The Bold Type co-stars participated in a Monte-Carlo TV Festival panel led by TV Drama‘s Anna Carugati.
When The Bold Type premiered last year on Freeform in the U.S., it presented its teen and young adult audience with a different take on female millennials pursuing careers and grappling with relationship challenges.
The three main characters—Jane, an aspiring journalist (played by Katie Stevens); Kat, a social media director (Aisha Dee); and Sutton, who started as an executive assistant and dreams of a career in fashion (Meghann Fahy)—all work at Scarlet, a magazine inspired by Cosmopolitan. In fact, former editor-in-chief of Cosmo and current chief content officer of Hearst Magazines, Joanna Coles, serves as executive producer on the show, and many of the series’ incidents and stories are based on real-life occurrences.
What stands out most in the series, besides the fashionable outfits and sensational magazine articles, is the camaraderie among the three protagonists, guided by their tough-but-fair editor, Jacqueline Carlyle (Melora Hardin), and the serious issues examined in the storylines.
Topics such as ambition, empowerment, feminism, same-sex relationships and breast cancer awareness were addressed candidly by Stevens, Dee, Fahy and Hardin during a Monte-Carlo TV Festival panel discussion, which I moderated.
The first season had aired in France, and from the enthusiasm of the fans in the audience, it was apparent that The Bold Type had struck a chord with young French women in a manner similar to how it has engaged female viewers in the U.S.
The mix of topics—from fun: yoni eggs and butt facials, to serious: BRCA breast cancer gene and immigration—appealed to all four actors as they heard about the show and read the pilot. However, one of the most significant draws was the message the series gives about female ambition.
“It’s so wonderful to be part of a show that showcases women encouraging one another and lifting each other,” said Stevens. “When I was growing up, the shows that I loved [like] Gossip Girl were fun, but they showcased female friendships where girls backstab each other and then forgive each other and then backstab each other again. That’s just not true to the women I surround myself with. I’m fortunate that the female friendships I have in my life are encouraging and empowering. I hope that young women can watch our show and see that we rise by lifting others. You don’t need to step on someone’s shoulders to get to the next point; you can encourage one another and rise together.”
“It’s a realistic show but it’s an aspirational show,” added Hardin. “The show is always trying to speak to what’s current and actually happening in the culture, but also shining a light on something to aspire toward. The way that Jacqueline Carlyle interacts with [her] employees and the way that they interact with one another is very much a commentary on today’s aspiration of how you might be ambitious. You can be ambitious without cutting one another down; [you can be] a boss without cutting young employees off at the knees; [you can be] friends who can hold each other up.”
The chemistry and friendship among the characters are mirrored in real life. “We are like sisters,” said Stevens. “We get each other through our best and worst days as a team and that has been the best part of the experience so far.”
The spirit of collaboration extends beyond the actors. The outfits, which are characters in and of themselves, are the result of cooperation. “It’s a collaborative experience, like everything in the show—the writing, the wardrobe, the hair, the makeup—it’s all something that we find together,” explained Dee.
Dee’s character, Kat, finds herself attracted to a Muslim woman, and the story of their burgeoning relationship is told against the backdrop of U.S. immigration policies and travel bans. When Dee was asked if it was difficult for her to play the role of a woman in a relationship with another woman, she answered, “With a great scene partner in Nikohl [Boosheri], who is an amazing actress—beautiful on the inside and the outside—I didn’t struggle at all. I feel that the way Kat discovered her sexuality, in a curious way instead of feeling tortured about it, was something I am very proud of. I am still so moved and honored that people trust me to tell this story. I hope I am doing right by the community and represent them in a way that makes people feel empowered and less alone.”
The series also incorporated the serious and important topic of breast cancer awareness when Stevens’ character, Jane, discovers she is carrying the BRCA breast cancer gene. “The story is close to my heart because my fiancé’s mother passed away from breast cancer,” said Stevens. “So in a way, I feel by telling Jane’s story I get to honor his mother, her memory and his experience of what he went through.
“I didn’t know how much that breast cancer gene affects women,” Stevens continued, “I don’t carry the gene but it’s comforting that I get to tell a story that allows women to be aware of that and to take whatever preventative measures they need to in order to be safer and healthier.”
The topics presented in the series not only impact viewers but the actors as well. “The show has influenced me to become more confident in my own right,” said Dee. “I wasn’t aware of how my self-talk was affecting me before doing this show, so it’s taught me a lot about self-confidence. It has also opened my eyes to a different way of seeing the world.”
A final takeaway of the series is what feminism means today.
“Feminism to me has always just been women and men treated as equals and I think it’s so wonderful that we are in a climate today where women’s voices are being heard,” said Stevens. “As much as the #MeToo movement [has showcased] the bad men in the world, I think it’s also important to talk about the men who are feminists, who encourage and support and uplift women because they are able to be part of the bigger conversation [since] these are men who see women as equals. I think it’s beautiful that women can continue to find strength in their voices and continue this conversation.”
“What’s happening with feminism is more of a feminine revolution,” added Hardin. “Women are bringing all of their femininity to this idea of being represented as equals in the workplace—and we are 50 percent of the population. We are not losing what is special about being a woman but instead celebrating that and bringing the power of that to the workforce and to our expression in the world.”
What feminism means to Fahy, whose character, Sutton, is faced in season two with a choice between furthering her career or solidifying a relationship with a love interest, is summed up in an over-arching message of the show: “Love yourself, know your worth, trust your gut and ask for help when you need it.”