At the beginning of her career, Naomie Harris promised herself that each role she would play would represent positive images of women. When she found out that “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins wanted Harris to portray a verbally abusive, crack-addicted mother, Harris was initially reluctant.
Harris spoke with Annette Bening about her change of heart on deciding to portray Paula in “Moonlight” and the two discussed the positive ways in which male writers and directors have depicted women in film during an interview for Variety‘s “Actors on Actors”
In the interview, Harris shares with Bening her experience as the daughter of a single mother who had her at age 18, and who took her with her to college. She explained that the strength she saw in her mother was not one that she saw being portrayed in the media.
“I just saw women as strong and capable, yet on film and television, those weren’t the women that were being represented to me,” Harris said.
After making the decision to only choose roles that depicted positive images of women, Harris explained that her reservations about playing the role in “Moonlight” were not transformed until Jenkins explained that he created the character based on his own mother.
“I thought, ‘here is somebody who has a vested interest in ensuring that this character doesn’t become reduced to a stereotype but gets a full humanity and complexity,’ and that’s what you want from anyone, that’s what we are asking for — the opportunity to give the character what they deserve,” Harris said. “Everybody deserves to get their full humanity reflected on screen.”
Bening also shared her satisfaction with “20th Century Women” director Mike Mills’ ability to present the diverse group of women in the film.
“The complexity of Greta’s character, and the teenage girl that Elle Fanning plays — I love the fact that there is a 16 ear old group where there are no cliches,” Bening said. “There’s a sort of way we present ourselves and there’s an inner world we all have, and Mike managed to really capture that.”