Actors Beanie Feldstein, Britney Young, and MJ Rodriguez rocked the big and small screens this year in awe-inspiring ways. You probably recognize Feldstein best from the summer movie Booksmart. Meanwhile, Rodriguez brought tears to your eyes as Blanca on FX’s Pose. And Young has been killing it on GLOW for three seasons now.
These performances couldn’t be more different, but they’ve all had similar effects on viewers: We were captivated and transformed by them. Credit for that goes to Feldstein, Rodriguez, and Young, who have changed the landscape for women in Hollywood just by being themselves. They’ve each pushed the needle forward for representation in various ways—be it race, gender, sexual orientation, size. At Glamour’s Women of the Year Summit, these three women got together and talked about how they’re disrupting the system.
Growing up, Rodriguez, Feldstein, and Young didn’t really see themselves reflected on screen. “There wasn’t a lot of representation for young African American trans women,” Rodriguez told Vogue senior culture editor Estelle Tang, who was moderating their panel at the summit. “But I found comfort in watching shows like Will & Grace and Noah’s Arc. It made me feel included at a young age.”
Young, meanwhile, didn’t see good representation for either plus-size women or bi-racial people. “There were larger people on film and TV, but they were never shown in a positive light” she said. “They were always the bully, the prison guard. I never saw a nice plus-size girl who wasn’t being mean to people. [Bi-racial representation] was never shown in a positive light, as well.”
Feldstein had a similar experience growing up. People constantly told her she’d grow up to play Tracy Turnblad on Hairspray, but that role never interested in her. She wanted to be seen for all her complexities and nuances. , “[Tracy] is not who I am. I’m so many other things, let me show you all the other roles I can play,” she said. “Thank God things changed as I got older, and we have so much room for growth.”
We do have room for growth, but these three women are playing a huge part in moving things along. They’re using their positions of fame and power to impact the sets and projects they work on. Feldstein says she learned a lot from her Lady Bird co-star Saoirse Ronan on how to set the tone of a set. “Stepping into slightly bigger roles [like Monica Lewinsky in American Crime Story, her next project] at the center of a story, I think, ‘What would Saoirse do?’ To be the center of a story and hold that space is intimidating, but watching her do it was [inspirational].”