Meg Ryan, America Ferrera Talk Moving Experiences Behind Making New PBS Doc Half The Sky

Meg Ryan, America Ferrera and Diane Lane shed their celebrity skin while travelling abroad as part of the upcoming PBS special, “Half the Sky,” examining how women and girls are treated in countries around the world, including India and Cambodia.

With an introduction by George Clooney, the two-night special, which airs October 1 and 2 on PBS, sees the women travelling with Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist, collecting the stories of women facing dire situations and issues of sexual trafficking, civil rights and inadequate healthcare.

According to former “Ugly Betty” star America, no one knew about her television and movie star past when she came to meet young women in India.

“For me, I spent most of my time with some of the younger girls… and not a lot of them had actually seen anything I’d been in because they don’t really have exposure to that. Their mothers certainly had no idea who I was,” she recounted on Sunday at the PBS portion of the Television Critics Association summer tour in Beverly Hills. “If the girls were told, ‘Oh, she’s an actress, and she was in this TV series or this movie,’ they really just wanted to know what my mom was like and where did I grow up and what do I do with my friends and if I had ever seen the movie ‘Titanic,’ and the song that Celine Dion sang and could they sing it for me and they did.”

“They just wanted hugs,” Meg chimed in of her experiences. “The group we were around, they would say… ‘We just want your respect.’”

Other celebrity women featured in the series, inspired by the book, “Half the Sky” from the NY Times columnist and Sheryl WuDunn, include Eva Mendes, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde.

Meg said the stories they heard were hard, but she, personally, felt a link between their stories and her own.

“These are very extreme stories that you’re gonna see, but the bridge between the first and the third world is not as long as we think,” Meg said. “Anytime I haven’t spoken up for myself, I can see in the eyes of a little girl in Cambodia, so you know, it’s human experience… It’s a global culture and those stories are not so far away. Yes, they might be more extreme, but they are — in essence, a seed of them are in all of our experience.”

Speaking about what she learned on her trip and her meeting with Urmi Basu, the founder of New Light, which runs a shelter in Kolkata, India, aimed at helping children and women in a red light area of the city, America said it was that she can make a difference.

“I walked away remembering to keep my eyes open and my heart open to the possibility that I might one day come across a certain need that I could meet and remember that a hero like Urmi changed hundreds of children’s’ lives by deciding to say yes instead of no,” she said.

-- Jolie Lash

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