Family Secrets or Big Reveal? (with Kerry Washington)
When actress Kerry Washington’s parents told her a massive family secret five years ago, it shook her entire world. And despite being an extremely private person, Kerry decided to reveal this shocking information in her new memoir, “Thicker Than Water.” Sam and Kerry discuss how learning this truth helped Kerry truly know herself for the first time in her life and what made her want to share her story with the world. Plus, how Kerry feels about people’s inability to differentiate her from Olivia Pope and why Kerry was known as “the condom lady” in high school.
Apple Books has teamed up with Lemonada Media for an audiobook club. The October pick is “Thicker Than Water” by actress Kerry Washington. To get your copy of Kerry Washington’s memoir, visit: http://apple.co/lemonadabooks
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Samantha Bee, Kerry Washington
Samantha Bee 00:00
To see that a lot is riding on where you were randomly born seems like a wild understatement. In this country. It determines if your team soda or team pop, what in state university you have access to and unfortunately what you’re talking about sucks. Yes, in the year of our Lord 2023. There are no federal laws that lay out what or how sex ed should be taught. It is entirely up to the states which is extremely unsexy. You know what else is unsexy? That in the US you’re more likely to receive sex ed that promotes abstinence than is medically accurate, or that only 18 states require information about birth control be shared, or the groups like moms for liberty or even now coming after the teaching of consent, which you guessed it is something that I do not consent to. In fact, I have some serious choice words for it. Look, sex ed in school is always going to be awkward. No one wants to hear about gonorrhea from the gym teacher. Just because you know the rules of dodgeball and we’re born wearing an Adidas tracksuit and a whistle does not mean that you are qualified to tell me how my period is going to work for the next 40 years. But people can get over awkwardness, even a gym full of tweens, what we can’t get over is the truly horrendous sexual health foundation that our youth is growing up with. Because when young people grow up without learning about their bodies, they turn into adults who don’t know anything about their bodies. And then some of those adults get to make laws about the rest of our bodies and that is dangerous. This is Choice Words. I’m Samantha Bee. My guest today is the supremely talented Kerry Washington. Before she was the Uber famous actress you know her as she traveled with a Youth Theatre Company teaching about safe sex. I tried to convince her to take it back on the road and teach America’s youth about condoms. But alas, I do not think it worked. But if you want to hear me talk about it, go to Samantha v.com. For tickets to my live show your favorite woman the joy of sex ed. In the meantime, take a listen and make good choices. And a great choice to make would be to stick around for the full episode because at the end, you’ll be able to hear an exclusive clip from Kerry’s new memoir, thicker than water, which is the October pick for the audio book club from Apple books and Lemoanda Media. This book is so moving, intimate and brave. And I am thrilled to be able to talk with Kerry.
Samantha Bee 02:48
Kerry Washington 02:49
Samantha Bee 02:52
Thank you so much for talking to me. This is a great pleasure.
Kerry Washington 02:56
I’m such a fan. So this that’s such a treat to hear from you. You’re such an extraordinary Oh, writer and storyteller.
Samantha Bee 03:03
Thank you. Thank you. Well, so are you. And oh gosh, okay, we have so much to talk about, I really, really want to talk deeply about the book. And so if if people haven’t if people who are listening to this haven’t read it, they should immediately it will be a very good preface. Of course, you know, this, my guess is called choice words. And you use the word choice so much in the book. Yeah. It’s a really central theme.
Kerry Washington 03:31
It is, it really is.
Samantha Bee 03:35
Is there something because this podcast is about choices that we make that change the trajectory of our lives. And there’s so much of that in the book, is there something that you can land on? That emerges for you as one of the biggest choices that you’ve made that did change everything for you?
Kerry Washington 03:56
Yeah, it’s funny, because I think in some ways, it’s the choice to write the book for me. Because I think, you know, a lot of the book is about a choice that my parents made, and choices that my parents made about how I was conceived and then not telling me how I was conceived. And my choice has been how to be in relationship with that truth and to live it differently than they have. Right.
