond) to prevent these abuses?

RJ: I do feel like part of the issue is female leadership. I think it’s about pressuring these giant conglomerates to have boards that are half women. We should represent this country. More than half the population are women, so how is that not represented everywhere across the spectrum of industries? I think it’s about speaking up. I think it’s about demanding action, and really [trusting] your gut instinct – that inkling that whatever the environment is in the place that you work, [if it] doesn’t feel right to you, that you can let somebody know.

There’s nobody that’s so powerful that they’re not subject to the law. I think most women don’t know their protections. The [law is] very broad in terms of protecting women from sexual harassment in the workplace. There [are] some things in the grey area but if you work for a corporation, they have to abide by labor laws. There’s a lot of that behavior that’s accepted every day that’s illegal. You just have to know where to report [and] feel comfortable standing up.

HG: Seeing that Project Mc² is a Netflix series, I have to ask: What are some of your favorite Netflix shows?

RJ: The Crown. Such a good one. Can’t wait for it to come back. Stranger Things. Narcos. Sometimes it’s a little violent for me but it’s very watchable. The actors are great. The binge culture is real in my life—it’s a lost weekend for sure, like, every other month.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Project Mc² is available to stream now on Netflix.