Keynote Conversation with Actor and Activist Kerry Washington, and the 10X10 Project
By BH14Liveblog on July 26, 2014
Jory Des Jardins introduces The Mrs with their single "I'm Enough"
Behind the scenes of the mirror:
The "I'm Enough" video
Morra Aarons-Mele: Womenandwork.org
I was a political consultant in Washington, DC. I was beaten down by politics and it's mostly male egos. Every week I would go to a gathering of young men, many of whom now are thought leaders, and I would boil with anger at their myopia and male swagger. I had no outlet to express what I knew was true. I was frustrated but also insecure
I didn't think I was qualified to be a political blogger at all. BlogHer changed all that. It gave me a home and changed my life. Lisa (Stone) gave me a platform to share my women's view. It provided such a crucial place for women's voices to be heard and a safe place to have a meaningful dialogue. It gave us access to people who ran our country and they heard us on BlogHer.com which is incredible. It all came at a time of massive change in technology, especially in journalism and news and politics.
A massive revolution was happening in blogging but not necessarily for women. Along the way, i realized that they wanted to put us in a box: single mom box, soccer mom box, sex and the city box. Sometimes it was fluff, kitchen table issues if we were lucky. In 2008, I appeared on CNN as a political commentator. The worst was the comments online
afterwards. I would go online and and someone said, "She is completely unfuckable" and "She looks like John Malkovich." We developed programming at Blogher to engage women in public affairs but we still have to work hard to convince the campaigns that we mattered. My personal low point came at election 2008, We have invited 7 Presidential candidates, and this is a time that we had a bigger media audience than Oprah. Then instead of candidates, we got offered 2 spouses, no candidates: Michelle Obama and Ann Romney.
They were amazing women, but we didn't ask for spouses, we asked for candidates. And that's the box, the women's box. We women bloggers never quite fit into that box. We are ourselves. So we didn't give up and we accomplished so much in our political programming. And Obama came through, he answered our questions.
No one will ever forget our video of Erin and President Obama and Mrs. Edwards and Jen Lemen at BlogHer 2007. So what have we learned in the past 10 years and most importantly, what can you do about it? Women decided the vote in 2012, and we will decide 2016.
Blogs still matter. We love Tweeting, FB is our home away from home, we live on Pinterest, but there is something about the act of sitting down and giving voice, of doing your homework, thinking about why you're saying what you're saying, and explaining your choice. Third is to get out of the box. I am still frustrated what how we look and what we buy is sometimes more important than what we think. We can't only matter when political campaigns only care when they launch a campaign like, "Moms for this..." We can't only matter then. I am done with begging and I am done with fluff. As long as women create and hang out in a space just for women, we will face stereotypes. If we can recognize the power we have that we can create a space for women, by women, just for us, we can have a place at the table.
BlogHer has never shied away from pushing for the highest quality thinking and writing. We have to not be afraid to mix our motherhood and our activism, and most of all we have to vote.
Demetria Lucas: Abelleinbrooklyn.com
Kerry washington: Actor on Scandal, Activist
Demetria: Sept 25 is when Scandal is back out. Can you tell us anything at all about season 4?
KW: Well I now know where the plane was going, I wish I could tell you cause it's really good. I can't tell you because I would give it away. The way the last season ended
what happens to Olivia Pope is kind of what you would do to a character you were writing off of the show. I was a little concerned but I am still on the show which is good.
It is like a reset button has been pushed. Last season, I feel like Olivia stepped away from it all to try to take some control over her life. So the new season picks up here.
Demetria: Last season there were lots of deaths, Jerry, James, Harrison.
Kerry: Well we don't know, it's sort of a cliff hanger. We don't know a thing until we read the scrips. It's so fun to be on social media with fans because we have no idea what's coming and we can identify with the level of excitement from the fans.
Demetria: Whose idea was it for the cast to be tweeting and on social media.
Kerry: It's weird everyone is working working, and then tweeting during breaks, and then back to work when they call action again. Everybody is on twitter. How that happened was sort of a fun team work situation. I have a great social media manager, Allison Peters. I was terrified of social media because I'm a very private person. I dind't know how to engage while still being private. Allison helped me find a way to have a voice that was still authentic and be engaged but not feel like I"m giving too much of myself. I wanted the cast to be on social media, but I didn't want to be the bossy lead actor. So I asked Shaunda Rhymes (creator of the show) to ask everyone. We were all a fan of our own show and all of us got on twitter every Thursday and got behind the show, appreciated our fans. Social Media and our fans saved our show.
