Rosario Dawson on sexism, racism and the opioid crisis – Politico

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10/15/2021 12:04 PM EDT

Good afternoon, and welcome back to Women Rule! What are you excited about with the return of fall TV? How do you like the newsletter lately? Anything in particular you want to see? Feel free to email me: [email protected]. Follow me on Twitter, too. Thanks to Maya Parthasarathy for putting together all these great links. Onto the newsletter this week …
In a new Hulu series, “Dopesick,” about the roots of the opioid crisis and how it affected one small Virginia town, Rosario Dawson plays a frustrated Drug Enforcement Administration agent. After discovering bags of OxyContin at a drug bust, her character, Bridget Meyer, becomes consumed with getting the drug under control. But as a woman of color in law enforcement, she is stymied by her DEA superiors and representatives from Purdue Pharma, the company that made the drug.
It’s a powerful portrait of the people affected by the opioid crisis and an exploration of how it got so bad. It comes at a particularly important moment, too: In early September, the Sacklers, the family that owned Purdue Pharma, were released from liability in lawsuits involving opioids. In exchange, the family agreed to pay $4.5 billion, which will mostly go to addiction treatment and prevention programs in the U.S., and to dissolve the company. After decades of a mounting opioid crisis spurred by OxyContin, critics said the ruling amounted to very little accountability for the family and their company.
The new series is also a subtle indictment of the racism and sexism embedded in companies and government agencies that made it harder to push back against the powerful interest groups that perpetuated the opioid crisis. I spoke with Dawson over Zoom about why the main person her character was based on didn’t want to participate in the series and how the racism and sexism her family experienced shaped her role.
“Thank God for the people who go, ‘No, I will not bow down,’ This is wrong and something needs to change,’” she said. “Not everybody’s capable of it.”
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity. Watch video clips of the interview above or click here.
Katelyn Fossett: How did you prepare for the role?
Rosario Dawson: I read Dopesick and a couple of other books that [“Dopesick” series creator] Danny [Strong] recommended that he had researched. My character is kind of a few different storylines put together in one. And I asked about the cast of people that was used to create Bridget.
I did the more basic online research about the DEA and how the structure works. I think what was great about it was Bridget as a character and as a person, and about the cost of being the Cassandra and seeing something happen and not being able to convince other people to not let in this Trojan horse in and to fight back. I think that was probably the more compelling thing.
Some of the people that [Strong] had tried to resource for this character didn’t even want to talk. One of the main people that my character is based off of is just so burnt out from all of it, that she was just like, “I don’t want to touch this with a 10-foot pole.” And it was just fascinating. Not having that person to speak to actually spoke volumes about this character that I’m playing and the toll that this whole thing — seeing this tsunami and doing her best to try to prevent it and and to protect people — what that cost her personally.
Fossett: The thing that struck me as I was watching the episodes was how male and white this world of pharmaceuticals and regulation is — most of the doctors, the lawyers, the pharmaceutical sales representatives are white and male. And then you have Bridget Meyer, a woman and a person of color and someone who is pushing back on everything that is happening with OxyContin. Do you think being an outsider in some ways made her more likely to push back on these powerful interests?
Dawson: Oh yeah. There’s one scene with a young boy. She thinks she’s taking down an adult addict. And it’s this child, and it’s one of the big “Aha!” moments about just how insidious and scary and profound this tragedy is and how it’s unfolding. And in that scene, I talk about where Bridget comes from, which is a community that was devastated by the crack-cocaine disparities in how the laws were enacted, and the three-strikes rule, and how generations of people have been affected by how we addressed that crisis and the failed war on drugs.
And it’s that idea of — you know, a Cory Booker who is in the Senate and is fighting for police reform and all kinds of things because he’s actually living in Newark and in the community that he’s trying to help and work with. And that’s not true for most of the senators, or any of them. (Dawson is in a relationship with Booker.)
When people talk about the statistics of how valuable it is to have more diversity in your workplace, it’s true. When you don’t have a voice that authentically comes from a certain space, your default position isn’t going to include that.
So I think it is critical to represent a woman like Bridget in this space at that particular time and how that exceptionally put a toll on her because she was really fighting an uphill battle in so many different ways just to be even taken seriously when what was at stake was very serious. And the fact that she wasn’t that charming, and didn’t how to work the room and massage the egos, that cost her being able to be as effective as she wanted to be. If she had been a man, she would have been listened to differently. They wouldn’t have killed the messenger.
