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“I think that the six or seven months I spent with Sofia at this time in my life — as a mother, as a wife, having felt like wanting to quit and give up — she pushed me into knowing you have everything that you need inside of you to continue this next chapter and leg in life.” This epiphany by “The Color Purple” star Danielle Brooks about the character she portrayed is just one of many powerful yet similar revelations that connect a handful of female Oscar nominees and their respective performances in movies ranging from “Nyad” to “Barbie,” “Poor Things” and “The Holdovers.” For them, stories of female self-realization that began on-screen transformed them off-screen.

When Brooks got the chance to return to her role as Sofia for the movie musical adaptation of “The Color Purple” nearly 10 years after her initial Broadway debut performance, it was vastly different due to the stage of her life at the time.

She describes how, at the start of 2023, she had reached a breaking point in her career that tested her faith and led to her contemplating giving up acting altogether. The opportunity to revisit Sofia’s character served as a reminder that she could bounce back from every setback that might come her way.

Danielle Brooks says revisiting the role of Sofia for the movie musical adaptation of “The Color Purple” reignited her inner strength.
©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

“When I look at Sofia’s journey and all that she had to endure, and I think about this woman who was constantly abused and being ripped away from her family, and just her spirit being broken — it was a reminder to me that I can weather the storm,” she tells Variety. “That I do have resilience. And I feel like that’s what this character has given me, that reminder that resiliency lies within my body, it’s in there, I can do this thing.”

She adds: “It’s very hard what we do as actors; we give all of ourselves. We’re taught to be selfless, but you got to be a little selfish. You got to be supportive, but you got to compete. You need to be humble but uber-confident. It’s always this juggle that we play.”

Max/Warner Bros.

Brooks’ sentiments, while undeniably true, echo that of America Ferrera’s character Gloria in the now famous monologue from “Barbie,” in which she describes at length the contradictory expectations women face every day. When put side-by-side with Brooks’ comments, it only lends further credence to the fictional scene’s universality and true-to-life depiction of a real woman’s experience.

Female creatives in Hollywood struggle with the same issues, Ferrera observes. “When we’re not historically meant to be in a room, it’s very difficult to show up in those spaces as your whole self,” she says. “Because you are taught to be grateful that you’re in the room.”

The unspoken understanding, she says, is that “if we opened the door to let you in, we can open the door and let you out. Getting in the room is not the end of the work; it’s only the beginning.”

Annette Bening received her fifth Oscar nomination for her performance as queer long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad as she prepares to accomplish an unimaginable feat: swimming from Cuba to Florida at age 64. Though swimming over 100 miles of choppy, open ocean water is a tall task for anyone, it’s an especially big ask for a woman over 60 — stellar swimming prowess or not.

In “Nyad,” Annette Bening manifests internal and external courage with her inspiring turn as long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad.
Liz Parkinson/Netflix

Unlikelihood aside, Nyad was determined to press forward and accomplish her goals. And Bening says that mindset inspired her to challenge predisposed notions of what women of a certain age can do.

“We have these assumptions about certain people and about ourselves that we don’t even realize we have,” says Bening, who starred opposite Jodie Foster in Netflix’s “Nyad.” “We’ve been cultured to believe a certain thing about a certain age or a certain gender. And so, I think being able to play her has helped me, even in my own life to say, ‘Well, what can I imagine? What do I want to do?’” she explains.

In “Poor Things,” Emma Stone plays Bella Baxter — a young adult woman with an infant’s brain who comes to grips with her sexuality and personhood through literal childlike curiosity. She credits director Yorgos Lanthimos with encouraging a fearless approach to playing the character. Describing the bold choices that she would make in character as Bella while filming, Stone recently told Variety that “people did laugh at me — he would laugh at me. He’d be like, ‘That one was crazy.’ But that was the best because there’s no eggshells.”

“The Holdovers” star Da’Vine Joy Randolph was always Alexander Payne’s first choice for the role of Mary Lamb, but backers weren’t so sure — they insisted that he look for “30 other actresses with bigger names” first, she recently told Variety. The actor, who turned heads with her 2019 performance in “Dolomite Is My Name” opposite Eddie Murphy, relished the opportunity to portray a complex character in Payne’s period movie.

“The Holdovers” star Da’Vine Joy Randolph was thankful for the complexities her role as Mary Lamb offered.
Focus Features

“I’ve felt like I had to fight for fully realized characters with complexities or even start writing or producing myself,” Randolph told Variety in a subsequent conversation. “I was so overjoyed to read this character, someone who was really struggling, but also trying to persevere in spite of her situation.”
Randolph has since received many kudos for her performance as a cafeteria worker who is grieving the death of her son. In her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, Randolph thanked Lamb for helping her “feel seen in so many ways that I would never have imagined,” and hoped her performance inspired audiences to find their inner Mary as well.

Bening hopes viewers take a page out of Nyad’s book and rethink their own potential — and what they want to do, regardless of expectations related to age, background or sexuality.

“The reason that it’s important for me is because that is how we become ourselves,” she says. “That’s how we truly make our lives meaningful to ourselves — by becoming more of whatever we are.”

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