Help a Sister Out

Krys Marshall, currently starring in Apple TV+'s For All Mankind, rejects the tired myth of scarcity and cattiness amongst women in Hollywood.

There’s a myth that whenever women engage with one another in a workplace environment, they are catty, back-biting, shit-talking, jealous creatures who will stop at nothing to get what they want. They will befriend you under false pretenses, disarm your fears and concerns, lure you into their lair of deceit, coaxing out your deepest darkest secrets and insecurities, only to use them against you as ammunition when the time is right.

And there is no other institution that profits more from this ever-present narrative than the entertainment industry. Whether it’s the infamous image of poor Nancy Kerrigan cradling her knee after being walloped in the leg by Tonya Harding’s henchman, or one of the Real Housewives throwing a glass of champagne in a rival’s face, or any number of nighttime network dramas where two women grab each other by the hair and topple into a pool, there’s an endless list of times when pop culture force-feeds women this storyline of the way we supposedly behave with each other: We fight hard, we fight dirty, and we can’t be trusted.

Then it dawned on me as my nearly all-female cast prepared for the red carpet premiere of our show, For All Mankind, that this tired trope of “mean girl” nastiness has been categorically the opposite of my experience. Our cast is comprised of a group of very strong, very confident women with a number of Alpha-Female personalities, yet we all get on like a house on fire. In the days leading up to our big event, I watched these ladies uplift, encourage and rely on each other like never before. We shared photos of potential dresses for the night, gave recommendations for last-minute beauty treatments, and handily soothed one another’s anxieties and fears that crept in as our big day drew near.

But this sisterhood, this camaraderie, goes much deeper than facials and manicures. The roots of our “You go, girl!” kinship began with the very first table read. Once, after reading an especially emotional scene, my castmate reached over and quietly wrote, “We are so lucky to have you,” on the back of my script. Another time, I saw a girl tiptoe out of another’s trailer, after leaving her flowers, “just because.” We run lines together, we champion each other on set, we send each other scripts that we think could be a good fit, making referrals, trading inside information, advocating and vouching for each other in a very real and tangible way that pays dividends.

Krys Marshall (left) with her fellow For All Mankind astronauts Jodi Balfour, Sonya Walger and Sarah Jones.

Now, I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg; I’m not sure if the reason I’m having these female-positive experiences is because I believe women are by nature supportive and so I’m self-selecting that reality to validate my beliefs, or if that is indeed the natural order for womankind everywhere. Which leads me to take a step back from humankind, and instead examine female unity in the animal kingdom.

Last year, my husband and I spent Christmas and the New Year in East Africa, traveling through Tanzania on safari and spending beach time in Zanzibar. As we explored the Serengeti in our open-air Jeep, we came across a scene that was straight out of The Lion King: 15 to 20 lions ranging in size were spread out around a large flat rock formation (some sleeping, some pretending to sleep), all oriented around a very large male lion who was lazily licking the bones of a dead warthog. Our guide, Cosi, explained that throughout the night, the females in the pride are on the hunt; stalking and chasing prey. Once they make a kill, they drag it back for the male lion to enjoy. And only when he’s had his fill, do the mothers and the little ones have a chance to eat what remains.

“But what if he eats it all?” I chirped.

“Then she goes out, and she kills again.”

Krys Marshall, doing safari right.

Later in the day, we happened upon a large herd of maybe 20 or 30 elephants. Again, all varying ages; some large and old with big scars on their legs from poachers’ snares, and others teeny-tiny newborns, not much bigger than a golden retriever. I asked if this was one big family, or a group of families, and Cosi informed me that it was a breeding herd. He explained that the group was made up of closely related adult females with their young in tow. Each herd is usually led by the oldest female, the matriarch, who decides where they roam, where they feast, where they rest.

“But where are their husbands?”

“There are no husbands,” he said. “They mate when necessary, but the women take care of themselves, and remain together for life.”

Everywhere I turned, I saw more examples of women relying on each other, not just for comfort and support, but for survival.

Which leads me to believe that perhaps this culture of female kinship has always been there. It exists now and has existed, since the dawn of time. It is deep in our bones, down to the marrow, and permeates everything that we do. Long before there were doctors and hospitals, there were midwives, and mothers, and aunties and sisters and a community of women who were nursing, and carrying, and rearing and raising and creating space. Those women quite literally ushered mankind, as we know it, into existence.

Krys Marshall on the set of For All Mankind with costars Shantel VanSanten, Sarah Jones and Jodi Balfour.

In the end, I’m an actress, not an anthropologist, so I can’t confidently speak on the natural state of the female human animal. But what I can speak on, is being an actress in Hollywood, and I’ll say with certainty that we do better when we stick together. I know that may seem counterintuitive in an industry where male characters outnumber female characters three to one in American films. As a woman, it is extraordinarily difficult to make a name for yourself in this town. Complex female roles are in short supply, and that experience of scarcity and lack of opportunity would make anyone lash out in fear. We work in an industry that is dominated by male writers, directors, producers and studio execs, so no, I won’t gaslight women by suggesting that pickings ain’t slim.

But we cannot continue to act out these old storylines of “innate female cattiness.” It’s dangerous and it’s unsustainable. We have to be the change we seek to find and shift that paradigm, for the generations of girls who follow behind us. We can believe in abundance, in the myriad of opportunities that are out there for us, and the opportunities that we can create for ourselves. I want young actresses that are making their way in this business to know that we can go farther, and last longer, together. We can rely on our instinctive urge to lift each other up. Because there is more than enough room for everyone, and each time we help a sister out, we all rise to the top.

Krys Marshall has wasted no time establishing herself as a promising young actress, gaining respect and accolades for her hard work on the stage and screen. She can currently be seen as a series regular in the AppleTV+ series For All Mankind playing the role of Danielle Poole, a NASA engineer and astronaut. The series explores what would have happened if the global space race had never ended, and Krys’ character Danielle is the first African-American astronaut of NASA and the first black woman to set foot on the moon. They are currently filming the show’s second season. When not working, Krys loves to travel, and has visited more than 50 countries, across five continents.