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Kerry Washington pushes to flesh out ‘limited boxes of identity’ in her roles

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Kerry Washington on how characters mirror real life

The idea of otherness has been on Kerry Washington’s mind of late. Particularly in the types of representations seen on television. Her job as a storyteller, she says, is to bring a recognizable humanity to characters that otherwise society may reduce to “these kind of limited boxes of identity.”

Washington was not alone in her concerns. In speaking on a video conference with other actors from acclaimed television projects in May, the “Little Fires Everywhere” star noted her job is “to make people take pause and realize that human beings, no matter who we are, we’re complicated and rich and deep.”

Joined in conversation at The Envelope Drama Roundtable by Cate Blanchett of “Mrs. America,” Cynthia Erivo of “The Outsider,” Hugh Jackman of “Bad Education,” Nicole Kidman of “Big Little Lies,” Regina King of “Watchmen,” Sandra Oh of “Killing Eve” and Jeremy Strong of “Succession,” Washington spoke of shaping her role as Mia Warren on “Little Fires.”

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“One thing that was exciting for us was that the character of Mia in the beautiful novel by Celeste Ng was written ambiguously with regard to race. And so our choice to make Mia Black, in some ways represented a kind of progress,” Washington said. “The second layer of what makes that matter is then being in the writers room and saying, ‘OK, if we’re going to make her Black, how does that require the story to shift? What are the elements that we can pull out and grow⁠ — what’s unique about her experience?’”

Even as the conversation took place before the Black Lives Matter protests spread around the globe, Washington felt strongly about making sure that as characters, people of color were fully fleshed out humans.

“All of us play these characters that society could perceive of as ‘other’ and decide to limit the way that we deal with each other’s depth as human beings and complexity.” she said. “And whether we look like you or don’t look like you, there are elements to our story that are unique and precious.”

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