Fossett: Yeah, it seems like the opioid crisis has not really penetrated our culture in the way that a lot of other big crises or wars, for instance, have. Is that a part of what appealed to you about the script in the story?
Dawson: It’s really powerful to have a story that helps to share all of that and hopefully give us a different perspective and ground from which to act next. Like the SACKLER Act being passed! (The bill would prohibit non-debtor companies from enjoying protections from lawsuits that debtor companies can take advantage of during the bankruptcy process.) There are things legislatively that we can do that can make a real difference that if we get enough people to kind of push can shift the tide.
Fossett: We talked about Bridget Meyer being a woman of color and how that maybe made her more likely to go against these powerful forces. Is there anything in your own life that you tapped into when you drew strength from being a woman of color?
Dawson: There is a scene in which my character feels like she’s making real progress, and she’s been promoted, and she’s done some really interesting things that have put Purdue and the Sacklers’ feet to the fire, and they’re actually willing to come to the table. And then, as she’s finding out that her tactics are working, she’s also being told she’s not invited to the meeting.
And it just made me think so much of my grandmother. My great-grandmother worked for the Ladies’ International Garment Workers Union, and my grandmother used to help her with the union organizing. They stood up with stature and dignity in the face of really inhumane treatment.
My grandmother used to say all the time, “I may speak with an accent, but I don’t think with one.” She was the senior secretary to the vice president of Swiss Bank Corporation at the World Trade Center. And I think about her going from deep Brooklyn — trains and busses — to get to work. The fact that she had to say that all the time … what was she encountering every day? How many times did she have to hear a certain comment and be like, “I’ll be right back,” and go and cry in the bathroom, and then put her game face back on and go back out there because no one else was going to do it for her?
I think a lot of people can recognize when the powerful treat you like crap, and you know you’re right. And so you’ve got to tough it out and keep persevering. That’s such a real thing. But thank God for the people who go, “No, I will not bow down. I will not play nice. I will not excuse this or ignore that. This is wrong and something needs to change.” And not everybody’s capable of it, but a [person like] Bridget Meyer was. But it still took a toll.
The cost of this crisis has been on so many people. And misogyny and racism and prejudice and discrimination added to how terrible this was. This would have been very different if our society operated differently. But here we are, and we’re still pushing back against that. And so it gives us leverage, because look at how differently we look at that moment now, and how much more differently we will look at it in 20 years and 30 years when equity is even more normalized.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
House, Senate Democrats at odds over whether to slash paid leave plan,” by POLITICO’s Eleanor Mueller: “Senate leadership is considering slashing funding for paid leave in Democrats’ reconciliation package to $300 billion, four sources told POLITICO, as part of a broader push to bring down the bill’s price tag to appease moderates.
“That’s about $200 billion, or about 40 percent, less than what the House approved. To get there, policymakers would need to make major changes to the House-drafted language, illustrating the kind of tradeoffs Democrats are being forced to consider — and the type of schisms that’s creating between moderates and progressives.
“‘We’ve been touting this as being transformational in terms of creating job opportunities for women,’ Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said in an interview. ‘It would be dastardly if the approach is one that is just going to be slash-and-burn’ the House bill, ‘because that will mean that nothing is transformational.’”
Divided Supreme Court considers who can defend abortion restrictions,” by Alice Miranda Ollstein for POLITICO: “A divided Supreme Court on Tuesday weighed which state officials can defend abortion bans in court — a procedural question with implications that extend beyond reproductive health in states where the governor and attorney general hail from opposing parties.
“The arguments marked the first abortion case to be argued in full before the court’s 6-3 conservative majority and centered on whether Republican Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron could defend his state’s ban on some forms of abortion after two courts found it unconstitutional and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear refused to defend it further.
“A decision, which is expected next summer, could extend beyond abortion to Covid mandates, gun control laws and even election results.”
Read more here.
AP Photo/Michel Euler
This Is How Everyday Sexism Could Stop You From Getting That Promotion,” by Jessica Nordell for the New York Times: “When the computer scientist and mathematician Lenore Blum announced her resignation from Carnegie Mellon University in 2018, the community was jolted. A distinguished professor, she’d helped found the Association for Women in Mathematics, and made seminal contributions to the field. But she said she found herself steadily marginalized from a center she’d help create — blocked from important decisions, dismissed and ignored. She explained at the time: ‘Subtle biases and micro-aggressions pile up, few of which on their own rise to the level of “let’s take action,” but are insidious nonetheless.’
