Prime Video's new series The Power, based on the novel by Naomi Alderman, poses questions around what our world would look like if women had a tangible power over men.
With an ensemble cast including Toni Collette, John Leguizamo, Toheeb Jimoh, Auli'i Cravalho and Eddie Marsan, the premise of The Power is that young girls around the world discover they have a new organ that generates electricity. This means that, through sparks that come out of their hands, girls are given the ability to electrocute people at will. Through the stories of girls and women from London, Seattle, Nigeria and Eastern Europe, The Power shows what happens when the status quo gender balance is threatened, and how women around the world use this newly developed power.
One thing that's interesting about this on-screen adaptation is that in Alderman's mind, this was always a story for the small screen, which lended itself to the bidding war that developed to make The Power a series.
“When I was working on the book I had [trouble] with the first draft, it was just not working, and then I had a sudden light bulb moment, ... like electric sparks, … and I went, oh this story is supposed to be TV,” Alderman told Yahoo Canada. “So I decided to write the second draft as if it were selected scenes from the TV show, and that worked for the novel.”
“You can think that sort of thing inside your own head but then, is anybody actually going to turn it into TV? … Before it was published, we had a 12-way bidding war for the TV rights. So it turns out, sometimes when you realize something's supposed to be TV, it does.”
'Inclusivity and equality' as the backbone of 'The Power'
The Power is filled with international talents but for veteran actor Collette, she describes the project as "exciting material" to be able to take on.
“I think the show is so important in terms of what it says, I think it's really empowering for girls and women,” she said. “It's about inclusivity and equality, which is something that we're very much fighting for in our very real world.”
Collette plays Margot Cleary-Lopez, the mayor of Seattle who everyday, alongside her advisor Helen (Edwina Findley), has to face the misogyny and sexism of being a woman in politics, while her husband Rob, a doctor played by Leguizamo, largely takes on the brunt of the parenting duties for their children.
For Cravalho, who plays Margot and Rob's daughter Jos, that family dynamic, relatively atypical for TV, is the basis for that character really finding her "power."
“I was raised in a single parent household with my mom, so I have always known the matriarchs of my family, and that has been passed down to me,” Cravalho said. “I think that it's really beautiful … and it's also interesting to see how that's still a faux pas.”
The women in The Power certainly aren't copies of each other. While they all develop this new organ, each woman is battling their own experiences, with a connected bond of women not feeling particularly safe in the world.
For Halle Bush's character Allie, having been raised in the foster system and experiencing abuse and sexual assault, that character's story sets the tone at the beginning of the show. Bush highlighted that she wanted to tell Allie's story because "we have some many other Allies out there," and the actor hopes this show inspires them to tell their stories.
“The fact that Allie was a victim of abuse, and she's been through so many traumatic things at such a young age, I really connected with her in a way,” Bush said. “[I have] not gone through sexual assault, but within racial injustice, I myself have been through traumatic events."
"Also my cousin, she works with girls just like Allie. They were just like Allie in the beginning, they were just mute. ... Me being a young girl witnessing this, I always had like a fire in me to really motivate young girls and just really tell them, you have a voice, you can take back control your body. That's what you see Allie do.”
For someone like Heather Agyepong's character Ndudi, a journalist who finds herself in an unsafe and complicated incident with her friend Tunde (Toheeb Jimoh), the actor highlighted that developing this character was a particularly collaborative process.
“As soon as I heard, there's a new character focusing on African women and that power, and that strength, I was all over it,” Agyepong said. “It wasn't a tokenistic tool and the whole set was really collaborative."
"We wanted to be really culturally specific so for our storyline, we had a British Nigerian writer, ... who was wonderful. I spoke to her at length about what it meant to be a British, Nigerian journalist and a woman."
'I still find it incredibly moving that half the population of the planet feels unsafe'
The sad reality of The Power is that it is in fact so connected to our reality. There's a particularly impactful scene in the series where Margot's daughter Jos is telling her mom about how having "the power" makes her feel safe for the first time in her life.
"I run with both my earbuds in now," Jos says. "I don’t put my keys between my fingers just in case. I don’t make elaborate plans with friends to make sure that we all get home from a party safe."
"I didn’t even realize I lived in constant fear. … I just feel 100 pounds lighter and a 100 times stronger because I have this thing in me.”
That scene in particular still stands out for Collette, and several of her co-stars.
“We often talk about that scene because in watching it, I still find it incredibly moving that half the population of the planet feels unsafe, and that the potential of having some way to protect yourself just gives you a sense of freedom,” Collette said. “A freedom that should be our birthright.”
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For Leguizamo, as a father, he said that working on a project like this is also a chance to realize that being a man comes with "a certain privilege."
“I talk to my daughter and I'll go, walk in the middle of street, come home with friends don't come home alone, come home at a certain hour, because you're afraid that something could happen to her," he said.
“When they did that beautiful speech, and the potential of women not ever having to be afraid of that, my daughter, or my wife or my mom. Imagine a world like that where you don't have to walk with your wife and your mom home late at night, because they're safe. It'd be an amazing world if that could come to life.”
For Jimoh, he spoke to women friends before starting The Power and was told about the "checklist" of things they do to keep themselves safe on a daily basis, that he admitted he knew nothing about.
"I'm going to send you my location when I get in the cab. I'm gonna send you the license plate number. I’m going to walk and have my keys in my hands. … I'm not gonna have both my headphones in when I'm walking at night by myself," Jimoh recalled.
“I've never had to think about stuff like that, in that way. Some of those things creep up for Tunde later on in the series, when he starts to realize that he doesn't have the power that men once had. But I think for me, it was incredibly eye opening. It was super sad. It's just a bit shi-t, really. … Really happy that we get to illuminate some of that stuff to our audience who might not know about it.”
While The Power isn't prescriptive, it's not trying to tell us that the world would definitively be better if women had all the control, it does ask questions about the unjust ways women haven't felt empowered, and how that could change for future generations.
“My six year-old just recently informed me that she wants to be the first African American female president of the United States, and she has asked me to enrol her in president school," Edwina Findley said. "I just love it that this generation of girls now is growing up with more models around them to show them that you actually … can do anything you want."