Samantha Bee 04:34
It is such an interesting question because you’re so private in your life your personal life is is is kept very close. It’s yeah, important for you. Keep your children out of it. You know, it’s very, you even basically through a secret wedding. Yeah. And you moved when you had renovating a whole house and then realize see people could see into your backyard? Like I think it’s you know. So making the choice to put it all out there to put what was extremely private out in public, that can’t have been an easy decision for you. How did you come to that decision?
Kerry Washington 05:17
So part of it was, because even though I’ve been really private about most of my life and extremely private about my marriage and extremely private about my kids, I mean, to the point where now they’re like, Are you ashamed of us? Like, why can’t we be on your social media. And in all of that time, I’ve been very public about my parents, my parents have always walked red carpets with me, my parents have been in lots of magazines, lots of photo shoots, lots of red carpets, award shows. So in a way, like not telling this truth about my family felt like there was no way for me to do that without being complicit in this false narrative that they had built. So it was kind of against my will, I just, I felt like I want to be able to tell the truth about who I am, I don’t want to suddenly stop being in the public with my parents. Nobody would like it if I stopped doing dad jokes on Instagram. But I want to be able to tell the truth about who we are and the dynamics of our family.
Samantha Bee 06:28
And it is very, it’s very affirming of your parents to like, there’s a long, long, you know, the, the book winds down many paths, and it is the story of your life, and it is the story of your relationship with your parents. But once this central truth is revealed, or like yeah, the secret. There’s Okay, so is it. Okay, if we talk about the huge reveal? Yes. And your book. So you, you found out relatively recently, yeah, five years ago, five years ago, that your dad was not your biological father, as your parents had used a sperm donor to conceive conception was difficult for them. So that was a revelation, obviously, that rocked your world.
Kerry Washington 07:18
It crazy turned everything upside down. I mean, I talked about in the book that I, there was a part of me that knew in my household that something was up or something was up. I didn’t know what it was. I always felt like, there was this emotional distance between my parents and I like there was something going on. But I would never have guessed that not in a million years.
Samantha Bee 07:41
to choose to they. I feel like so in so many families, there are like glances knowing looks, were you. Did you? Was that a part of your life? Contextually?
Kerry Washington 07:54
Yeah, totally. Like, there were I think I talked about in the book, I do talk about the book, this moment of being on the elevator with my parents, and just them talking about a lawyer and me saying, like, Who’s that and like silence on the elevator and not even like, don’t ask things you should know, or will tell you when you’re older, just like silence, like, like I hadn’t spoken. And there were moments like that there were flashes of this kind of like, oh, we are a family of secrets. I knew that we were a family of secrets. But I never knew what the secret was. And I knew that in our home. We didn’t tell the full truth. Right? And that became just kind of the culture of our home for me.
Samantha Bee 08:36
In a way it wasn’t it’s such a relief to know that there was that you were right the whole time. Just to be able to. You’re like I do. Yeah, no, no, but I knew something.
Kerry Washington 08:47
Truly, it was. I don’t know, it felt like the first time in my life that I had a shot to really know myself. Like, I had been searching for myself my whole life searching for myself, in these characters and in relationships and in work and just looking for a more complete sense of comfort with who I am. And when I got this news, I was like, Oh, this is the missing piece. And it wasn’t even like they were gonna replace the missing piece with fact, because when I said well, like, Who is this guy who weren’t you get the sperm. They were like, We have no idea. So it wasn’t, it wasn’t a completion of the missing piece. Like I didn’t become complete. But the acknowledgement that there was a mystery, and the acknowledgement that there was this deeper truth that I had an itch for, but hadn’t been able to define was so encouraging, and it felt like a real invitation into me, knowing myself better.
