Reflecting on diversity and gender equality in the entertainment industry, Dame Helen Mirren said there has been "exponential change" since she stared her career, particularly in the past five years, but there is still a ways to go.
"If it's climbing [Mount] Everest, when I started we were at the bottom of Everest and now I would say we are maybe three-quarters of the way up, still a long way to go," Mirren said.
"I'm kind of pissed off that I wasn't born 20 years later, not because I particularly want to be younger but...I would love to have experienced this world as a young woman."
Mirren was the host of the L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth Awards Gala on March 8, part of the Women of Worth initiative, which provided $110,000 in charitable grants to 10 Canadian women who have created innovative programs to provide important supports for their communities. This includes supporting BIPOC entrepreneurs, mental health education for marginalized communities, supports for survivors of human trafficking and gender-based violence, and assistance for newcomer and low-income Canadian families.
"They work sometimes in very difficult circumstances, it's not, as you call, glamorous work, it's real, grassroots, community based work and these women are incredible heroines," Mirren said. "I applaud L'Oréal so much for doing this."
Supporting this initiative is very much aligned with how Mirren explained she has tried to live her life, "in a way that is inclusive and recognizing of other people's abilities and brilliance." She does also recognize that throughout her career, she has been "ahead of the game" in terms of speaking up as a woman in the entertainment industry.
"I would like to have shown more courage, when I think of people like Jane Fonda who exhibited such bravery in her life and her life's choices," she revealed. "But...I always was an argumentative person, I was always annoyingly argumentative saying, 'no why should I, just because I'm a women I'm not going to do that.'"
Aging on screen has 'evolved'
The BAFTA, Golden Globe, Emmy, Tony and Academy Award-winning actor's long career has seen her take on legendary roles in films like The Queen but she's stepped into unexpected roles, including the movie Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. But it's the diversity of her impressive resume that makes Mirren the bad-ass inspiration she is.
"I think one of the reasons younger women like to see someone like me around is I think it gives them hope because they think, 'oh, she's 75 (76 actually), it doesn't have to end when I'm 35 because look she was still working, and still being interviewed and still wearing fabulous Dolce and Gabbana earrings,'" Mirren said.
Mirren believes we have "evolved" from the thinking that women's acting careers will be cut short as they age and it has become acceptable to see women aging on screen, which it wasn't, in her estimation, about 20 years ago.
The actor does still remember one day, when she was about 28, when she was "incredibly depressed" because she "realized" that by the time she was 40, "her career would be over."
"I was sobbing with my boyfriend, who was an actor at the time, saying 'you don't understand it's all very well for you, that's not going to be the case for you, it's not going to be over at 40, it's going to be over for me at 40 and I feel I've got so much more to give,'" she said.
For young women who hope to have a career like Mirren's her advice is simple: "Be on time and don't be an asshole."
"Also be a rebel as well, which is contradictory to that,...be a good girl but also be a bad girl," Mirren said. "Learn to appreciate your instinct, your gut feeling, it's usually kind of right."
The 10 Canadian women honoured as part of the L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth initiative:
Elise Konadu Ahenkorah, #shemeets: Based in Calgary, Alta., #shemeets provides networking, training, mentorship and professional growth resources to women BIPOC entrepreneurs and innovators
Simryn Atwal, Bridge the Gap Mental Health Association: The Surrey, B.C. association delivers more accessible mental health educational programs to marginalized groups
Cindy Blakely, New Circles Community Services: This multi-tiered agency provides essential supports, including clothing, training, and settlement to newcomer and low-income Canadian families in Toronto
Boma Brown, Support Network for Indigenous Women & Women of Colour (SNIWWOC): The Toronto and Victoria, B.C., support network addresses the barriers to access reproductive healthcare for Black, Indigenous, and other racialized women
Rhonelle Bruder, Project iRISE: Based in Toronto, the survivor-led organization offers skills and leadership development programs for at-risk youth and survivors of human trafficking and gender-based violence
Dr. Marie Josée Dubois, Les Enfants GIOIA: Children and young adults suffering from rare and incurable diseases have the opportunity to "experience joy" through learning, play, wellness, and companionship from the Estrie, Que., program
Evelyn Fox, Communities for Zero Violence (CZV): The Toronto-based advocacy and awareness non-profit agency connects communities in order to eradicate gun violence while supporting victims and survivors
Meseret Haileyesus, Canadian Centre of Women’s Empowerment (CCFWE): The national organization, based in Ottawa, tackles financial and economic abuse among women and survivors of domestic violence
Bita Malekian, Water Movement: The not-for-profit venture in Calgary, Alta., aims to bridge the connection between Indigenous water treatment operators and experts nation-wide through an online platform where they can connect, share ideas, and access learning videos
Aditi Sivakumar, My Empowerment Platform: This website provides tools and information about gender-based violence and resources for at-risk women and children during the pandemic, in addition to the Ottawa-based founder creating My Empowerment Packs, which are wellness kits and resource booklets for women facing violence and youth facing homelessness