Stars like Naomi Osaka, JoJo Siwa, Halsey and more have owned their moment and paved a way for others, helping to create a more inclusive world. From drawing attention to topics like racial injustice and mental health to advocating for the LGBTQ+ community, these celebs are pushing boundaries — and inspiring other women to do the same.
International Women’s Day 2021 embraces the theme of #ChooseToChallenge, which encourages everyone to call out gender bias and inequality to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements.
In observation of the holiday, read how some of Hollywood’s brightest stars are using their platform to make an impact.
The comedian has never been afraid to go there. Her web series, Baited With Ziwe, sees her use comedy to call attention to privilege, racial stereotypes and injustice, and last year, she pushed the envelope with notable guests like Alison Roman, Caroline Calloway, Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan. Fumudoh is currently a writer on Desus and Mero, and soon she’ll have her own variety show on Showtime, as she signed a deal last fall.
“I sure hope that it provides a really sharp satire on media culture, it might be a take on race and class and gender that’s definitely, hopefully funny, which is always a priority, but I want my work to be smart and thoughtful,” she said of her new show in a February interview with Teen Vogue. “It fundamentally has to make people laugh.”
After nearly a decade in the industry as a rapper, actress and host, Awkwafina is still reaching new heights. Last year, she became the first woman of Asian descent to win a Golden Globe in any lead actress film category when she won for her role in The Farewell. It marked her first big award, and she told ET after her win that it “means a lot.”
“When we were making The Farewell, we had no idea, I had no idea. I didn’t know if I could do drama,” she said. “To see Lulu [Wang]’s story, her vision come this far, is very incredible.”
Awkwafina hasn’t stopped pushing since. Personally, she’s used her voice to speak out against anti-Asian rhetoric amid the coronavirus pandemic; professionally, she has upcoming roles in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and The Little Mermaid, and serves as star, co-creator, writer and executive producer of Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens.
The actress made a name for herself on The Office and The Mindy Project, and now she’s helping others carve a path in Hollywood. Among her recent writing and producing credits are 2019’s Four Weddings and a Funeral and 2020’s Never Have I Ever, which is partially based on her childhood. The Netflix series has propelled its newcomer star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, prioritized South Asian representation and broken stereotypes.
“It’s interesting ’cause when you are a teenager, you’re going through so much stuff, but when you’re the child of immigrants… there’s a whole other set of things, which is I’m Indian but I sound like I was born and raised in the Valley,” Kaling said in an interview with Ramakrishnan for ET. “Sometimes you forget when you’re just living your life that other people see you as different or other and it’s not until you’re 14, 15 years old where you feel like you have to explain it.”
The 23-year-old tennis star is the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles by the Women’s Tennis Association. As a four-time Grand Slam singles champion, she’s been crushing it on the court for years — and has used her spotlight to promote her activism. After Jacob Blake was shot by police officers in August, Osaka joined the athletes in the NBA, MLB and WNBA who refused to play.
“As a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention rather than watching me play tennis,” she wrote on Instagram at the time. “I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction.”
Osaka — who was named one of the 2020 Sports Illustrated Sportspersons of the year — also put the Black Lives Matter movement front and center during her US Open championship run, wearing masks with the names of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and more whose lives were senselessly taken.
Kelly Marie Tran
Tran was the first woman of color to have a leading role in a Star Wars movie when she was cast in 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. She reprised her role in 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker, and voices the titular character in Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon.
As her Instagram bio notes, Tran is “afraid, but doing it anyway.” She deleted all of her Instagram posts in 2018 as a result of online harassment that included racist and misogynistic comments. In an essay for The New York Times, Tran explained that the attacks had reinforced microaggressions she had long faced as a Vietnamese American, and reinforced a narrative that Asians should be marginalized and treated only as minor characters, both in stories and in real life.
Two years later, she told ET that stepping away from social media was the “best decision ever.”
“It was the best thing I ever did. I don’t know. It’s funny, it feels like people are still shocked by it sometimes. I’m like, no … I just did what was best for me,” said Tran, who has inspired other groundbreaking actresses. “I feel great about it.”
The Brooklyn Nine-Nine star has been helping create change in Hollywood one role at a time. Beatriz’s B99 character’s storyline as a bisexual woman helped earn the series a GLAAD Media Award nomination in 2019, three years after the actress herself came out as bisexual on social media.
Beatriz told ET at the time that she was “really, really proud” to be a part of changing the scope of representation on screen — and she’ll be doing it again as part of the ensemble cast of In the Heights, set to premiere next summer.
In an August interview with ET, Beatriz candidly discussed the “racism and colorism in the Latino community,” and why it was time in this moment of racial reckoning to confront that.
“So one of the things that I’m really thrilled about about In the Heights is that we have so many kinds of people in this cast and so many different colors of people and Black people and so many different shades of people. And that is really, really important because what you see on the screen, it counts,” she said.
The politician broke the greatest glass ceiling of all when she was sworn in as vice president in January, becoming the first woman — and woman of color — to hold that office. Harris, who is Black and Indian, is the highest-ranking female official in U.S. history, and serves as inspiration for countless women across the globe.
