Rashida Jones Talks Porn, Black Mirror & What Feminism Gets Wrong

Photo via Taylor Hill with Getty Images.
We've all seen it happen: A celebrity makes one controversial statement and goes from everyone's fantasy BFF to problematic overnight. At best, the star will have to deal with some serious online vitriol until the gossip blogs latch onto their next sound bite. At worst, it kills their career. Really, it's enough to make you wonder why anyone in the public eye would ever chance to say anything. Rashida Jones knows all about these risks. In an alternate universe, she could just be the "funny girl" from TBS' Angie Tribecathe actress who stays in her lane and looks pretty on the red carpet. But instead, she's made a name for herself as an activist who isn't afraid to speak about topics that make people squirm, topics like pornography, racism, and society's addiction to social media. Beyond that, she's flown under the radar as a major Hollywood writer for years, penning screenplays like Celeste and Jesse Forever and Toy Story 4. And in 2016, she wrote an episode of Black Mirror, which is now nominated in the Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries category by SAG-AFTRA, thanks to Bryce Dallas Howard's portrayal of a woman brought down by social media. You'll see Jones present at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, a natural fit considering the show is known for letting stars say as much as they want, and find her behind the scenes later this year as executive producer of TNT's new series Claws. But first, read on to learn how our favorite triple threat — that's actress, writer, and activist — does it.
What made you want to write screenplays on top of acting?
"I had always dreamed of writing but had some delusion that you couldn't do it unless someone came and anointed you 'writer.' But then I realized you just have to sit down and do it, which, without fail, is painful. The only difference between a writer and a nonwriter is doing it. The sheer volume of work in writing self-selects for the people who are willing to grind it out." Actors sometimes come up against naysayers when they try to branch out. Did you face any pushback?
"When I started writing about 10 years ago, Hollywood was just turning a corner into wanting more actor/writer-driven projects. I have the utmost respect for great actors, but there is an instinct to it where you jump into a role and embody it. It's like a lightning storm. Writing is more of a laborious process, so I have actually gotten more respect as a writer than as an actor."

"We're addicted to Likes and wanting more followers on social media."

You wrote "Nosedive," an episode of Black Mirror that's up for a Screen Actors Guild award in the Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor category. In it, you create a future where we all live and die by a social media ranking system, which seems very feasible. How'd you come up with the plot?
"I think we already kind of live in the [Black Mirror] society. We're addicted to Likes and wanting more followers on social media, so it already impacts how we present ourselves. We've blurred the line between reality and online, so, on some level, our personality, social status, and even job opportunities are all being judged based on how we brand ourselves. We're tailoring ourselves to be 'likeable.' "I was taken by this subject matter because, as a person in the public eye, it's part of my business to care about how I'm perceived. Like Lacie [the main character in "Nosedive"], I fantasize about being free from the restrictions of wanting people to like me and truly not giving a fuck."

"This country suffers from the tension between puritanical values and a major obsession with online porn, and it's time to talk about it."

Before Black Mirror, you produced another project called Hot Girls Wanted, which explores sexual exploitation in the entertainment and sex work industries. How did you come to be so passionate about these topics?
"I had a messy, complicated entry into the world of feminism and porn. In short, I was noticing so much porn culture integrated into the mainstream and was curious how that happened and what the impact was. My concern was that for a lot of women, there was this giant gap between experiencing sexualization versus their own sexuality — one being dependent on external gaze and one being the way we feel."

What are your feelings towards pornography these days?
"I think porn has incredible cultural influence, but we know so little about how it works and how it impacts us. This country suffers from the tension between puritanical values and a major obsession with online porn, and it's time to talk about it. I would love to see workers' rights and protection for all women who work within the sex industry, and I would love for young people to understand the difference between real sex and porn sex. Porn sex should not be used as sex ed, but the average age boys watch their first porn is 11, so right now that's inevitable. "More than anything, I want to continue the conversation. The subversive, secretive nature of sex and porn keeps us from having open, honest, and healthy discourse, and it's time to change that. Let's all talk to each other." What's it like to speak up about women and sex as a very public figure?
"I've often felt imprisoned by wanting people to like me, but there's no easier way to break those chains than to be critical about something publicly! I'm sensitive, though, so it's difficult to feel misunderstood or make mistakes in real time in front of the world. And I've definitely made mistakes. I try my best to continue to educate myself and stay inclusive, but, yes, there is a ton of pushback when you publicly discuss women and sex."

"Feminism in this country has long been for white women."

Pornography aside, you often talk about the importance of intersectionality when you discuss women's rights. Previously you said, "It’s important to understand that racism and sexism are inevitably intertwined." Can you elaborate?
"Feminism in this country has long been for white women. Even the suffragette movement excluded black women. Feminism has to be for every woman, and if there's an experience you don't understand, educate yourself. I think because I'm biracial, I have a unique perspective. I am sometimes treated like a woman of color, sometimes not. I also have white feminist friends who want to know what to do, how to better understand their privilege, and how to be helpful. I don't think it's everyone's job to be a bridge, but in this political and cultural climate, I try my best to be patient and instructive."

What advice do you have for being the best possible feminist and ally possible?

"Listen, listen, listen, and stay open to learning. The inherent issue with privilege is that you can't understand the things you haven't experienced. So staying open and empathetic to all women from different circumstances and unique issues is your best chance to show your support."

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