Samantha Bee 09:59
It’s huge. was not only a relief, obviously, it adds so many more questions to your life. But did your parents countenance change at all? Did they? Was there something that is kind of ephemeral, that relaxed? Let go in them when the secret was out?
Kerry Washington 10:20
I think so it was a process. It wasn’t immediate. But, you know, my mother, so they dealt with this information in very different ways. You know, my mom, I think, in many ways, held on to a secret for four decades, she, I mean, that one of the lessons of the book is if you have a secret to keep you tell Valerie Washington, because she didn’t tell her sisters didn’t tell her best friend didn’t tell anybody, like really didn’t tell a therapist. I mean, she really, really held on to this on her own for four decades, over four decades. So there has been this beautiful, I’ve been able to witness this beautiful freedom for her. Also, in recovering from this latest bout of cancer like this, she has this new lease on life that is just so brilliant to witness and inspiring. And I think for my dad, it was a very different process, because he wasn’t keeping a secret he like, you know, back then. And even now, for a lot of people, when you do artificial insemination, they say go home and have sex because it helps with the process of getting pregnant. And also back then they didn’t know there’d be an ancestry or 23andme. So they were like, go home and have sex and then you have plausible deniability. And you never have to deal with the fact that this may not be your biological child. And so my dad took that plausible deniability and turned it into absolute facts. And I was his and he was mine. And there was nothing else to talk about. And that was kind of his denial became so real for him for four decades that when the possibility that it might be scientifically proven that we weren’t biologically related, that actually became his crisis point, like he was not prepared, and at first really unwilling to walk that path of truth with me. So they had very different relationships to the revelation. I think, in many ways, it was like a weight off my mother’s shoulder. And in many ways, it was the beginning of a real, inward courageous process on the part of my dad.
Samantha Bee 12:40
We’ll be right back with Kerry Washington after this. You decided or you chose to look further when your dad was so reluctant to do so. Yeah. And didn’t want to Yeah. What made you decide to go further? Regardless?
Kerry Washington 13:15
I mean, it’s me, right? Like I, I guess maybe, you know, some of his fear was if I decide that this person who is half of my biology is my real dad, quote, unquote, then it would be the loss of my relationship with him. But that was never an option. For me. It was never like, it’s my dad, or this other guy was always like, I have a mom, I have a dad. Now this this third person in the picture, and I guess, you know, in our families today, we all have blended families, like blended families are so much more common. And my parents generation, it’s a different thing to wrap your heads around. So I was fine with the idea of like, there’s a third parent in the picture. Like, I don’t know who he is, I don’t know what its gonna look like, but I want to bring him into the fold. And it and I don’t think it has to take anything away from my relationship with my dad, but I don’t know that that was his understanding of what was possible. In the beginning. I think it was scarier for him.
Samantha Bee 14:13
Right? Like, it makes sense to me that someone of a younger generation or someone not of their generation would think, Oh, this is additive.
Kerry Washington 14:21
Yeah, that’s right. I mean, we all have step parents and half parents. You know, when I look at my kids classes, they have friends with two dads and friends with two moms. So there’s donor sperm and donor eggs and adopted kids and there’s, you know, in our family, our families blended you know, I don’t I don’t use the terminology stepdaughter but I have a bonus baby and you know, like we have these blended families. So it was very it was it was it made so much sense to me that we could add somebody to the picture and that it wouldn’t take away from my relationship with my dad. But that was a harder journey for him to step into and, and I’m so grateful that despite his discomfort, I had his age, you know, he’s in his 80s that he was willing to say like, I love you. And I’m gonna step into this journey with you. Reluctantly, uncomfortably, not joyously. But you deserve to know the truth you deserve for medical reasons, and just to have a deeper understanding of who you are to get this information. So I think I, I have learned a lot about what parenting looks like from my dad, because parenting isn’t always about making the choices that make you comfortable. It’s about being willing to do what’s right for your kid. And so I watched him do that.