“It was very important for me to speak to the moment, and the moment includes understanding that there is a great responsibility that comes with being a first,” she said of her and Joe Biden’s election victory in her recent Vogue cover story. “I always say this: I may be the first to do many things — make sure I’m not the last.”
“I was thinking of my baby nieces, who will only know one world where a woman is vice president of the United States, a woman of color, a Black woman, a woman with parents who were born outside of the United States,” she added.
At just 17 years old, Siwa has already built herself a Nickelodeon empire and millions of young fans. But she felt she could have “lost everything” with her decision to come out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in January.
“I was like, ‘Technically it was a really big risk posting that… but if I lost everything that I’ve created because of being myself and because of loving who I want to love I don’t want it, that’s not what,'” Siwa said during a February appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. “If I can’t love who I want to love, that’s one of the most important things to me.”
Siwa, who has said she’s not sure of her label just yet, introduced fans to her girlfriend soon after, and is now happily sharing her truth. “I am really, really, happy! And now that the world gets to see this side of my life, it makes me really really happy,” she said on social media. “I want people to know that there is so much love in the world and it is so incredible!”
As one of the breakout stars of FX’s Pose, Rodriguez has occupied a lot of “firsts” in the industry. In 2019, she became the first openly transgender woman to win Best Actress – Television at the Imagen Awards, and later that year, became the first Latina trans woman to enter a partnership with Olay. Through it all, the actress has used her platform to uplift and empower others.
“To the younger generations that are out there, I implore each and every last one of you to educate yourselves, to learn, to be knowledgeable to the things that have happened to us for years and years and years — whether you be LGBTQIA+ or a Black individual, or combined. It is time for us to stand out,” Rodriguez implored at the online She’s a Riot rally fundraiser last June. “The call of action is to speak up, show up and show out. Don’t be afraid of your voice, because guess what? You have a lot to say. It’s time for us to spill the truths that a lot of individuals around this world know but choose to shun because they know how heavy it is.”
“This is my love, my enlightenment, my knowledge to each and every last one of you out there,” she said, adding that now is the time to show that Black lives — and Black trans lives — matter. “I love you. Sending hope and joy.”
Estefan, the daughter of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, marches to the beat of her own drum. A talented musician in her own right, Estefan produced and directed her own debut album Take Whatever You Want, in 2017 — and came out as lesbian to her parents the same year.
In an October interview with ET, she reflected on coming out amid the homophobia of the Latinx community — and the difficulty of revisiting it on Red Table Talk: The Estefans.
“It’s obviously something that is very difficult for anybody, in the Latino community, in any community,” she said, noting that she and her family went to therapy to learn how to discuss that topic and others. “We are hoping that will inspire people to say, ‘Let’s have our own Red Table Talk tonight at dinner. Is there something you want to talk about? Because you are safe here.’ It’s creating that safe space for everybody.”
The 26-year-old singer was one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world last year — and it’s for more than just her music. Halsey has used her reach to promote suicide prevention and mental health awareness, advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and victims of sexual assault and fight for social justice.
Halsey is biracial, bisexual and has bipolar disorder — and doesn’t shy away from sharing anything with her fans. She emotionally spoke about her numerous experiences with sexual assault at the at the 2018 Women’s March in New York, participated in Black Lives Matter protests and launched the Black Creators Funding Initiative to award $10,000 grants to Black artists.
“There is no such thing as a perfect activist,” she told Time last year. However, the singer is also determined to try her best. “The best thing that I can do with my given platform is to adapt as the world adapts,” she shared.
In 2020, Eilish became the youngest person and the second in history to win the four main GRAMMY categories — Best New Artist, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Album of the Year — in the same year. The 19-year-old singer is undeniably a force in music, and a person who knows the depth of her reach.
Eilish blasted the All Lives Matter movement in a powerful post about white privilege last May, and has tried to educate her followers on topics like social injustice and the coronavirus pandemic over social media.
At the end of the day, however, Eilish is still a teenger, and one who uses her music to share just how she feels. “People are always like, ‘It’s so dark. Have happy music.’ But like, I’m never feeling happy,” she admitted in her new documentary, Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry. “So why would I write about things I don’t know about? I feel the dark things. I feel them very strongly. Why would I not talk about them?”
The Spanish singer was awarded Billboard’s Rising Star Award in 2019 for “changing the sound of today’s mainstream music with her fresh flamenco-influenced pop” — and she’s continued on that trajectory. Rosalia was the first Spanish-singing act in history to ever be nominated for Best New Artist at the GRAMMYs, and while she didn’t win that award last year, she did win Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album for El Mal Querer.
With collabs with stars like Billie Eilish and Travis Scott, Rosalia continues to push Latin music forward, and uplift the women in her industry.
“As a songwriter, as a producer, not just as a musician, not just as an artist who goes on stage and sings, I feel proud. I feel happy,” she told ET in 2018 of women taking over Latin music. “This is something to celebrate, not just me, a lot of female artists we are having visibility and a moment. I can feel that there are more girls nominated, this year something is happening.”
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