It’s been less than a year since Emma Stone collected her first Oscar, Golden Globe, and BAFTA for her role as Mia in La La Land, and now she’s back with another stellar performance as feminist icon Billie Jean King in The Battle of the Sexes. The film tells the story of Billie Jean’s famous 1973 tennis match against Bobby Riggs, a retired player 26 years her senior who claimed he could “beat any woman” on the court.
Since the film is so wonderfully empowering for women, when BuzzFeed got the incredible opportunity to chat with Emma and Billie Jean in London recently, we thought it would be the perfect time to ask them your questions all about feminism, their personal role models, and how they keep fighting when the going gets tough…
You’ve both become role models for women over the years. Who were your role models growing up, and who inspired you to become the icons you are? – s447e02ea8
Emma Stone: My mom, first and foremost, and Billie Jean has been a huge inspiration. Getting to try to channel her energy and her drive has been a really incredible thing. Sometimes you look up to people, but you don’t really get to try out life in their shoes, so that was a really huge gift. [turns to Billie Jean] Go ahead, Billie Jean! If you don’t say me I’m gonna know you’re lying! [laughs]
Billie Jean King: No, I do admire you, especially as a young person going for it – I love it. I think in my life it’s probably been my mother and my father, both of them. It gets me irritated when they say we’re only role models for women. When a male is up there, he’s a role model for me as well, and when a woman is up there, she’s a role model. I think women keep our market half as big when we talk like this. We need to think of the world, and how we influence it. Mothers influence boys and girls. We all influence each other.
Actually, Emma and everyone who’s involved in the Battle of the Sexes – it’s been an amazing experience for me. I want to get to know them more. Everyone in the cast is a feminist, I think. Men and women.
How do you deal with anxiety or self-doubt, when you have an ambition but you feel like you won’t be good enough? – AceOfSpades18
ES: That’s something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember in life. I’m really grateful for it now, because I think it’s really just sensitivity. I remember reading a quote that said, “Anxiety is excitement without breath.” When you breathe through that – at least for me – if I can centre myself and breathe through something that feels so overwhelming, something as simple as breathing has helped me in a big way. I have lots of tools for dealing with things like that.
BJK: I’ve always been anxious since I’ve been young. The one thing they teach us in sports is, if you’re panicking on the court or whatever, breathing is the first thing you do. That way you get in touch with your body, and you also stay in the moment. You have to stay in the moment to be great in whatever you do – you can’t be thinking about the future or the past. So it’s really important to do that, and to get centred. It takes time, and I think it’s a daily routine.
Emma, you’ve played so many roles that have pushed the boundaries of hard-hitting subjects (like Miss Skeeter in The Help). How have these roles changed how you feel about being a feminist? – Lanara Mitchell, Facebook
ES: Obviously, Skeeter is a fictional character and Billie Jean is very nonfictional [laughs] – but I think both of those characters have a symbolism of using your voice, and how one voice can effect so much change. In The Help, she’s trying to help other people use their voices, and Billie Jean was using her own voice in a time period where people weren’t necessarily supporting women speaking out in the way Billie Jean did. Yet she bravely continued to, and continues to to this day. I think that’s a very empowering message. Being just one person who believes in something can feel like a very isolating experience, but you see Billie Jean believes so much in team effort and bringing people together. I found that very empowering.
Billie Jean, what was your experience of sexism in the ’70s versus now? How has it changed? – olivebooth
BJK: It hasn’t changed very much at all. The thing with sports is that you’re dealing with the old boy network more than anybody else, in some ways. That’s the last bastion that’s going to change. I think with girls in sports – the reason I encourage it – they don’t have to be any good, but they learn the culture that we have to live in. The men created it, and we have to learn how to navigate, but more importantly we have to stop being happy with the crumbs. We have to start asking for what we want and need, and stop saying we’re sorry all the time.
It’s been 44 years since the match, but we still have a huge problem today with gender inequality and especially the gender pay gap. Do you have any words of encouragement for girls who are losing hope? – emilyf43433af41
ES: Well, I think you can’t think that way, or else you won’t continue the fight. If there’s a hopelessness, a sense of “this is never going to happen”, that’s always a kind of dangerous notion. I think it absolutely will happen, but it’s going to take people like Billie Jean telling their stories. This is someone who literally changed sports. It’s fascinating to talk to all the women in sports, to hear Serena saying, “I could never do this if it weren’t for Billie Jean.”
BJK: That’s sweet.
ES: But it’s true! We were watching the US Open, and Sloane Stephens accepted her huge cheque for winning, and it was because of Billie Jean. It all leads back to that. She did that. It almost feels horrible to say “it’s never going to happen” in front of someone like her, because she could’ve done that. She could’ve shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, that’s it! We’re getting paid an eighth of what the men are getting paid,” and “Aren’t we lucky?” and “I love tennis!” But she was so brave in that number one position of power to say no, something needs to change, and walk away from it all and risk everything to do it.
BJK: Well, I didn’t do it alone. In the Battle of the Sexes it shows the nine of us, the original nine. You’ll see us all holding up a $1 bill. That was the birth of women’s professional tennis. That is the reason Sloane Stephens got $3.7 million in her cheque. I mean, I played until I was 40 and I didn’t even get 2 million. [laughs] I love it, and all nine of us love it. The players today are living our dream. This is why we did what we did, for the future generations. We have equal prize money in all the majors, and that sends a very strong message to the world. Men have to get behind this as much as women. This is not just a single issue, this is a family issue.
Why do you think sports is such a great platform for social change? – Amanda Cruz Myhrberg, Facebook
BJK: It’s similar to film, we have a platform. Tournaments are usually shown in about 200 countries. We have that platform, we’re visible just like Emma and other actors are visible. They can help reach so many people through their films, what they say, and the interviews they do. We’re all performers, they just have a different stage than we do.
What advice do you have for breaking the stereotype that men are better than women in more male-dominated industries? – Jperez23500
BJK: Do you have three hours? [laughs]
ES: I always defer to Billie Jean. I’m just like, “Let her go!”
BJK: This is a rough one to answer quickly. We just have to stop being happy with the crumbs. But men can help us the most, because they have the most power. If they want to be on the right side of history, if they want to be able to put their head on the pillow at night and know they’ve done the right thing, they can help change things.
Watch Emma Stone as Billie Jean King in The Battle of the Sexes, out in UK cinemas from today.