Samantha Bee 15:38
There’s something very beautiful to me about, like, when your parents will finally allow themselves to be vulnerable. Yes. And for them to just say like, I am so uncomfortable. I don’t know what to do. But I understand why you’re doing it. Yes, it’s very open.
Kerry Washington 15:57
Yeah. And I think, you know, to your point to this beautiful podcasts about choices like that was, I think the big choice for me was, am I ready to stop being the supporting character in the story of my parents lives, my dad’s life in particular, and start being the lead character of the story of my life, and ask them to be the supporting characters, right. And, like in life, it’s not that I want to walk around and like always be the lead character in every room that I’m in a big part of my life is to play a supporting character in my husband’s life and my children’s life in my parents life. But I have to be able to be the lead character in my life. And I have to make, I found myself at a crossroads where I had to be willing to make choices that were uncomfortable for me at first, that centered me, rather than centering my parents so that I could be as important as anybody else in my life, so that I could be the most important person in my life, in the same way that I want my kids to be the most important person in their lives.
Samantha Bee 17:03
Well, you do talk a lot in the book about being an only child, which I also am, and be a people pleaser, which like they really are. You really are. So I mean, is this the point? Where are you? Was this a real pivot point for you when you were like, no, here? I prioritize myself. Yeah, this is where it turns for me.
Kerry Washington 17:31
I think so I’m, you know, I’m living it. Right to you. So right. I’m trying to have perspective about it while I’m walking it. But I do think you know, me saying, I know that, that you think me getting this DNA test is going to kill you that that was his language. You know, I know that you think that. But I think that we can do hard things. I think that you can do hard things. I think I can do hard things. And I think I need to do the thing that’s in my heart right now, despite the fact that you feel like it’s going to kill you. And that as an only child with an aging parent was a terrifying choice to make, you know, I mean, I’m watching him live his life with a progressive disease that is killing him. And I was like, what if it? What if it ramps up? What if it gets worse, but it’s like, it’s almost like as an only child, we give ourselves so much power to control the universe. Like, like everything that happens, everybody else’s happiness is based on me, everybody else’s well being is based on me. And I needed to shed some of that and say, like, you know, what, you’re actually responsible for your well being and your happiness as an adult. And I’m responsible for mine. And, and I’m gonna, I’m gonna take the risk and do some things that are right for me and see how it goes. But I guess I’m kind of still in the see how it goes. Bayes. But it’s but it’s a big choice.
Samantha Bee 19:05
It’s a big one. It is like, I love that you use the language of that. It’s like I feel myself trying to control the universe. All that. Yeah. Yeah. Like a wizard. You’re like, I got it. I gotta do it all.
Kerry Washington 19:17
And I think that, you know, weirdly, there’s some arrogance in it, you know, there’s like, it looks like people pleasing. It looks like demure, boring and being small for other people’s benefit. But it’s also ego driven and very arrogant. Because it does. It’s me saying like, I’m in control how other people have how other people feel. It’s up to me how other people feel and if they’re okay or not, rather than giving other people the space to walk their journey while I walk mine. And of course, do it lovingly and with a lot of care. And, you know, it’s not like I was like, Eff you, dad, taking that test no matter what, and you’re on your own. Yeah, you’re not my bio data you’re out. Like, that’s not, that was not our journey. That was not our story. It was, you know, very opposite of that. But it was still me trying to give my space myself space to be myself and give him space to be him. Because you know, the reality is to like, my dad is this wizard of magical thinking. So, the truth is when I called him and said or not, when I called him when I sat with him and said, The doctor called me there’s a point 000 How many however many zeros, there were 00 1% chance that you are my biological father. My dad was like, there’s a chance that Ray, I knew there was a chance. And I think, you know, for him, the fact that I still haven’t found my donor is a little bit of confirmation that it’s probably him. So I love that about my dad. And I think rather than being angry at him for thinking that way, and feeling that way. When I give myself space to be me and do me, I’m also able to give him more space and grace to be him and do him right now.
