The actress was joined by Clarice's Rebecca Breeds, Batwoman's Javicia Leslie, and Kenan's Kimrie Johnson for EW's Women Who Kick Ass panel at the SCAD aTVfest.

By Tyler Aquilina
February 06, 2021 at 05:10 PM EST

Jasmine Cephas Jones has looked around at how lucky she is to be alive right now — in a world where Hamilton can exist.

At EW's virtual Women Who Kick Ass panel for SCAD aTVfest on Saturday, Jones — an original Hamilton Broadway cast member who played Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds — recalled seeing the impact of the smash-hit Broadway musical and how it empowered and inspired her.

"I never in my life have seen a piece of theater cross over into pop culture the way that that show did. Because it is a historical piece, but it's told through what America looks like now," said Jones, who was one of EW's Breaking Big stars for 2021. "I remember when the cast album came out… and to see everybody learn the words the next day was absolutely beautiful."

She also recalled a poignant experience after a performance: "I remember there was a little girl who came up to me after the show and said to me, 'You look just like me!' That's literally everything, that's everything in a nutshell, and why I'm inspired to do what I do, and why I do what I do."

Her fellow panel member, Batwoman star Javicia Leslie, shared a similar experience, in which a little girl saw the news of her casting and told her dad, "Batwoman looks like me!" Stories like that one, Leslie said, are what give her the courage to face down racist comments and messages, in order to pave the way for the next generation of performers and artists.

"It's important for me to take those blows so that she can be represented, because someone took blows so that I could be represented," Leslie said, citing the trailblazing work of the late Cicely Tyson, who redefined the depiction of Black women on screen. 

She added that considering the experiences of other women of color led her to speak out about the racist comments she received in the wake of her casting. "We're always taught, as women, we have to kind of hold our emotions behind and not say how we feel about things, so I kind of kept it to myself for a while," she said. "[But] no one knows you're going through this if you don't speak up and say something."

Jones, as well as panelists Rebecca Breeds (Clarice) and Kimrie Lewis (Single Parents) also spoke about the importance of speaking out in situations when "something doesn't feel right," as Jones put it.

Lewis recalled telling producers she didn't feel comfortable making jokes about the relationship between African Americans and Korean Americans, which endured "extreme tensions" in the early 1990s amid the Los Angeles riots.

"We took it to the writers and were like, 'This is not just for jokes,'" Lewis said. "'It's a comedy, but we have to be authentic, and we can't joke around about stuff that really happened, because it cost lives.'"

Breeds, meanwhile, said she called a Clarice producer ahead of filming an episode in which she felt her character — FBI agent Clarice Starling — was not reacting to the stresses of her job in a way that felt authentic, with several instances of, as Breeds put it, "sobbing and screaming."

"I got a call back and they were like, 'Thank you so much for bringing this up,'" Breeds said. "It was a really big deal to make that phone call, and I was terrified to do it. I'm so glad I did, it was definitely a hard thing to do, but it was the right thing to do, and ended up being the best thing for everyone."

Added Jones, "The key thing is stick to your intuition, and if something doesn't feel right, try to speak up as much as possible."

Related content: