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Reese Witherspoon: How Mindy Kaling Helped Me See My White Privilege

September 5, 2017, 4:01 PM UTC

In an essay published in the October issue of Glamour, Reese Witherspoon talks about starting her production company, Pacific Standard, to “create more roles for women onscreen and behind the scenes.”

Witherspoon writes that she believes things are looking for up for women in entertainment, citing films like Wonder Woman and Rogue One and noting that “today 38% of major characters on TV are women, which is not equal, but it’s pretty good.”

But despite her overall optimism, the actress/producer says a conversation with Mindy Kaling, one of her co-stars on the forthcoming film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time (which also stars Oprah Winfrey and is directed by Ava DuVernay), was a stark reminder that minority women face far greater barriers in Hollywood than their white counterparts:

Another thing I think about a lot is how it feels to be a minority woman in America, so rarely seeing yourself onscreen, and it’s unconscionable. When I asked Mindy Kaling, “Don’t you ever get exhausted by always having to create your own roles?” she said, “Reese, I’ve never had anything that I didn’t create for myself.” I thought, Wow, I feel like a jerk for asking that; I used to have parts that just showed up for me. I can’t imagine how hard it is to write your own parts and simultaneously have to change people’s perceptions of what a woman of color is in today’s society.

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The problem—for both minority and white women—isn’t just with the dearth of women characters, writes Witherspoon. It also extends to roles behind the camera; women account for just 17% of film directors, writers, and producers. With A Wrinkle in Time, DuVernay is “making history as the first African American woman to direct a movie with a budget of over $100 million,” Witherspoon says in her essay.

What’s more, writes Witherspoon, “she is creating a world where an African American girl, Storm Reid, is the hero of a huge supernatural story about good versus evil.”

Beyond her work with Pacific Standard, Witherspoon says plans to use her new multi­media company, Hello Sunshine, to “seek out women from all over the U.S., to hear about their joys and struggles, and encourage them to be storytellers in all kinds of mediums.”