March 1, 2017


Future Women's History Month: Emma Watson's Post-'Potter' Philanthropy

John Phillips/Getty Images
John Phillips/Getty Images

Fuse is celebrating Women's History Month by looking at a variety of rising forces who are creating Future Women's History before our eyes. Today we pay tribute to Emma Watson, 26-year-old actress, activist, fashionista and alumna of Brown University and Worcester College at Oxford.

The British actress was 11 when Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone—her screen-acting debut—premiered in November 2001; her fellow newbie costars Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint were 12 and 13. She spent 10 years adapting J.K. Rowling's novels into eight films that grossed $7.7 billion at the box office worldwide. She began a steady string of films after Deathly Hallows – Part 2, including The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Bling Ring and Noah. She's been nominated for more than 50 awards, winning the British Academy of Film and Television Arts' British Artist of the Year Award and the Women Film Critics Circle's Acting and Activism Award.

For this month's live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, Watson sought to rewrite the Disney heroine's story a bit. “We tried to tweak things to make her more proactive," she told Entertainment Weekly, "and a bit less carried along by the story, and a bit more in charge of—and in control of—her own destiny.” She added that it’s been interesting to come back to being an actress post-activism and trying to reconcile those two very different roles." She sees her version of Belle as a nonStockholm Syndrome sufferer who "is willing to stand outside of what is expected of her, and chase her dreams, chase her intuition."

Watson's international humanitarian efforts have centered largely around gender equality and education. In 2014, she took on a major role as a United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador, giving a stirring speech announcing the HeForShe campaign, aimed at getting men involved in feminist concerns. "Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation," she said. "Gender equality is your issue too."

“She played this very smart, conscious, noble wizard—and then somehow we had the good fortune that she became a smart, conscious, noble woman," Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda says in the latest Vanity Fair, which features a cover story on Watson. The two performers had an in-depth conversation about gender equality for HeForShe Arts Week in 2016; at one point, Watson beatboxed while Manuel freestyled about the topics at hand.

Watson, who holds a bachelor's degree in English literature, turned her UN Women work into the Our Shared Shelf book club on Goodreads, the bookworm social network. "I’ve been discovering so much that, at times, I’ve felt like my head was about to explode," she wrote. "I decided to start a Feminist book club, as I want to share what I’m learning and hear your thoughts too."

The books have included Alice Walker's The Color Purple, bell hooks' All About Love: New Visions, Gloria Steinem's My Life of the Road and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis.

As Watson's endeavors expand (her work in fashion and modeling is storied, too), so does her willingness to speak out. “I used to be scared of words like ‘feminism,’ ‘patriarchy,’ ‘imperialist.’ But I’m not anymore,” she told Vanity Fair. Describing how she doubted her outspokenness for many of her early years as an actress, she says she now embraces that "taking on those battles, the smaller ones and the bigger ones, is who I am.”

Enlightening Esquire UK about feminism, Watson brilliantly laid out what we stand to gain by striving for true equality:

"The question is, what's in it for humans? Martin Luther King said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. I really do believe that. And the benefits on top of that? Happier, healthier, more successful children? Being able to take proper paternity leave and see your baby? Being able to talk to someone if you're feeling shit? Actually getting to be yourself? Getting asked out by a woman? Better sex? A marriage that is a true partnership? More diverse and interesting perspectives in art, culture, business and politics? Getting to crowdsource all the innovation and genius in the world, not just half of it. A highly increased number of safe, confident and fulfilled people on the planet, particularly women? World peace? Seriously. World peace!"

We're following your lead, Emma. Let's get this done.

We're celebrating Future Women's History all month long! Tune in to Fuse and come back to every day for profiles, videos and more. Find Fuse in your area with our Channel Finder.