Auli’i Cravalho Is Using “The Power” For Good
“Acting really helps me be a better human,” Auli’i Cravalho says ahead of the premiere of “The Power,” a new Prime Video series based on the 2016 book of the same name by Naomi Alderman. Cravalho may still be best known for voicing Moana, but she’s certainly not stuck in the plucky princess role. “I am really looking to play characters that I have not played before,” she tells POPSUGAR. “Acting – what I love most about it – is that it makes me more kind. It brings out a different part of me because I need to relate to these characters that I play. I’ve played mean girls, I have played loners, [and] I’ve played people who’ve experienced loss.”
Cravalho was just 16 when “Moana” came out, ushering her into Hollywood stardom. As the titular character, she sang the Oscar-nominated “How Far I’ll Go,” and the “Moana” soundtrack continues to break records with Cravalho front and center. More recently, Cravalho was part of the love triangle in Netflix’s “Crush,” playing one of two queer Latina sisters.
These parts all reflect intentionality on Cravalho’s part – each role she takes on pushes boundaries. They work to expand what is acceptable for women and girls, whether it’s who gets to go on the hero’s quest, what teenage love can look like, or the fact that girls of color are whole human beings and main characters in their own right.
Cravalho is of Native Hawaiian, Puerto Rican, Portuguese, Chinese, and Irish ancestry, and she uses her success in Hollywood to explore the underrepresented aspects of her background.
In “The Power,” Cravalho plays Jos Clearly-Lopez. She’s a high schooler in a world very similar to ours – except teenage girls suddenly start developing the power to send electricity through their fingertips. Think of a cross between eels and “Firestarter.” And because it’s all teen girls, everywhere, the world starts to change as those accustomed to having little physical power are suddenly the most dangerous people in the room.
“I get to play someone who’s just trying to get through their teen years,” she says. “Then you’re adding the power of electricity. And then you’re trying to have your own identity outside of your mother’s shadow. It was such a wonderful, nuanced character to play.”
Jos is the daughter of a rising political star, Margot Clearly-Lopez, played by Toni Collette. Her dad, Rob, played by John Leguizamo, is a doctor and the one she feels closer to as he’s the primary caregiver. As such, the gender dynamic is switched in her household before anyone starts shooting lightning from their hands.
The Clearly-Lopez bunch are also a blended family, with Rob teaching the kids Spanish and serving up Colombian food while Margot walks the halls of power. “We’re seeing a lot more Latin stories and yet, there are so many more to tell,” Cravalho says. The actor shares how she’s grateful to have such talents as her TV parents, recounting how “John Leguizamo is excellent at helping me with my Spanish and kindly teaching also Toni Collette.”
There’s a scene where Margot gets out a few sentences in Spanish to look authentically multicultural. Her white-girl accent and general posturing make the whole thing cringe-worthy, a look into the ways blended families often work and the ways they can fall short.
“We also have characters coming from truly across the world that requires you during their storylines to read subtitles, which I think helps make this story feel so much more well-rounded and so much more global,” Cravalho says.
“The Power” touches on not just language but also race, religion, geopolitical power, and so much more. In addition to the US-based Clearly-Lopezes, there’s Roxy Monke (Ria Zmitrowicz) in London, working for a mob boss. “Ted Lasso” fans will enjoy seeing Toheeb Jimoh as Tunde, a new but quickly globe-trotting journalist, whose internal goodness radiates outward and helps him gain access to otherwise closed communities. And Tatiana Moskalev (Zrinka Cvitešić) in Moldova is a now-grown child bride, whose husband became the country’s president.
“The Power”‘s central fascination is gender: the ways it works, how it is tied to physical strength, and what upending that equation would mean. But it’s not a “women’s empowerment” show – not really.
“I think it is about empowerment across the entire spectrum. We also have an intersex character in our storyline,” Cravalho points out, and she’s right. “The Power” seeks to complicate our ideas about how power ties not just to men and women but to gender as a whole.
Part of that is looking into how we form cultures based on gender. There’s a whole prescient subplot in “The Power” about toxic masculinity that will ring very close to home for anyone following the Andrew Tate story. In the show, an anonymous man speaks out against the rising feminine power, calling on other men to assert their dominance. Perhaps, after four years of Donald Trump’s presidency, a man becoming famous for doubling down on misogyny feels normal, but remember, the novel came out in 2016 when Barack Obama was still president.
The story is also smart about the ways women have historically navigated their place in society and the toll those constant calculations take. “Women teach women to be careful,” Cravalho says. “We teach each other to only put one headphone in when you’re out. You always have to be aware of your surroundings. Check your car, [and] make sure you wear your keys between your fingers if you’re walking home late at night. We inherently hold this weight on our shoulders.”
“The power of electricity suddenly coursing through our veins allows us to walk into spaces feeling so much more confident in ourselves.”
But in the show, that changes: “The power of electricity suddenly coursing through our veins allows us to walk into spaces feeling so much more confident in ourselves,” Cravalho says.
So, what would you do if you weren’t afraid? Wanda Sykes had a viral stand-up bit about what women would do if they could leave the vulnerable bit of themselves – specifically the vagina – at home. Running at night was particularly high on Sykes’s list.
“The Power” takes it further, imagining what would happen if women could not just escape the constant threat of violence but rather issue it. Do women become the primary perpetrators of rape? Do they take over economically? Do they end capitalism?
You’ll have to watch to find out. But in this world, Cravalho knows there’s plenty we can do to make the gender spectrum more equal, across cultural and racial lines. “I encourage you to not only watch ‘The Power’ but get inspired with your own power to change the world around you,” she says.
And for the young Latinx communities watching the show, she has a special message for them.
“I hope Latina audiences take away [from this series] their inner power,” Cravalho says. “I hope that they realize the strength of using their voice for what they believe in: for speaking their language in film, as well as out in the real world.”
That’s what Cravalho has been doing her entire career, and she’s pushing that ethos forward with “The Power.”
The first three episodes of “The Power” premiere on Prime Video on March 31, with new episodes coming out weekly after that.