If you bear any shadow of a doubt that Reese Witherspoon remains the real life embodiment of Elle Woods, consider yourself corrected. I sometimes imagine asking the Academy Award winning actress how it feels to have shaken up the film and television industry to this degree, to which I hope she’d reply, “What…like it’s hard?” From HBO’s Big Little Lies, to Apple TV+’s The Morning Show, to Hulu’s latest Little Fires Everywhere, Reese Witherspoon is taking the reins across streaming networks with trailblazing finesse.
Her latest creative endeavor is alongside fellow multi-hyphenate, game-changing actor/producer director, Kerry Washington. As you may know, the much anticipated “Little Fires Everywhere” has landed on Hulu, just in time for your shelter in place needs. It’s instantly addictive and while bittersweet, only the first four episodes are currently streamable on the network. The rest will be followed by weekly episodes. Let’s face it, it’s for our own good.
The story follows a painfully picture-perfect family of six living in a small, wealthy Ohio town in the mid-nineties. Their lives are shaken up with the arrival of a single mother and her teenage daughter. It takes on the abundant variations and intricate forms of motherhood with complicated, interwoven family dynamics. Hulu’s adaptation of Celeste Ng’s 2017 best selling novel is ablaze with racial tension, intense class bias and enough microaggressions to make you cringe.
There is power in numbers. Unifying some of today’s most influential leading ladies has brought some of the most compelling stories to life in recent years. A-list actresses of equal, be it the mighty caliber of Laura Dern, Kerry Washington, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Anniston, and the Queen Mother of cinema, Meryl Streep, have banded together to shift perspectives in this time of wild growth. With these acting powerhouses and accomplished female authors by her side, Witherspoon is seriously reshaping Hollywood’s cookie-cutter, antiquated idea of what a woman can be. Finding opportunity in the emergence of streaming has provided Witherspoon with multiple platforms to disseminate stories that matter. Stories told by women. Bringing the work of authors like Gillian Flynn, Cheryl Strayed, Liane Moriarty, and Celeste Ng to our screens shows us there is not one way to illustrate the female narrative.
Witherspoon began her production company, Pacific Standard Films in 2012, which has since evolved into Hello Sunshine, determined to shift and elevate female stories. She began with two stories of flawed, deep, dynamic women; Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Both films earned critical acclaim and academy award nominations to Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon in Wild, and Rosamund Pike for her disturbed and calculated portrayal of Amy Dunne in Gone Girl.
Then came Big Little Lies. Written by Liane Moriarty, Witherspoon both starred in and served as executive producer for the HBO hit mini-series, with a cast that puts Taylor Swift’s celebrity girl gang to shame. Big Little Lies touches upon controversial topics such as rape, domestic violence, the plight of the working mother, adultery, engrained problematic notions of pitting women against each other, what it means to be a strong woman and mother, and the ties of tribal sisterhood. The adaptation garnered a whopping thirteen awards, out of nineteen nominations, in its first season alone. However, the accolades and industry respect were far from the biggest success the project drew. While working with HBO, Witherspoon has been credited with playing a pivotal role in addressing the network’s gender pay disparities through her efforts with the Time’s Up Movement. Here’s to hoping that this forced examination of the entertainment industry will only result in a positive emancipation from its patriarchal past.
According to award-winning historian Dr. Bettany Hughes, women’s stories only occupy 0.5% of recorded history. Widening our lens and paying tribute to the female gaze as a relevant and equal art form is essential. Acknowledging that women have the capability and capacity to narrate their own experience is vital. The inclusion and immersion of women from all different races, ethnicities, and backgrounds throughout all facets of the film and television industry, can only result in more genuine, multifaceted, better formed, dynamic female characters.
American poet, Muriel Rukeyser once said, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” Slowly but surely, the universe will burst open with the stories of us. Dynamic, flawed, talented, driven and complex women. Our stories will no longer be relegated to the background. We will no longer be confined to the role of the wife or girlfriend of the hero. We are the heroines and the creators of our own tales. Women will no longer be placed in a box—not if Reese Witherspoon has anything to say about it, anyway.