Samantha Bee 21:17
Family secrets, those kinds of like, those deep, deep family secrets are so corrosive. Yeah, they are corrosive. And they also have to be handled so tenderly, like the as it’s such a risk to just go forth.
Kerry Washington 21:37
You know, what’s funny is so many people when they read the book, then tell me their family secrets. That’s like the big transaction that happens because and I take it as a compliment, because it feels like to me, what they’re saying is, I’m witnessing your vulnerability. And I feel like I can be safe being vulnerable. So I think it’s a huge blessing. And it’s a real honor to make space and hold people’s shares in that way. But it’s wild how universal it is, like, how many of us have family secrets and stuff that were even journalists had been like, Oh, I know what I could tell. I’m like, I wasn’t asking you to tell me your family secrets. Okay. Yeah, I, you know, I had a journalist tell me the other day that they were, they were like, I haven’t told anybody yet, but we’re starting to try to get pregnant. And I was like, that’s amazing. Like, it just is like small secrets to big ones, you know, people telling me about their alcoholic dads or their own sexual abuse, or it’s, it’s really profound. And it does also make me feel like it’s true that saying that we’re as sick as our secrets that there’s so much when we’re able to share the thing that we think is unshakable. We’re able to shake so much shame.
Samantha Bee 22:57
Boy, by the end of this book tour, I know you aren’t gonna have any secrets, you’re gonna be like, you know, that little like that little trap that they put all the ghosts in, and Ghostbusters. You’re just, you’re gonna, like, explode. And all these ghosts are gonna fly. Oh, my God, oh, boy. Oh, have you prepared your parents for fun? As the book is released? By the time this airs, it will have been released, how have you prepared your parents?
Kerry Washington 23:29
So they’ve been a part of some of the press with me, we’ve done a couple of photo shoots together. And they’ve done some major interviews and primetime news. So I’ve, I’ve really invited them into the fold of it. But also, I mean, I guess about a year ago, maybe nine months ago, my husband and I were like, You guys need to tell people like you, you’re you’re not going to want your sisters and your best friends to read about it. And people magazine like your, you should make a list. And I learned that and my wedding. You know, we had this incredibly secret wedding. And the people that were there were the people that I loved. There were a few people hear in there that weren’t at the wedding and who I didn’t call immediately after, who wound up reading about it or hearing about it in the news. And they were really upset. So yeah, I think in telling more people because I also felt like I said, you know, when the world knows, you’re gonna want to know that you have your circle of people that already know and love you anyway, and don’t care about whatever anybody is saying in the news. I feel the same way. I’m gonna want to know that the people that matter most to me already know and have my back. And so that’s kind of the journey that my husband and I invited them on, and that they have courageously stepped into telling more and more people. That’s great.
Samantha Bee 24:49
Information is power. People just want to feel like you’ve trusted them.
Kerry Washington 24:55
That’s right. And that intimacy that vulnerability said it’s actually I think so often we feel like I don’t know where this belief comes from. But we, a lot of us have bought into this idea that relationships are either like close or honest. But those are opposites, right that like, you can have a really beautiful relationship or you can have or you can tell somebody the truth, but that you can’t do both. And I think that that’s been part of what we have sort of unraveled in my family, this idea that in order to be close, we have to be we have to keep secrets, that we are right, we are closer than we’ve ever been. And I feel like I know my parents more and better and love them more and trust them more and feel more comfortable being my full self now that we are in truth together.
Samantha Bee 25:50
This sounds like it’s like a beautiful, it’s like a it’s like a beautiful crystal stream like running past my ears. Because I do feel like there’s there is such a dynamic in a lot of relationships. It’s like, we can’t argue and if we argue or we disagree on something, or if there’s struggle, then that just means the relationship is over. But it doesn’t like oh, good relationships.