“It’s an experience many women can relate to. But how much does everyday sexism at work matter? Most would agree that outright discrimination when it comes to hiring and advancement is a bad thing, but what about the small indignities that women experience day after day? The expectation that they be unfailingly helpful; the golf rounds and networking opportunities they’re not invited to; the siphoning off of credit for their work by others; unfair performance reviews that penalize them for the same behavior that’s applauded in men; the ‘manterrupting’?
“When I was researching my book ‘The End of Bias: A Beginning’ I wanted to understand the collective impact of these less visible forms of bias, but data were hard to come by. Bias doesn’t happen once or twice; it happens day after day, week after week. To explore the aggregate impact of routine gender bias over time, I teamed up with Kenny Joseph, a computer science professor at the University at Buffalo, and a graduate student there, Yuhao Du, to create a computer simulation of a workplace. We call our simulated workplace ‘NormCorp.’”
Research: Women Leaders Took on Even More Invisible Work During the Pandemic,” by Marianne Cooper for Harvard Business Review: “The events of the last year and a half have put intense pressure on companies to do more to support employees and act on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Women leaders are meeting this moment and taking on the extra work that comes with it — but they’re not getting recognized or rewarded for it. As a result, this mission-critical work is in danger of being relegated to ‘office housework’: Necessary tasks and activities that benefit the company but go unrecognized, are underappreciated, and don’t lead to career advancement. That’s a main finding from the new 2021 Women in the Workplace report by and McKinsey & Company, which I co-authored.
“The report on the state of women in corporate America surveyed more than 400 companies and more than 65,000 employees in professional jobs from the entry level to the C-suite. The survey found that at all levels of management, women showed up as better leaders, more consistently supporting employees and championing DEI. Compared to men in similar roles, women managers invest more in helping employees navigate work-life challenges, ensuring workloads are manageable, and providing emotional support. …
“But this work is taxing the people who are disproportionately doing it. … What’s more is that this work is going unrecognized. Only about a quarter of employees say that the extra work they’re doing is formally recognized (for example, in performance reviews) either ‘a great deal’ or ‘a substantial amount.’ … This disconnect raises an important question: If companies think this work is so critical, why aren’t they recognizing and rewarding it?”
Washington’s Most Powerful Women 2021, by Jane Recker in Washingtonian: “Power in Washington is a complicated thing to quantify. Some people have it by virtue of the office they hold. Others maintain it by virtue of their reputations, no matter what their business card might read. And in a political city, many of the most powerful among us owe their clout to voters — either the constituents who elect them directly or the national electorate who picks the government every four years.
“That last factor is a reason why this year’s Most Powerful Women list is replete with new names — not only did the government change, but the new administration put a lot more women into top jobs, starting with the vice-presidency.
“Of course, not all power resides in high-profile arenas like politics. Some of the most powerful women on our list might be able to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue unnoticed — while still causing people to tremble in whatever other world they help shape.”
Read more here.
Two new biographies of Fannie Lou Hamer are coming out, and they both sound fantastic.
Kenyatta T. Brunson will be the new CEO of N Street Village, the largest provider of homelessness services for women in D.C. … Neda Brown is now director for the Caribbean and Summit of the Americas at the National Security Council. She most recently was a student at the National War College and has spent almost 20 years at the State Department as a career foreign service officer. … Sarit Catz is now an SVP at ATHOS Pr. She previously was a partner at Eldion. …
Sakura Komiyama Amend is joining SKDK as a managing director. She previously was a U.S.-based comms executive for En+ Group. … Sara Schapiro joins the Federation of American Scientists as a senior fellow and its first director of education, workforce and talent. Schapiro previously served as the vice president of education at PBS. …
Ambar Mentor-Truppa, Katherine Brandon, Kimberly Davis-Wells and Tania Mercado are joining Fenton Communications as VPs. Mentor-Truppa previously was VP of comms at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law. Brandon previously led comms and advocacy for Together For Girls. Davis-Wells previously was lead consultant for the City of Oakland Human Services Department. Mercado previously was a VP at SKDK.


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