Actress Jasmin Savoy Brown is tired of competing to meet the Hollywood beauty standards set by cis, white men.
“Whether you're straight or gay or bi or whatever, just being a woman in this industry is already tough,” she told Out. She referenced the 2015 Inside Amy Schumer skit, “Last Fuckable Day,” starring Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Patricia Arquette, about the moment in women’s careers when they stop getting cast as love interests and starts playing mothers.
“That's real, competing to be, for lack of a better word, fuckable. Going into an audition where you're playing the homeless banker lady, but they put you in a bikini. That's extreme, but it's an example of what it's like and just constantly feeling picked apart and objectified. That's frustrating. But at the same time, women are superheroes and have gone through that since birth, outside of the professional sphere. Knowing that has just made me stronger and ready to take on anything else.”
Her latest task is as a series regular on ABC’s For The People. The Shonda Rhimes-produced drama is set among the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and focuses on the lives and careers of the lawyers working on both sides. Ahead of the show’s Thursday night season two premiere, we caught up with Brown to talk about her role, how being a lesbian has impacted her career, and the first time she saw herself on screen.
As a kid, when did you know you wanted to be an actress?
That's all I ever wanted to do for as long as I can remember … When I was eight years old, I saw a traveling production of The Music Man. I remember looking at them [onstage] and going, “OK, this is what people do for a living and that's what I'm gonna do for a living.
For folks unfamiliar with For The People, give me a little breakdown of what it is and talk a little bit about your character.
For The People follows three young prosecutors and three young public defenders in the southern district of New York, and as we know that's a very important district [that] has been in the headlines a lot lately defending our democracy. These six young lawyers are working there as they figure out who they are and figure out the criminal justice system and just life as millennials. I play Allison Adams who is roommates and best friends with Sandra Bell, played by Britt Robertson. They went to college together and they're both public defenders. They're very different, but they bring out the best in each other, and that's something I really love about the show. It’s that female friendship … It very much mirrors my relationship with my best girlfriends and it's really important to me that we have friendships like that on TV.
Each episode tackles some of the very real-world issues we’re dealing with. A major one this season focuses on the immigration debate when an undocumented immigrant is detained by ICE. As a Black, biracial, and queer actress, do you feel an obligation to be a part of art that reflects these social issues and conversations?
One hundred percent, and especially with the platform that I have, and that I'm growing, in the public eye. I think it’s great for everyone that can, to speak up and say how they feel and what their perspective is and what their life journey has been, especially when you have the privilege of being in the public eye as I do. I feel really honored to be a part of some of these stories.
Hollywood is also finally getting a little bit more diverse. I feel like we have a long way to go and I actually always say that shows that have Black people on them in addition to the white people on them, those aren't diverse either. That's just a show with a bunch of Black and white people. We're still nowhere near through with diversity, but we're getting there.
Are there any particular issues that hit home for you that you are out and visible around?
Well definitely the LGBTQ rights and women's rights movements. And something that's really important to me is women's health. I have endometriosis, which 1 in 10 women have, but most of them don't know that and the struggle fest that I went through to get a diagnosis is insane. It took seven years for someone to validate me. I went to five doctors over that time and they all just told me I was being dramatic and it's just a period, which is not true, because most of my friends weren't passing out and calling off of work every month. But because I'm a woman, and this is my body and this is my healthcare, I wasn't taken seriously.
In what ways would you say your different identities, your sexuality, your race, gender, etc., have impacted your career, for good or for otherwise?
I never came out. I just kind of started posting pictures of my girlfriend and I a few years ago. And I knew that when I did that, it would hinder some opportunities and was scary, but the way that I thought about it was, “Do I want to work with those jerks anyway? Do I wanna be on a show or in a film with homophobic people?” No! So if I miss out on that job, that's fine. I will get better ones. Obviously I'll never know what I don't know. I don't know who's passed over me or discarded me for being who I am, but that's fine, because I've found myself in great company.
I think everything is a double-edged sword, everything has a positive and negative, but at the end of today, me being comfortable in my skin as a biracial, queer woman, being happy in my life — that's the most important thing. And I know that me being true to myself has inspired others to be true to themselves. I'd prefer that over some stupid job any day.
As we're having these conversations about representation and more diverse kinds of roles, when would you say was the first time you saw yourself reflected back to you on screen?
Truthfully, a moment that I really felt seen that I could tell you was one of my favorite movies growing up was Miss Congeniality 2, because Regina King was in it. Now, I've seen a lot of Black women on screen, but a moment that really was special to me was when I saw A Wrinkle in Time. The little girl in it, because she's mixed and she has hair that looks just like mine and she wears her glasses and she's a little bit nerdy, she reminded me of what I was like when I was younger, except I wasn't as cool as her. But when that boy comes over to her and tells her, "I like your hair," I started bawling my eyes out in the movie theater because that was such a huge moment. And the hair thing was huge for me growing up.
I feel like actually seeing myself on screen has only started to really happen in the past few years with Kiersey Clemons, Tessa Thompson, and Janelle Monae, all of these fierce Black and/or mixed and queer women being themselves on screen. I think the tides are really starting to shift now, and I'm glad to be part of it.
For The People airs Thursdays on ABC.