Kerry Washington 26:12
Have some struggle. Have some you know, that friction, pressure, friction that that that refines the relationship?
Samantha Bee 26:20
Yes. Hold that thought more with Kerry Washington after one more break. I know you’ve said you to say in the book that you feel like a lot of your projects, choose you. And I really liked that. Because a lot of the projects that you’ve done have in some way. Yeah. reflected or mirrored some little aspect of what was happening in your private life?
Kerry Washington 27:01
Yeah, yeah. It’s so weird.
Samantha Bee 27:05
Yeah, what goes into your career choices? Like what? How has that evolved over the course of your career?
Kerry Washington 27:12
I note, sometimes it doesn’t even make sense to me sometimes. Which makes sense when I look back and what I wrote in the book, because some of these projects, were asking me to explore ideas of fertility and sperm donors. Like I did that I had no idea I was grappling with, and yet I was still drawn to the material in you know, I mean, three different films where I played women who were struggling with fertility in different ways. But often, what happens is, I’ll be reading something, and it’s almost as if the material already lives inside my head. Like, I can already hear how it’s supposed to sound as I’m reading it. And it’s weird. It’s almost like a dream. And when that happens, it’s like, Oh, it’s this thing is already living in me. I already know how to say it. I know what’s going to happen next. I have to do it, I have to have to have it, I have to have it. And I won’t always know why. But it is. Often there’s something that I need to learn from the material, something that I that my unconscious is wanting to grapple with.
Samantha Bee 28:25
Right. Right. And is that what drew you like what really drew you into producing as you’re producing? A lot? Like not right now?
Kerry Washington 28:34
We’re in the strike.
Samantha Bee 28:37
But in general.
Kerry Washington 28:39
I think what I love about producing is actually like, the Olivia Pope and me not to encourage anybody to watch strike shows don’t do that. We’re striking. But there’s, like the fixer in me. I love being somebody who creates opportunity for other people and creates a space where people can do what they love to do, right. And I love problem solving. So for me, being a producer, and also directing feels like this sometimes too, is like being a team leader where you’re creating the playground and then you’re saying like you go be team captain for tag and you go be team captain for dodgeball and you love the monkey bars. So you take that, and I’m going to keep us all safe and on time and make it all work. And if your snacks come over here, I’ve got you covered like your sort of team captain at the playground, and it’s so fun and wonderful and he know allows for people to make a living and chase their dreams and create excellence in their own sphere.
Samantha Bee 29:45
It’s fun reading about how the character how you how much you learned from the character of Olivia Pope, who we just all know and love but like, that’s you really were you I mean, you were Olivia, but you’re not Olivia Pope. But just like being hand in hand with a character like that.
Kerry Washington 30:05
Yeah, like walking in her shoes taught me so much about leadership and about honesty and about family and about love and about commitment, and about fearlessness. And you know, obviously, I, I’m a very different person from her, especially when I think about our personal lives. You know, while she was struggling between these two men, I was like, getting married and having children and it’s like having a very different existence. But, but there was a lot I learned from her and even just the experience of playing her, you know, being an actor, being asked to be the lead of a network drama, taught me so much about leadership and taught me so much about this thing that I’m now practicing with this book and with my parents that I am I willing and able and capable of being the lead character of being the protagonist in the story, and that I deserve that right that we all deserve that.
Samantha Bee 31:04
There were you said the word fearless. And I think of the word fearless when it comes to scandal, because it was such a, it was a very grand, it was a groundbreaking show in a million different ways. It was the first show to show an abortion on television, how did they present that storyline to you? Because I’d read in the book that you would everybody would come to the table read and you did not know what was in the script. Is that an instance where you also didn’t know? What was the script?
Kerry Washington 31:35
I’m pretty sure I had no idea that I’ve read that in the cold read, okay, and immediately felt terrified and proud. Really proud that we were going to do that.
Samantha Bee 31:48
Really proud to be a part of something like that, because that breaks new ground for television.
