Gina Rodriguez: How I Got Hollywood on Board to Honor Non-Insta-Famous Women

Gina Rodriguez - Marie Claire Young Women's Honors - Getty-H2016
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The 'Jane the Virgin' star reveals how she came to create this year's first-ever awards ceremony recognizing the achievements of young females paving the way.

The idea for the Young Women's Honors came about after I hosted the 2015 Teen Choice Awards. The producers, Mike Berg and Andrea Regalado, approached me about partnering on a show. Soon after that, I attended the Kennedy Center Honors to pay tribute to Rita Moreno, who was my idol. Having Moreno to look up to — a Latina actress who fought for women’s rights and was unafraid to draw attention to Latinas' oversexualized roles in film and TV — made the road much less terrifying for me. When people go before you, they chop down that fear that looks like a brick wall. They create doorways and windows.

When I thought about how moved I was by the Kennedy Center Honors, I wondered, why don't we have this for our youth? We need this kind of uplifting show for a demographic that is constantly fed one narrow idea of what fame, success and power look like. Not everybody successful is an actor or Insta-famous. So while the Kennedy Center Honors pays tribute to a lifetime of achievement in the arts, we wanted to pay tribute to young women who have broken ceilings and smashed down doors in all kinds of arenas.

To find our honorees, my company, I Can and I Will Productions (partnered with my manager's company, Primary Wave Entertainment) assembled a blue-ribbon panel that included our sponsors, Marie Claire editor-in-chief Anne Fulenwider, Clinique global brand president Jane Lauder and Lord & Taylor president Liz Rodbell. We chose people like Jessica Matthews, who created energy-generating technology for third world countries, and 24-year-old Amanda Nguyen, who pushed legislation through Congress to ensure legal safeguards for survivors of sexual assault. Fereshteh Forough is a young woman from Afghanistan who founded Code to Inspire, which offers women and girls technical fluency. When the ceremony airs on The CW on Dec. 19, I don't want girls to look at one of our honorees and ask, "How many Instagram followers does she have?" I want them to say, "Tell me how I can do that, too!"

Hopefully by year five we will be doing a whole week of summits and classes with entrepreneurs coming to teach women how to open their businesses. But since this was just our first year, getting talent to jump on board for the event was a little more difficult. Some celebrities expressed concern because they didn’t know what to expect. I got a lot of, "Thank you, I hope I can participate next year." But it was unbelievable to see the women who did take a risk, like Katie Holmes, Jenna Dewan Tatum and Laverne Cox — who appeared on the red carpet and went straight over to Tatyana McFadden, our Paralympic winner, crouched down next to her and said, "Girl, your arms are gorgeous. I read all about you, and I'm like, 'Damn, what am I doing with my life?'" Tatiana Maslany literally shut down production on her show, Orphan Black, to travel down from Vancouver and was so moved by our honorees she was crying in the audience during the acceptance speeches.

Recently, I said to my boyfriend, "This matters to me so much, I'm afraid to fail." And he said: "But the coolest thing is that you have the opportunity to fail. That means you're doing something big." I thought, wow, yes. I want to pass that idea on to others. Do something great enough that you can fail at it. That is so much cooler than not trying at all.

This story first appeared in the 2016 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.