Earlier this year, the film Blindspotting made waves on the film-festival circuit, garnering praise for its timely cultural themes — in particular, the exploration of race and socioeconomic status in a gentrifying Oakland, CA. The film largely centers around two men, Collin (Daveed Diggs) and Miles (Rafael Casal), but there's another character that leaves a lasting impression: Val, one of the film's only female characters, portrayed by the wildly talented Janina Gavankar. The actress is a familiar face in Hollywood, but this role might just be her most defining yet — especially given the fact that the character represents many things Gavankar is herself: brazen and emboldened to embrace the changing times around her.
Gavankar is also a powerful presence in Hollywood, using her voice to evoke change in film, in the game industry, and on social media. (By the way, she was one of Twitter's first users.)
In partnership with Tinder, Refinery29 sat down with the actress to discuss it all: her work on Blindspotting, her role in Time's Up, and her thoughts on the social-media-driven world we all live in.
Congrats on your new film. What was it like to portray a strong-willed female character in a movie that was largely male-dominated?
"Easy! I was raised to be a strong-willed woman in a world full of men. Also, Blindspotting is made by a group of feminists, both male and female. We're in a moment in history when what we stand for is on our sleeves. That's the only good thing about our current political climate. The casts I worked with in the past may have been doing the exact same thing, but [it’s different with Blindspotting] because I was working with a highly political group of artists during a highly political time."
Speaking of the current political climate, can you speak a bit about your involvement with the Time's Up movement and what it means to you?
"I was invited to a Time's Up event by my friend Tessa Thompson — that's how I first got thrust into the conversation. But, honestly, everybody should be a part of Time's Up. The movement extends beyond Hollywood. Abuse of power in the workplace is everywhere — in every industry, across the globe. We're in an incredible time where culture is grotesque. The subtleties are gone. Our hands are being forced. We can no longer be silent. We must stand up for what we know to be right, and [we must] protect each other. Time's Up has even started a legal defense fund to help fight for your rights. I urge everyone to familiarize themselves with what this movement is about."
A lot of people might recognize you as one of the first influential voices on Twitter. How has the world of social media changed since you first joined the social media platform?
"Watching it evolve into the fabric of our culture has been intense. I knew it was going to be big, but I didn’t know it would spawn an entire genre of media. I started using [Twitter] before the iPhone had even been released. Social media plus smartphones have changed the way we interact with others but, more importantly, how we interact with ourselves."
Do you ever feel like the person you are on social media and with your followers is different from who you are in real life?
"Nope. It’s all me — it’s just not the whole me. I am private about certain things in my life and public about the things I’m intensely passionate about. Look, it’s clearly human nature to publicly share the best parts of ourselves. I'm definitely posting only the bits of my life that are wonderful. I'm not hiding the other bits; I'm just not sharing them."
How do you think a Tinder- and social-media-driven culture has impacted how we depict relationships in films?
"I think it’s opened up even more interesting ways to look at relationships. As dating gets digitized, we can start examining it in a more intellectual way. And that's not necessarily a good or bad thing. But if we think about what we need as human beings, what we need is to be loved and to be seen. Data show that it's less about sex. That's of infinite interest to me. We can now start asking ourselves, What do we need? What is the actual human need? Is it to be seen more than it is to be loved? I don't think that's true. I think we all need to be loved."
You recently created a digital community for game-industry professionals called theForum.games. How do you foresee this community impacting the way the game industry builds relationships?
"I don’t know what it will become, but I can tell you what I hope it does: incite conversation about theory, personal growth, and art. The game industry is so secretive; developers work in silos. Without community, growth is stunted. I hope the fact that theForum.games is an invite-only community allows members to trust in each other."
And to expand on your involvement in the game industry, what do you hope to see from women in the industry in the near future?
"I am very interested in female game developers leading more teams."
Is that something you're interested in dabbling in yourself?
"Absolutely! If that's something that's supposed to happen, it'll be a natural evolution. But making a game is like making a movie — just 100 times harder. And it's really hard to make a film. The time will come if it's supposed to. But I have a lot of stripes to earn in the game industry; just because people know I'm a gamer doesn't mean I know how to make a game. So give me time."
This story has been edited and condensed for clarity.