Kerry Washington 31:53
Yeah, and I remember, I remember, they were editing the episode. And I mean, down to the day, I remember saying to Shonda, like, what what’s going to happen? are they letting us do it? Or they’re not like, where is standards and practices on this, like when she was like, I don’t know. But I’m doing what I’m doing. Like she was so determined to tell these stories and the way that she knew they needed to be told. I just felt so lucky to be working in that kind of environment.
Samantha Bee 32:23
And she had a chance your baby shower for you? I cannot imagine what a Shonda Rhimes baby shower looks like.
Kerry Washington 32:31
Samantha Bee 32:33
Oh, I’m willing to bet that they did not make you decorate a paper plate and put it on your head. And festooned with ribbons?
Kerry Washington 32:41
No, it was really so elegant, magical and special.
Samantha Bee 32:47
Is it still weird for you when people can’t differentiate because you’ve played a million characters, but I did read about people calling on you to fix the results of the 2016. Election is like.
Kerry Washington 33:05
I mean, I feel so lucky when people associate me with her or call me her because she changed my life. And I know it was the opportunity of a lifetime to be her for seven seasons. But I do I get frustrated when people call on her to fix real life political situations, because and this has been a lot of what my kind of work in the civic engagement space has been focused on since then, is I realized that people have forgotten how much power they have, like, we’re so willing to ask an imaginary character on television to step in and save us. Rather than understanding that she can’t vote like she has no actual power. She’s an imaginary person. Every single person who tweeted about Olivia Pope saving the election has so much more power than Olivia Pope. And I wondered how many of them hadn’t voted. Right. Right. So that for me, it’s it’s really been about trying to get people to understand that each of us is the hero of the story of our lives, that it’s not about this hero worship. It’s not even about one presidential candidate or one perfect mayor or governor. It’s really about each of us stepping into our power as citizens as members of our community and saying what can I do? Can I vote can I volunteer? Can I can I protest? Like what can I do to help make this world a better place? Because it’s not up to imaginary characters superheroes to save us. It’s really up to each of us. And I think we have so much more power than we remember in this system. And the more we forget that power, the more of it we give up.
Samantha Bee 34:48
Truly the more is taken away from us without our knowledge. That’s right, all the way down to municipal elections, which people realize right don’t show up for an election.
Kerry Washington 34:59
School board election. as judges, like, people complain about unfair sentencing, but it’s like, Did you vote in the last election for the judges in your county like, and I don’t say that to shame people, but to say like, we need you, we need you like you actually are my Olivia Pope, you are the person that is needed to help transform this community, to get people to remember that.
Samantha Bee 35:22
Activisim is so a part of your life. I mean, it’s just as natural to you as anything. And I’ve really admired that through the years, do you? I mean, does that do people target like, do you feel? Are you just open and brave about it? Because it’s hard to put yourself out there in that way, especially when you’re I don’t know, working for networks and trying to Oh, yeah, it have a business.
Kerry Washington 35:48
It’s hard. So terrifying. We had our you know, there was a big day of solidarity with a bunch of unions and support at the WGA and sag AFTRA and huge stage. So many people, it was a beautiful turnout, lots of different unions. You know, it happened to be that it was, you know, I got up on stage and I spoke, and I knew that there were going to be people in the business that weren’t happy about me getting up there. And being that vocal. The protest itself was outside the offices for Disney, which is where I have a lot of my business. I wasn’t coming out for Disney specifically, but I was coming out for all of them, like for all of the studios and hoping that they could sit down and find a resolution and get back in this negotiation, because we need to get back to work. But it’s hard. Those moments are hard. Because when you step out and take a risk to speak up against power, people don’t like it. And it’s scary.
Samantha Bee 36:52
It is scary. But it’s great when you can do it’s it’s so helpful. I don’t know.
