Tanya Acker, judge on CBS’s popular court show Hot Bench, and Indian American actress Emily Shah, starring in the Indian film, Jungle Cry, each bring a strong feminine perspective to their individual roles—both on screen and in their passion projects; Acker with the Boy Scouts of America and Shaw with UNICEF, both among others.
Professional WOMAN’s Magazine (PWM) caught up with Acker and Shaw and spoke with each on their backgrounds and interests as well as their latest endeavors.
Tanya Acker serves as one of three judges on CBS’s syndicated court show Hot Bench, created by Judge Judy’s famed Judy Sheindlin. The program returned for its fifth season last September, and was the #3 first-run program in daytime television, delivering 3.2 million daily viewers, during its 2017-2018 season.
Acker, who is a Yale School graduate, is an experienced civil litigator who has represented a wide array of clients, from major automobile manufacturers in high stakes product liability litigation to media companies in hotly contested trade secret disputes. While at Yale, she represented low-income women in family law cases and served as a teaching assistant in Constitutional Law and Civil Procedure courses.
Today, Acker serves on the boards of Public Counsel, the nation’s largest provider of free legal services; the Western Justice Center, which promotes alternative dispute resolution; the Western Los Angeles County Council of the Boy Scouts of America; Pacific Battleship Center, which operates the Battleship USS Iowa Museum; and Rainbow Services, which provides shelter services to victims of domestic violence.
PWM: How did you first become interested in law?
Acker: I’ve always been interested in how systems work. Law school was a great opportunity to decipher the world while at the same time ensuring I’d be able to make a living and support myself. My parents used to say that they lost the trust fund I never had ? I think it’s key that women have a plan for handling their lives.
PWM: What led you to be cast on Hot Bench?
Acker: CBS called me, Judy (Sheindlin) picked me. It was very exciting.
PWM: With more than 1,000 episodes finished, what has been your most memorable case/moment?
Acker: There are so many. Frankly, I never cease to be amazed at the attempts that people make to avoid doing something they should or to try to extract something from someone else that they don’t deserve. By the same token, I’m often pleasantly surprised by how generous people can be, both with their resources and their hearts. I think there are far more good people in the world than bad ones—it’s just that the bad ones make so much noise
PWM: How did you first get involved with the Boy Scouts of America? What inspired you to participate?
Acker: A local council (the Western Los Angeles County Council) had adopted an inclusive, non-discriminatory policy before the national body had, and they needed some legal and communications help and reached out to me. Since then, the Scouts have become more inclusive nationally and I’ve become involved nationally. I’m so proud of their work—the Scouts provide youth leadership training like no other. Scouting doesn’t just inspire young people to get involved and make an impact in their communities, it provides them opportunities to do that. We offer experiences to young people that they often wouldn’t have unless they come from really privileged environments, and I’m excited to be a part of the work.
PWM: How does it feel to be working with America’s first graduating class of female Eagle Scouts?
Acker: It is a moment that inspires me. Girls have long been a part of the organization—now they will have the opportunity to attain the rank of Eagle. It’s magnificent.
PWM: Why do you feel it’s important for women to be part of the Boy Scouts of America?
Acker: Because opportunities should be open for women to do what they want to do!
PWM: In your opinion, conversely, should men be allowed to join the Girl Scouts of the United States of America?
Acker: I’ll leave that to the Girl Scouts, another great organization. Smart women let other smart women make their own rules ?
Emily Shah is a 24-year-old Indian American actress and the daughter of famed Bollywood actor and director Prashant Shah. The Chicago-born, New Jersey-raised actress grew up on set for her father’s films and always felt an infatuation with both production and acting. She has been preparing for her big break since the age of five by training in dance and theatre classes. Her first film, Fortune Defies Death, premiered in 2018 in which she played one of the lead roles, Mona.
