Natalia Dyer, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Teyonah Parris gather for an in-depth talk with EW.

By Sydney Bucksbaum
October 30, 2020 at 08:58 PM EDT

When it comes to positive female representation onscreen, Yes, God, Yes star Natalia Dyer, The Broken Hearts Gallery star Geraldine Viswanathan, and Charm City Kings star Teyonah Parris are feeling hopeful.

When Entertainment Weekly gathered all three actors for the Women Who Kick Ass panel at the (virtual!) SCAD Savannah Film Festival, the group pointed out how they've been noticing an important shift that has been a long time coming in the kinds of roles they're being offered, especially compared to the flimsy, underwritten female parts they've seen in the past. But they also noted how the industry still has a long way to go when it comes to authentic, positive female representation on TV and in films.

"Since I was young, ever since I started, the scripts I was getting and the scripts I'm getting now, I would say there has been a shift," Dyer says. "Seeing more female stories come out, it's all good. It is. I think it is in the right direction... There's so much more to go."

The Stranger Things star plays a teenage girl struggling with her own blossoming sexuality while growing up in a restrictive (and hypocritical) Catholic environment in 2019's Yes, God, Yes. She notes that while doing promotional press for the film she noticed that so many women like herself didn't grow up seeing accurate portrayals of themselves onscreen. "My hope is for the next generation to make enough of that art, of those films and television, so they have all these different types of people, these different men and women from different backgrounds reflected back at them because I think it's really powerful," she says. "I do think there's been improvement, it's just you don't want to congratulate too early but you do want to celebrate it."

Parris, who plays a young single mother in HBO Max's powerful drama Charm City Kings, admits that while she hasn't been in the industry for very long, she's still noticed a positive change.

"I think there's privilege in even saying there's progression in the roles I've been able to take and the choices I've been able to make because there was a time where a lot of actors and performers of color weren't seeing progression," she says. "We weren't seeing images and reflections of ourselves on TV. Even as an audience member I definitely feel like there's a shift and a change in the right direction because I can watch so many things that I'm interested in that are reflective of my community or people who are a part of the community who aren't necessarily like me. I think to have a quirky, Black girl as the center and lead in Insecure and then go over and see Michaela Coel in I May Destroy You with such heavy, hard, brilliant — it's beautiful! I mean, those are options! When do we get to say that?"

And Viswanathan, who plays the charming yet quirky rom-com lead in The Broken Hearts Gallery, is proud to occupy that space in a genre not historically known for its inclusive casting.

"As an audience, collectively, we're all just sort of asking for more," she says. "To be more honest and representative and just doing better. We got a little bored of the same thing. Now it makes sense to have, if it's a story about a woman, to have a woman writing and directing that story. That just really lends itself to the authenticity... I've been lucky to enter the industry at a time where especially ethnicity is less of a barrier. I feel very lucky to just play normal girls in 2020, and we don't have to explain what the background is or what the situation is, it just is what it is. I think it's just going to become more and more normal."

Watch the full panel above now to see the actors discuss the roles they've played over the years, the best lessons they remember from school, what they've been up to during (and how they're surviving) quarantine, what it's been like going back to work during COVID, and their dream roles for the future. Plus you don't want to miss seeing Dyer's cat jump into frame in an adorable moment near the beginning that couldn't be a more accurate representation for what life has become in 2020.

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