Kerry Washington 36:58
I guess I feel like what’s the point of having power if you don’t use it? And, and again, like I try to always be clear and kind, like, I wasn’t calling names. I wasn’t blaming any one person. I wasn’t saying one studio was worse or better than another. It happened to be where it was not right. But I do think it’s important to speak the truth and to say, like actors, and writers are having a hard time making a living. They’re having a hard time they’re working so hard and not being compensated fairly. And we are terrified about what’s happening with AI and not being protected. And that’s like those truths need to be spoken. I think in some ways it’s related to the house I grew up in, right is that like, I don’t like to not be in truth. I don’t like to not tell the truth. And obviously, not every truth has to be shared all of the time with everybody. But I don’t like to feel like I don’t have a right to make my choices and my decisions about what I tell him. Don’t tell her say or don’t say.
Samantha Bee 38:07
I’m gonna wrap it up soon. But we do have to talk about the fact that one of your first acting jobs was traveling kids Theater, which mine also was with a social message she Yeah. So you talk to kids about su are part of a traveling like a sex education. Yes. theater group of safe sex as prevention.
Kerry Washington 38:28
Homosexuality, self esteem, eating disorders, teen pregnancy, all that stuff.
Samantha Bee 38:34
I did a play called out of the closet. And we told it all over a man a man if you were known as the condom lady at your school?
Kerry Washington 38:43
I was, I always had, you know, those. Back then the clinics. I don’t know if they still do because I haven’t been in an adolescent clinic in a long time. But they you know, we had condoms in every color. That was like part of how you made it fun for teenagers. Right? So I had like, always a backpack full of blue, green, red, yellow orange condoms ready to go.
Samantha Bee 39:03
I think we are just doing such a disservice to young people with the sheer mediocrity of our current sex ed. Agreed. Agree. So I think all I’m saying is that, like, the children need you.
Kerry Washington 39:18
Can you imagine the devastation of my 70 year old daughter if I showed up at her school teaching, teaching people how to put condoms on like, hey, bye. No, thanks.
Samantha Bee 39:33
Thank you so much. Kerry, this was so much fun. I have just admired you for so long.
Kerry Washington 39:42
Same, same, same same. You really are somebody who speaks truth and finds a way to get people to think about the truth in ways that are not threatening in ways that are joyous and amusing and beautiful, but honest. And so I really I do look to you and I really admire Are you and your approach and your talent?
Samantha Bee 40:02
Well thank you so much. It’s hard to take compliments I’m like, started to sweat but I do want to say as we were finishing I took a lot away from your book I took a lot there’s a lot of food for thought it was great beautifully written names just I wish you so much joy in this process as it unfolds for you and your family and your parents and and this book to her it’s gonna take you can take the world by storm with this no, my gosh.
Kerry Washington 40:32
From your mouth to God’s ears that you know, only because then it’ll maybe mean a storm of the shaking of shame. Yes, should be great for shaking.
Samantha Bee 40:43
Thank you so much. Have a great day. Bye
Samantha Bee 40:54
That was Kerry Washington and I had no choice but to look up one thing. Kerry was one of the first actresses whose character was shown actually having an abortion on TV. But when was the first time a character talked about getting one? Haha turns out it was one of my favorites. Bea Arthur on Maude in 1972. Just before Roe v Wade was decided, I actually wore a very smart Bea Arthur style pantsuit to prom.
Thank you for listening to Choice Words which was created by and is hosted by me. We’re a production of Lemonada Media, Kathyrn Barnes, […] and Kryssy Pease produce our show. Our mix is by James Barber. Steve Nelson is the vice president of weekly content. Jessica Cordova Kramer, Stephanie Wittles Wachs and I are executive producers. Our theme was composed by […] with help from Johnny Vince Evans . Special thanks to Kristen Everman, Claire Jones, Ivan Kuraev and Rachel Neil. You can find me at @Iamsambee on Twitter and at @realsambee on Instagram. Follow Choice Words wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.