As a teenager, Shah started working in local pageants, commercials, and doing print work for Indian American brands. She got a job on the set of Jersey Boys as an assistant to Clint Eastwood and later assisted in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Monster Trucks, and Fast & Furious 7. A former Miss New Jersey in 2014, Shah is also the youngest contestant in the state’s history and the first Indian American at a Miss USA pageant.
Currently, Emily stars in the Indian film, Jungle Cry, which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival and received acclaim at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Based on a true story, the film follows a young team of rugby players who grow up in the slums of India and made worldwide history after winning the 2007 Rugby Nations Cup in England. Shah plays the team’s physiotherapist.
PWM: You have an extensive background in dance and working in local pageants, among others. You also mentioned you’re influenced by your multicultural background. Can you tell us more about that and what inspired you to pursue acting?
Shah: I always loved performing since I was a toddler. I got into dance at a very young age which lead to theater. I did local plays within my community and absolutely thrived whilst acting. I knew that it was my passion to perform for an audience and as I got older, I realized that because of my background, I wanted to reach an audience on an international level…what better way to do so then film? Especially in today’s digital age, the global audience is highly accessible and that excites me even more.
PWM: Can you tell us about Jungle Cry and your character in the film? What inspired you to take on the lead role?
Shah: Roshni is not only the sports physiotherapist. She is a mentor, a leader and a strong woman taking on a career in a male dominant field. Women in sports tend to have to deal with proving themselves in ways men don’t have to and we catch a glimpse of that in Jungle Cry. My character is the element that breaks down barriers while shining a light on the potential that these tribal and orphan boys have. I wanted to play Roshni because I knew that the film needed a woman’s dynamic. It gave me the opportunity to own my power as a female lead as well as giving a voice to women in the sports industry.
PWM: Jungle Cry is based on a true story. How was your experience portraying your character, how did you prepare?
Shah: Roshni is actually the only fictional character in Jungle Cry. The writers and director wrote her in specifically because there were no females in the original story from 2007, but that is not the world that we live in today. Today, women absolutely have a stance in the sports field and that should not go unnoticed. The film was also very male driven and it was missing the element of a feminine touch. I shadowed a rugby sports physio who was Canadian-Indian and studied/ worked in the UK with rugby players after graduating. That’s exactly what my character did as well. She studied in the UK, specifically focusing on rugby. I also did a lot of research about the actual sport, its origin and the most common injuries. I would prep with the on-set medic before a scene to make sure I was physically taking the correct steps while treating players.
PWM: Tell us about your experience as an upcoming actress in a typically male-dominated field. Do you face any challenges, and if so, how do you overcome them?
Shah: In almost any industry, women, especially of color, tend to face more challenges than males do. We live in a unique time where women are generating a voice and are standing their grounds on equality. It is inspiring to be an actress with everything going on in the entertainment industry at the moment, but I know my generation needs to do more to have actors of different ethnicities represented. I already notice the changes happening but I think we can do more. I hope one day, I can be in the producer’s chair, creating content that gives opportunities to diverse actors and talent.
PWM: We read you’re a UNICEF, Autism Awareness, and Alicia Rose Victorious Foundation ambassador. What have you accomplished through this, and are there other organizations you’re partnering with?
Shah: During the year that I campaigned with UNICEF’s End Polio campaign, India became Polio free. That was a huge accomplishment and I know UNICEF continues to strive to make other countries Polio free. I have worked with several charities over the years but during my time at The Alicia Rose Victorious Foundation, we raised over $2.5 million dollars and set up lounges in 38 different states. These lounges are able to make teenagers feel more comfortable while being treated at a pediatric hospital. We were also able to hold a “Prom Night” at the North Central Bronx hospital for the teenagers who couldn’t attend their own prom. It was a beautiful event. Working with several platforms has always been a goal of mine. Also, I hope to continue my work with UNICEF, specifically focusing on helping women in India.
PWM: What are some of your upcoming projects or films?
Shah: I am reviewing a few scripts at the moment, all which cater to international audiences.