“It’s weird … I wrote the Emmys three years ago,” said “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway — who’s nominated for Emmys in the comedy series writing and directing categories — at Women in Film and UTA’s chic shopping fundraiser hosted by Barneys NY Beverly Hills on Monday night.
“I was watching people walk offstage, carrying their statues, and I was backstage with Jane (Lynch), my sister and I writing her jokes and making sure the show was going all right. So it’s really funny … but it’s hard to feel. I want to try and feel it all,” confessed Soloway, one of the night’s four hosts. Despite the success her Amazon hit found at the Golden Globes, she still feared the Emmys might “favor established shows.” “I’ve been having a lot of dance parties and I can celebrate, but for the most part, it’s hard to take it in and realize that it’s happening to me.”
If 11 Emmy noms for her “autobiographical” story are any indication, her impact is profound: “To have a conversation with Kim Kardashian, where she said that her family watched the show together; or to have a conversation with Caitlyn (Jenner), where she said that ‘Transparent’ helped her see a world where a parent could come out and be loved by their daughters or their family. … To watch Caitlyn at the ESPY Awards look at her daughters on the show and to feel like my sister and I … that we might have had some small effect on the way a much more famous family was able to also welcome their trans-parent into the world. … Like, to go from that feeling of, ‘I don’t quite understand this and I don’t know what it’s going to mean,’ to ‘oh, my expression of love for my parent is having a global effect,’ it’s crazy to me.”
What may seem crazier is that Soloway, along with “Homeland” director Lesli Linka Glatter and “Mad Men” writer Semi Chellas, represent the only women (vs. 20 men) nominated in top comedy or drama series writer-director categories. Even as Soloway makes gains, women are not gaining overall — prompting a bevy of well-heeled women to sip rose sangria and purchase raffle tickets in an attempt to lessen a persistent gender divide. But why does this inequality exist, and what can be done?
“I think, as the ACLU is investigating the illegality of keeping women from directing positions, male creators, showrunners, producers and directors have to really face the immorality, their own immorality, of hiring their friends, of telling male stories, of perpetuating male privilege through protagonism,” said Soloway, clad in electric pink as an extra show of feminism. “So that means the male gaze — men as subject, women as object — is business as usual for men to be able to keep telling their stories from their point of view. … (They need to) really offer women the chance to write, to direct, and then to empower them once they are writing and directing, and say, ‘tell your story, tell your story!’”
Who’s leading the pack? “I really applaud Judd Apatow for, over the past few years, using his privilege to give access to people like Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer,” Soloway said. “Paul Feig is doing the same thing, helping the all-female ‘Ghostbusters’ get made. They should be examples to other men who have power and give access to female creators that they admire.”
Co-host and WIF board member Rena Ronson, a partner at United Talent Agency, is excited about WIF’s growing younger constituency, and the research being conducted with USC and the Sundance Institute. “Women enter film school at the same rate as their male counterparts, but somehow only 4% of the top-grossing films are directed by women. So where is the shift happening between film school and the real world?” she posed. “As the mother of a teenage daughter who has no real issues with gender, my daughter believes she has the opportunity to pursue whatever career she wants, and I don’t want that to change.”
Actress and co-host Greta Gerwig, who just co-wrote and stars in the film “Mistress America” (about an unlikely friendship between two women, one 18 and the other 30, out in August) made another telling gender observation. “When I’ve talked to a lot of female writers or directors or actors, a lot of times when they talk about their trajectories to becoming directors, they say something — and I’ve heard it echoed by enough people — that, ‘it honestly never occurred to me that I could be a director.’ And I think it makes sense, because there aren’t that many examples!”
Actress Diane Kruger agreed, noting that the dearth of opportunities mandates camaraderie. “Because the roles are so few, there’s such a sense of ‘you’ve got to stick together,’” she said, citing as a recent example when she asked Dunham to participate in a French film she was producing. (“We’d only ever met once at some industry party, and she was so sweet and open.”)
Still, despite the lack of females nominated for major Emmys, “There’s women in lots of other categories, including documentary and producing, and we’re excited about that,” said Women in Film’s executive director Kirsten Schaffer. “I’m thrilled for (director) Dee Rees, that she got a nomination for ‘Bessie,’ because I think it’s an exceptional project, and I’m excited for Jill, because ‘Transparent’ is such an important show.” About Soloway, she stated, “I think she stands out because she’s really authentic and she’s really connected to something within her that’s true and real.”
Soloway put into words the process of her family’s now-famous epiphany: “It’s like the lights go on. … And then everybody transitions, everybody has to transition.” Women fighting to be in film share similar hope.