Demetria: I think everyone on here is on twitter on Thursday nights.
Kerry: It's weird because Oprah stopped by the show. There are so few water cooler shows now because you can watch most shows whenever you want, like on netflix. Social Media has allowed us to be a water cooler show because if you don't watch it when it airs, social media may spoil it for you.
Demetria: How do you balance your privacy with social media?
Kerry: I think it's ever evolving. For me, the hair, makeup, fashion, that's still professional for me. Before I became an actor, I was totally a tomboy, hanging out in the Bronx kids. At some point I started realizing that the red carpet was a marketing landscape. For me to stand behind my work, I had to respect that world. When i go to fashion shows, i think of it the same as if I'm going to the ballet or the museum. So that's where I kind of opened up to hair and makeup and fashion so I'm really comfortable talking about it in a social media landscape.
Sometimes I tweet about my parents because I can't resist. I do tweet about my dog but not my marriage or my kids. As an actor, I feel like it's harder to lose yourself in my work if you know too much about me. You may have to do a little more work as an audience member to dive into my relationship with my coworkers. I like to keep my life a mystery so you can enjoy the story more.
Demetria: I think it makes you more interesting. As an audience we still do appreciate actors who hold a bit more back.
Kerry: The fact that I don't share it doesn't mean it's more interesting, it's a lie. I'm incredibly boring.
Demetria: How do you deal with some of the backlash about the image of a black woman in Scandal?
Kerry: I think my job as an actor is to embody humanity. I often felt a lot of fulfillment by taking a character that someone may have thought of as a stereotype and infusing that character with as much humanity as possible. As an actor, I'm given the honor of giving you an inside look into that person's life and their heart. Stories of a homeless woman or a drug addict, as an actor, i can force you to feel for them by letting you into their life, into their mind. I think every human being has value, I never think it's ok to think a character is worthless because of something they have done. Part of being a black woman and being able to work, means I get to tell stories about people we don't always pay attention to.
Demetria: How do you deal with the negative comments on social media?
Kerry: I don't weigh myself because there's never a good answer on the scale. For me reading comments is the same way. It's brain clutter. But it is hard, in social media you feel like you're a community. People in social media can be very mean. Some of our cast members have struggled it a lot. Sometimes people come to social media to find a community, a sense of belonging, a place where they feel like they can empower themselves. Often that can be a positive place. Sometimes it's done in really negative ways by building community through judgment and criticism and a holier than thou attitude. I have to protect myself from that because it's sort of highschool. As much as I want to be part of that community, I don't look to the social media community to affirm my work.
Demetria: How do you choose your roles?
Kerry: My roles have been all over the place. Up until Scandal, I've had a really full and rich career. I prided myself on disappearing into the character. People don't tie one character into the other. Scandal has changed that, because there's no disappearing. I'm in people's houses at the same time every week. For me the way I choose my work is the material. It's all in the page and the writing. Wanting to work with the writing and the directing, and immense talent.
Demetria: What was the pull for scandal particularly?
Kerry: I wasn't really looking to do a network TV show. I really liked my film career. But then my agent told me it was Shaunda Rhymes (sp). My agent told me it was almost like she had written it for me even though we had never met. I am a lot like the character because she is so complicated and we're all complicated. I was looking for a role that had that kind of 3dimensionality. My interest in politics and human rights and then I got to the last 3 pages of the script, it was like oh my gosh she slept with the president? And then I was hooked and I really wanted the role. So then I auditioned and begged and pleaded and I got it.
Demetria: The number one overwhelming question I got for you from social media is, does she get to keep the clothes?
Kerry: Um..No. We didn't want the fashion on the show to be fake, where very episode has new episodes. I wanted the clothes to be amazing because I felt like this kind of women would have a global aesthetic but I wanted her to have a real closet. Every single episode has an item you've seen before. Often, 2 or 3 reused items. So there's a very big Olivia Pope closet. People tell me all the time I want her clothes, and I say me too. I wish I could afford her clothes. Lynn Paulo (sp) costume designer and I have partnered with The Limited to design this sort of Olivia Pope style.
