Typically a cast like Diane Lane, Meg Ryan and America Ferrara would be not be unfamiliar to a big budget feature, but the actresses have teamed up for PBS' hard-hitting documentary "Half The Sky." Based on the book by Nicholas Kristof, the two-part documentary will follow each actress as she explores the hardships experienced by women in different parts of the world, spotlighting sex trafficking, microfinance, and education. Entertainment Weekly had a chance to sit down with the three actresses to discuss their experiences on the project.
Each of the women praised Kristof's book as what brought them on board with the documentary, citing its inspirational message in the face of seemingly hopeless situations. "After reading the book, I was so electrified by the heroism I’d read. In each chapter, the odds were so stacked against these young women in various ways — whether it was from the sex trade industry, if you can call it such a thing; or maternal mortality, which is what I covered in my segment; or surgical chastity, which is imposed on girls as young as seven," Lane said. "And to meet Nicholas Kristof was like meeting David Bowie. He’s a rock star. So when they approached me, it was a no-brainer to say yes."
Ferrara agrees, "I closed the book and didn’t feel so burdened by just how awful things are in the world. I closed the book and thought, 'There are solutions.' So that’s what made the book feel so special."
The actresses traveled and were shadowed by activists in their own individual segments; each tackling a separate issue, each with its own implicit dangers. "[Activist] Somaly [Mam] wanted to go talk to some prostitutes in a part of Phnom Penh that was particularly dangerous, and they were going to outfit us with secret cameras and who we were supposed to be aware of were the police because they were the ones who could have put us in jail," Meg Ryan said. "It’s so corrupt that when certain girls leave the brothels and go to policemen [for help], those policemen sell them back to other brothels at a higher price. So there were situations where you couldn’t quite get your bearings."
Ferrara continued, "I thought, 'Oh my, God. I haven’t even thought of these things...You’re on the plane. What are you going to do about it now?' And once you’re there, [Lane] had Edna, I had [activist/guide] Urmi [Basu]. And you immediately feel like you’re with the safest person you could possibly be with."
Ryan is insistent that despite their shocking experiences, the PBS documentary's message is an uplifting one. "Some things you can’t even let yourself [believe]. You’re standing there and the four-year-old [in front of you] was used as a prostitute. You can’t conceive of it," Ryan said. "But hopefully this is a story about much more triumph than that and more optimism than that and a story about the third world grasping the hand of the first world. Gender oppression is a global issue, and hopefully, it’s an optimistic four hours."
"Half The Sky" will air in two parts starting tonight as part of PBS' "Independent Lens" series.