The June 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter will feature a host of comedic actors, all women and all bad ass, on its cover. The accompanying feature story is a roundtable discussion with the performers including Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, Gina Rodriguez, Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Tracee Ellis Ross (Black-ish), and Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live). In the ensuing conversation, when it turns to facing sexism and racism in Hollywood, it becomes clear that Lena Dunham is a huge Gina Rodriguez fan and avid Jane the Virgin watcher. She even admits to sobbing when Rodriguez took home a Golden Globe for Best TV Comedy Actress earlier this year. Who can blame Dunham? Our St. Gina is just so darn lovable.
Here’s a transcript of the conversation.
ROSS I think racism trumps everything. [It all] happens behind the scenes.
DUNHAM So many shows wouldn’t exist if you and Mara [Brock Akil] hadn’t made Girlfriends and pushed it as far as you did.
ROSS We did 176 episodes.
ROSS Being on a show run by a woman with four women leads gives you a template that when you walk out into the world, you don’t see it. It changed my expectations.
Tracee, Chris Rock wrote an essay for The Hollywood Reporter in which he talked about how you can go to the movies once a week for months and never see a black woman in a substantial role.
RODRIGUEZ I think that also goes for Latinos as well.
DUNHAM [To Rodriguez] That’s why I sobbed during your Golden Globes speech!
MCKINNON That was the best.
ROSS There aren’t many [roles in film]. That’s why I say no to all the offers! (Laughs.) Working on a film is one job where you look at a casting breakdown and I’ll think, “That’s me!” But she’s not supposed to be black.
RODRIGUEZ One hundred percent.
ROSS But I go for them anyway. Gina, what’s been your experience?
RODRIGUEZ I remove myself instantly if something’s perpetuating a stereotype. But the only way to stop stereotypes is to say, “I’m going to wait for a journey that suits me.”
DUNHAM I got into Jane the Virgin after reading your early interviews. You were obviously grateful, but rather than going, “I’m so lucky to have this part!” you took back the power and said, “I waited for something that spoke to me as a Latina and didn’t feel like I was compromising.”
RODRIGUEZ When you compromise, you don’t do your best work.
Lena Dunham’s compliments did not stop.
What’s the worst thing that’s been said to you?
DUNHAM Rape threats. Death threats.
SCHUMER Wishing me to get ovarian cancer. [To McKinnon] You’ve got to get on Twitter! (Laughter.)
DUNHAM Gina, you’re so cute; people are probably nice to you.
RODRIGUEZ I get a lot of marriage proposals!
And she didn’t shy away from talking about the backlash to Girls. Critics have said that Dunham’s show presents an unrealistic, overwhelmingly white portrait of post-gentrification Brooklyn, a historically diverse borough. She admits that the criticism was a painful experience but it became a lesson for her, and a necessary growing pain in her career.
How much responsibility do you feel on your shows to fight racism and sexism?
DUNHAM There was a lot of dialogue about race when Girls started. I’d been thinking so much about representing weirdo, chubby girls and strange half-Jews that I had forgotten that there was an entire world of women being underserved.
RODRIGUEZ I don’t believe it’s an issue of hard-core racism [in Hollywood].
SCHUMER It’s ignorance.
RODRIGUEZ Lack of being surrounded by a culture.
ROSS We’re quick to vilify people instead of acknowledging we all have these huge blind spots.
DUNHAM I also hate how the comedy community is so defensive. People are unwilling to learn. There was a big issue a few years ago with Daniel Tosh and rape jokes. But there couldn’t be a civil conversation about it within the comedy community. I’m a sexual-assault survivor, so I would love to sit down and have a totally nonjudgmental conversation with a male comedian who makes rape jokes. But there isn’t room for that.
ROSS It’s a scary thing. I think that’s part of what’s happening around race, too. It’s not just race. It’s socioeconomic.
RODRIGUEZ It’s also about what Hollywood finds financially beneficial. So when we show them shows like Jane the Virgin and Fresh Off the Boat …
DUNHAM And Shonda Rhimes owns the entire television mainstay. (Laughter.)
RODRIGUEZ Show them it’s all a good investment. And it’s not about race. When you vilify it, people shut down.