In My Moment: 106 Women on Fighting for Themselves, a new collection of essays out May 24, the writers go back to a pivotal point in their lives. The book includes essays from Gloria Steinem, Lena Waithe, Joanna Gaines, Mary Trump, Beanie Feldstein, and Cynthia Erivo, among others, who write about a time they were underestimated or hurt—and how they grew from those experiences.
The essays were collected by Kristin Chenoweth, Kathy Najimy, Linda Perry, Chely Wright, and Lauren Blitzer. Here, Chenoweth shares her own essay about the 2012 accident on the set of The Good Wife which left her with cracked ribs, a broken nose and teeth, and a skull fracture. The actress explains why she's rarely spoken publicly about it—until now.
When it comes to standing up for other people, I’m like a lion, but I’ve never been quite comfortable standing up for myself. It’s always sort of bugged me, but I was never willing to spend a lot of time thinking about it because that stirred up some hard questions for me—about self-worth, about what I deserve, and about facing the fact that being a woman is often a liability.
On July 11, 2012, I was on a TV set in Brooklyn, filming a show called The Good Wife for CBS. As I stood on my mark, awaiting the next shot, a piece of lighting equipment crashed down on top of me and knocked me back into a curb. I was rushed by ambulance to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. My injuries were severe. My ribs were cracked. My nose and some of my teeth were broken, and I had a skull fracture. And those were just the injuries that actually showed up on X-rays; never mind the nerve, tissue, and muscle damage I’d have to face in the weeks, months, and years that followed.
Although there was a good deal of media interest in the accident, I tried to keep it all very quiet. There were a couple of reasons why.
I didn’t want to be viewed as weak. In the entertainment industry, as is the case with so many other lines of work, when someone considers hiring you for a part, they want to know that you’re ready to run. Ready to work the long hours. Ready and able to push as far as “getting the job done” might require. I have always been known for that: “Cheno is a workhorse.” It’s been a big part of who I am known to be, and I’m proud of it. My parents instilled in me a fierce work ethic.
So I kept the extent of my injuries quiet because if I let the truth get out about how badly I was hurt, it would certainly cause me to be seen as weak and broken.
And when you’re a woman in this industry, that perception of weakness is inherently baked into the cake from day one. I didn’t want to feed into that negative stereotype.
The other reason I kept it quiet is because I didn’t want to be “a problem” for CBS. I was advised by a couple of folks on my team and outside of my team too that it would be unwise to attempt to hold CBS accountable for what was clearly their responsibility. I mean, actors have worked entire careers in film and TV without pieces of heavy gear falling on them. Imagine that.
I was told that I’d never work again if I sued a major network. And that scared me. I let fear take over and did what so many people do—especially women—in the face of going up against someone or something more powerful than they are. I shrunk.
A few months after the accident, I was headed into a dentist appointment and there were paparazzi outside who took my photo and posted it online. I was told by my attorneys that CBS called them right up and said, “Judging from the pictures out there, Kristin appears to be doing GREAT!” I wasn’t doing great, but my sucking-it-up smile for a paparazzi photo was weaponized against me, and again, I felt intimidated. Not to mention, it’s no secret that if we female celebrities dare not smile or are less than friendly when someone is snapping our photo in public, we’ll be called particular names saved exclusively for us girls. It was all such a trap.
In the years since the accident, I’ve dealt with hundreds of doctor appointments (no exaggeration) and head-to-toe pain on a daily basis, and that fear I used to have—which had been the big decision maker for me—has been eclipsed by a lot of other feelings.
I finally got mad about the whole thing. The injustice of it all finally began to take up more space inside of me than the fear did. Which is why I’ve recently begun speaking out about the chronic pain that I’ve dealt with since the accident.
I guess it’s my way of taking a first step in fighting for myself. I’m telling my story about what happened, and I really don’t care if CBS never hires me again. They knew I was hurt really badly, but they exploited the power they held over a person like me. I’m a working actor—keyword working. Unfortunately, the powers that be at CBS at the time did not take responsibility for what happened to me, but there’s a new regime at the network and they’re just lovely to work with. Leadership matters. Full stop.
There are a lot of people out there in the world dealing with pain; many of them hurting as a result of an injury at work. Still, they press on and do their best to keep working and to keep living. That is cause for admiration, not shame. I celebrate you.
And finally, I want to say this to girls and women. Try not to operate from a place of fear like I did for so long, but rather, listen to the voice inside of you that knows you are valuable and strong. Listen to that voice, girls. She’s your guiding light.
Excerpted from My Moment: 106 Women on Fighting for Themselves by Various. Copyright © 2022 by Chely Wright, Lauren Blitzer, Kristin Chenoweth, Kathy Najimy, and Linda Perry. Reprinted by permission of Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Editor's note: CBS did not respond to Marie Claire's request for comment by publication time.
This excerpt has been updated to reflect the final version of the forthcoming book.
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