ELLE’s 2023 ‘Women in Hollywood’ December/January 2023 issue features nine remarkable women being honored for the creative and cultural contributions they have made to the worlds of film, television, music and beyond. The 2023 honorees grace the December/January covers of ELLE, on newsstands December 19, 2023.
THE ICON: JENNIFER LOPEZ
Jennifer Lopez Is Standing in Her Power
The icon is aiming to do everything the men do.
These days, she is choreographing her own story. With her company Nuyorican Productions, she has produced projects including Hustlers, the Netflix film The Mother, and TV series like The Fosters and Shades of Blue. “I want to tell the gamut of stories,” she says. “Uplifting, empowering stories, and entertaining stories, and gangster movies. I want to do everything that men do. I want to do all of it.” She doesn’t like the notion that women only want to see love stories or romantic comedies. “I think that’s insulting.” Women, she points out, “have been leaders of countries. We have run empires; we have done all of these things throughout history, and we should tell all of those stories.”
On making projects for and about women: “People were laying the groundwork for this for a long time. It’s just that sometimes it takes time to move these mountains and these old ideas and paradigms and shift them to a place where there’s real change. We have been able to stand in our own power and say, We’re not going to be taken advantage of. We’re not just on the corners of life or on the outside of the stories. We are the stories.”
On what she wishes she knew before breaking into Hollywood: “One of those things was to be more particular with my choices. And I didn’t have that luxury, being Latina. I didn’t get called in for everything someone who wasn’t Latina would get called in for. I got called in for very specific things. As I started getting more leads here and there, I should have pulled back. I took that mindset with me instead of going, ‘I should only work with certain kinds of directors that I really want to work with. I should choose this material in a different way.’ I just wasn’t as particular as I could be, I think. And if I [could] start over, I think I would’ve done that. I would’ve known that the director is really the helm of the project when you’re acting. Just like in singing, the producers you work with are very important. I knew that with music, but I didn’t quite understand it as much when I was younger about directors.”
On the growing number of roles for older women: “People have realized that women just get sexier as they get older. They get more learned and more rich with character. All of that is very beautiful and attractive, and not just physically, but on the inside, the beauty that you gain as you get older, the wisdom you gain.”
“I see myself working [as long as] I want to. I don’t know what that age is. It might be 70, it might be 80, it might be 90, I don’t know. But I know that it’s there for me if I want it and I want to create it. That has always been the mindset that I’ve had: to never let anybody put me in a box because of where I was born, where I’m from, what age I am, anything like that. Those boundaries don’t exist for me.”
THE SPARK: DANIELLE BROOKS
Danielle Brooks Wants to Reflect ‘The World That I Actually Live In’
The joyful actress on saying “h**l no” to her doubts, and the best advice Oprah gave her.
Brooks sees her success as being not only for herself, but for a larger collective, especially plus-size Black women like her who are rarely represented onscreen beyond stereotypes. “That’s what I signed up for as an actor—to be a reflection of the world that I actually live in, to represent the person who doesn’t feel she has a voice and who isn’t seen,” she says. “Even to represent myself.”
“At the end of the day, I got into this acting thing because I loved it. It was my play. It was my escape. I felt like a kid on a playground,” Brooks says. If she steps into a role or reads a script and doesn’t feel that way, she knows it’s time to reassess. “I always have a phrase: ‘If you ain’t having fun, you ain’t doing it right.’”
On the healing power of The Color Purple: “It was my first Broadway show. But, it brought a lot of pressure for me. I had this imposter syndrome and did not understand how, in my first Broadway show, I’m Tony-nominated. All of these things started creeping up of, ‘I don’t deserve this.’ But getting to sing ‘H**l No,’ the song that Sofia sings every night, and say h**l no to my fears, say h**l no to this voice that is putting doubt [in me] and saying that I’m not worth it—really was healing for me.”
The best advice she received from Oprah: “That I have everything I need within me, and that the ancestors are with me on my journey. They truly have been. This role has called for a lot physically, mentally sacrificing, being away from my family for so long. So to know that I’m surrounded by love and support, not only from my earthly family, but from my spiritual family that have passed on—they’re with me. She reminded me that in moments where I felt like, ‘I do not know how I’m going to do this scene again.’ She was there picking up the phone, just available to me. So not only was I taught that lesson, but I also was taught to pass that on to someone as well. When it’s my time, and I’m in a position similar to hers, to make sure to give that same amount of grace, love, and support that she gave me.”
On her hopes for Black women in the industry post-strikes: “It’s the song ‘Get Paid.’ [Laughs] I just want us to have a piece of that pie. People sitting on $45 million a year are living well. I’ve been to some of their houses. You can share some of that pie, because people are really struggling. In turn, we can share that with our people and our community and those in need. It starts at the top.”
THE FORCE: AMERICA FERRERA
America Ferrera Is Speaking Her Truth
After decades of trying to be everything to everyone, the beloved role model is finally empowered to tell her own story.
On defying expectations and pushing beyond the limits of what others have set: “What I continue to wish for my career, and women’s careers and people of color’s careers, is that we don’t have to exist inside of these boxes or these lanes—that we don’t have to be relegated to represent just the thing that the culture wants us to represent,” she says. “I want to be more of who I am as a person, and to get to make art that doesn’t fit into any of the boxes and isn’t about the dominant conversation people have wanted to have about me because I’m a woman who doesn’t fit into stereotypical Hollywood.” Perhaps the best way she can do that is by taking control. “I grew up thinking the rest of my life would be about being good enough to be chosen,” she says. “And a big surprise of my career is that I have somehow found agency in choosing myself and doing what is inspiring to me, and needing and wanting less to be the thing that is chosen and more the person who is empowered to tell their own stories.”
On working with and becoming friends with other women in the industry: “The MO used to be to just operate in your silo, and you were lucky enough to have one or two good friends in the industry. [But after #MeToo and Time’s Up], I have felt a huge shift, as a woman in this industry, in the openness from other women to reach out and be in it together, which I think has been really, really transformative. As a Latina in Hollywood, I always felt like the only one of my kind in the room. I was the only one in the cast, or the only female Latina producer on any given thing I was doing, and I felt further isolated and on my own. And those were barriers that we just had to decide to start breaking down. At a certain point, Gina Rodriguez and I had lunch, and I thought, ‘Why don’t we do this more?’ I think part of coming up in this industry is you’re taught that everyone’s your competition, and that there’s so little for the taking, and you are in competition with everyone for those crumbs. One good role came up every five years, and everyone was up for it. And it was like, ‘Why are we over here fighting over stuff that’s not even good?’ What if we came together and made stuff we loved and got to work with each other?’”
On progress in Hollywood: “I always have to remind myself that my career is an anomaly. I have had an incredible amount of fortune, and I have so much gratitude, but I know this does not mean, ‘America did it, so anyone can.’ It’s still an anomaly. I am not a symbol of things changing in this industry; I’m an exception. And I do think some things have changed, but I really regret being used as proof that everything’s okay, because it really isn’t. And yet, I can still appreciate the progress. I love that the new Latina stereotype is ‘unhappy goth.’ I’m like, ‘H**l yeah!’ I was never allowed to be that.”
Jennifer Lopez Photographed by Sølve Sundsbø
Daniell Brooks Phorographed by Adrienne Raquel
America Ferrera Photographed by Zoey Grossman
[Photo Credit: Sølve Sundsbø, Adrienne Raquel and Zoey Grossman for ELLE Magazine]
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