Alicia Keys, Pharrell & John Legend Get Real About Gender Bias & Dangers Of Being Complacent
For The Hollywood Reporter’s first ever Songwriter Roundtable, the media outlet tapped Alicia Keys, Pharrell and John Legend to chat it up with musical artists Justin Timberlake, Sting, and Tori Amos for an in-depth discussion about an array of topics, including gender bias, post-election 2016 and the dangers of history repeating itself.
Each of the artists have created songs for new/upcomingHollywood films and they discuss how those opportunities came about and why they decided to sign on to the projects.
Pharrell Williams wrote and produced tracks for the upcoming biographical drama about three intelligent African-American women who worked for NASA back in the 1960s. He talked about how significant they were in helping the United States in the Space Race and how a story like this is needed in the times we’re living in, especially post-election 2016.
“My producing partner, Mimi Valdez, took a meeting with Donna Gigliotti, who had found the script about three African-American women in the early 1960s who played a huge part, an integral part in the math that it took for us as the U.S. to make it in the space race. And this is a story that's been around this entire time but these women were victims of era and circumstance; not only was your contribution discounted if you were African-American, but on top of that, you're a woman. We heard a lot of crazy rhetoric leading up to this election, but I think the one good thing in it is that it has raised awareness of gender bias. We can no longer deny that women are treated the way that they are. And I think that this film will be one of many instrumental tools to change not only America's mind, but the world's mind.”
Alicia Keys, who composed "Back to Life" for Queen of Katwe, talks about combating society’s standard of beauty by her makeup free movement.
“This was just a personal thing that I was exploring and expressing as I'm growing as a woman. But the most important thing about it is that for women, there is a really ridiculously high, unrealistic standard of what beauty is, and it's heavy. It's heavy, it's hard. We're so brainwashed even as women that it gets confusing. It gets really confusing as to what's inner beauty, what's outer beauty? What's the dance between the two? But the most important thing, obviously, is that you honor yourself and understand what is important to you as a person, and that has nothing to do with makeup — wear it, don't wear it. Do what feels good to you as a woman, as a human being. Express yourself. And don't judge each other so much. Whatever this person chooses, that's beautiful, too."
Oscar winner John Legend, who wrote a “Start a Fire” for La La Land that he also stars in), opened up about why he chose to use his Academy Award winning moment (for the track “Glory” with Common) to speak out about the incarceration of black men. He said he felt it was his duty to address our issues at such an emotional time, especially with people protesting in the streets over police brutality. He explained:
“I wouldn't have gone up and made that same statement if it wasn't for the fact that my song was written for a film,Selma, that represented an important moment in American history. We're writing a song for Selma, Dr. King and all these people who went on Edmund Pettus Bridge and risked their lives. Some of them actually died, some of them were beaten, and all of them did that for the right for all of us to be more free. And then we live in a country that is failing to make us more free because we're locking up so many people. And so I could not walk up there and receive an award and just thank my wife and my producer and this and that and do all the traditional things that people do. I had to honor the movement that the song and the film represented, and I had to honor the movement that was in the streets. Because the people were in the streets at that moment, protesting Ferguson and all the other police shootings in our communities. And I was not going to get up there and not say something about it.”
He also talked about how crucial it is now for people to use their platforms to speak out about certain issues because history can (and will) repeat itself.
“And now I feel like it's dangerous for us to be complacent. It's dangerous for us to think that it couldn't happen to us like it happened to Germany in the '30s and '40s. Trump is saying Hitler-level things in public. The world and America have done some atrocious things in the past, and we could do it again if we had the wrong leadership and if people of conscience don't speak up.”
You can read their full thought provoking roundtable discussion here.