I wanted her to be powerful but feminine. I wanted her to have a a waist. With The Limited we could design this powersuit at a price point that women could afford. It comes out the same week the show comes out. We committed to The Limited that I would wear pieces from the collection on the show.
Kerry: I worked at the Limited in college.
Demetria: How do you find the balance with your family, the show, and promotional activities? Where do you find time?
Kerry: I'm exhausted. But I feel we can all relate to that. Women are all natural multi taskers and even if we're not, we figure it out. The mom part is new to me so i don't know yet what the balance is like. I go back to work on Monday. Up to this point, it's been really important for me to ask for help and say when I don't know and to be part of a community of women. It's been an amazing experience for me to have a woman like Shaunda Rhymes and her partner Betsy as my bosses. I benefit from having a woman boss in ways that are even hard for me to articulate. It is so tremendous to work for a woman. Every time we don't step into a leadership role, we are robbing somebody. I bring it up because Shaunda has taught me a lot about balance. She's got 3 kids and 3 shows. She has tremendous power and she wields her power with grace and responsibility, I learn a lot from here. We'll see how it goes.
Demetria: Women as bosses get a bad rap. It's actually a very symbiotic relationship.
Kerry: I think it's very special working with women. We understand the concept of community.
Demetria: Who are your mentors in this business?
Kerry: I have heroes, Sicily Tyson, Diane carol, Barbara Streisand. People who say that they don't fit the
Jane Fonda, Shaunda Rhymes. The movie 9 to 5 resulted in the union for administrative assistants because it brought to light the need for union because of abuse in the workplace of women. So Jane Fonda is a real mentor
Demetria: Do you have a dream role?
Kerry: No I don't have a dream role. My mentors are ones who haven't allowed age to stop them. So for me, I don't have a dream role because I feel like the bar keeps moving. Maybe I'm scared to have a dream role because I feel like I'll have to retire after that.
Audience: I just wanted to tell you that you inspired us all over and you keep doing what you're doing.
Kerry: Thank you!
Audience: I am an LGBT Latina so I'm very excited about the representation on the show. How can we create that space for people to be very visible?
Kerry: I come from a very politically active family. When i became of age to vote, my parents treated it like a right of passage. No one should be silenced because they are a celebrity. I speak out because I want everybody to speak out, I want to encourage everybody to speak out. Show support for people who do speak out there. Just continue to show support for people who do it.
Audience: I just wanted to send you love from working moms everywhere. I thought Scandal was the perfect binge watch.
Kerry: Thank you, I just wanted to binge watch Luthor.
Audience: What is it that you do in your activist life?
Kerry: I have 2 causes that are really important to me. One is women's issues. I've been a board member for the V board. I really believe in V Day, as a play(Vagina Monologues) that's really moved the world. I really believe in art to transform the lives of kids. It shouldn't be the sprinkles on the ice cream cone. It's how you get kids to go to school, stay in school. I fyou study music, your math scores are higher. If you study art and poetry, your English scores are higher. The statistics are there. I just try to show up. I participate in a twitter chat with Hilary Clinton. Our country is only going to be as good as we are, and to just show up.
Audience: Women of color have been so hungry for representation in media, and you are the first black woman to lead a network drama in decades, have you felt pressure from that? If you feel like that's different from all the cable reality grossness.
Kerry: When I first heard the statistic, I realize that it hasn't been in my lifetime where a woman of color has lead a network drama. I've never felt the pressure, like the pressure is on me. I just come to work and do what I do. The pressure is on audiences, to think about whether they are willing to embrace heroes who are antiheroes or something different. I think one of the reasons it resonates with people is because our show represents diversity on every level: age, race, socioeconomic, religion, sexual orientation. we are an inclusive show where everyone has a voice. I never really felt the pressure. Were you willing to support that didn't look like any other show out there and I'm very happy to live in a world where the answer was yes.
Audience: now that you're a new mom, are you interested in other causes that relate to what you're going through as a new mother?
Kerry: I'm lucky because i've always been active around protecting women and girls, kids and education. So I don't really have to move that far to embrace things that impact my daughter. But then again my daughter falls into a very private space for me. Not that I don't think it would be great, but that space still belongs to me and my family. In motherhood, everything's different so I am looking at things differently for sure.
Audience: As a working mother, a woman in general, we're all very busy. How do you make the decision about what you're going to dedicate yourself to.
Kerry: I've really tried to embrace that oxygen mask on the plan concept. To really take care of yourself first. I think about am I taking care of the basics for myself first and then I can go out into the world and give my best. I got great advice from, Bob Iger (CEO of Disney), he is in charge of everything from a theme park to Scandal. I asked him how do you decide what to do in a day?
80% of his time he tries to think about where he can have impact. It may not usually be cruises,sometimes it's a Broadway show. The other 20% is what brings me joy. There are certain things that fall in his work responsibilities but
also brings him joy. It's important to be effective in the work place but also do things that bring us joy.
Audience: Are you a writer? Do you see yourself doing writing in the future?
Kerry: I don't call myself a writer. I was a writer in school. I enjoy writing and I think I would like to explore that part of myself as an artist at one point.
Audience: Would you ever write a memoir?
Kerry: I don't think so. I would have to be like really close to death.
Luvvi Ajayi: Awesomely Luvvie
Congrats to BlogHer for 10 yrs for those who can't stop writing words. I was 2 years away from graduating and i was going to be a counselor. I was ready to take on this life of counseling and get my Masters Degree. But today I stand
in front of you, having been opened by Kerry Washington. Online, I am a comedian, a pop culture critic, I am a professional trouble maker, I'm an agitated activist. The reason I'm standing in front of you because I always speak my truth even if it makes my voice shake. I say how I feel and you gotta love it or you don't. I'm proof that magical things can happen if you stand in your truth.
My voice, how I say things is also why I'm here. Whether I tackle a tough subject or not, I always say it in my bitingly sarcastic tone. I live in the intersection of comedy, technology, and activism online. I giveth as I feel all the time and it gets me in trouble more than I'd like but I always ask myself did you mean what you said and did you stand in it? I use humor to also break down the barriers of what I'm saying.
Whether I'm talking about Crystal Metheney or justice for Trayvon, I use the same tone. Basically I'm the person who gives the side eye to everybody. My brand voice is really me online. It's just easier because I can't be two people, it's easier for me to just be myself. I'm always friendly and playful. My non profit is called the Red Pump Project. We talk about the impact of HIV and Aids on women and girls. Even when I'm talking about something very serious, i find a way to make it more relatable, like put on a pair of red shoes and talk about Aids in a way that feels empowering. My language is so distinctive that people have asked me to create a glossary of my terms online. I have a website called
dumbest tweets online. Bad spelling, bad grammar, bad logic. It could be my full time job if I wanted it to be. Dumbest Tweets have changed the way I do language online. Now I put hashtags before a word to show I'm doing it on purpose.
I also talk really fast too so phrases like "talking about" = TALMBOUT and "all the time" = ALLATAHM. Another thing I'm known for is my dramatic tantrums, example I don't say "I Can't." I say "I'm unable to can" = #unabletoucan.
For me, I simplify or stretch language. I make a game with language because I think language should be fun. Humor has gotten me in the door but some of the things i do has kept me there.
I have 2 twitter accounts, @iluvvit and @luvvie. It's 2 sides of the same coin that is me and it's all part of what I"m passionate about so it fits who I am. I'm proud that I built a community that people can relate to me. I want readers to
feel like they know who I am. My oldest reader is 92 years old, she's been reading my blog for 5 years. She doesn't see well anymore. She gets her granddaughter to read my blog to her. Humor is a great equalizer to bring people together.
I feel like my audience are my besties because they know me. I'm known for rants, red velvet, rice, red pumps. I say the unpopular opinions, like I don't really believe in Kale. My goal is not to ruffle feathers. But my goal is also not
to not piss people off. I just say what I have to say and how I want to say it. What other people think of me is not my problem. I'm the giver of no damns. As much of a loud mouth as I am, it does bother me sometimes when people misunderstand what I say. But I always return to asking myself did you say what you meant to say.
I often feel like because I'm outspoken, I think I talk myself out of certain rooms but I have to always remember that the rooms I talk myself into mean more than the ones I talk myself out of.
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