In the second season of “Master of None,” Aziz Ansari’s character Dev begins a jovial working relationship with a new character named Chef Jeff (Bobby Cannavale) who is later revealed to be a repeat sexual harasser. Series co-creator Alan Yang admitted that at the time his writers room was working on the story, they wondered if it would feel too dated and be too obvious that it was based on Bill O’Reilly.
“It was tricky territory, for sure,” Yang said at the HRTS Hitmakers luncheon in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Tuesday, adding that the reason they ultimately went forward with the story was because it felt “evergreen that there will be sexual harassers in the future.”
And while that has unfortunately been the case for decades, the last few weeks have represented a tide-turn in Hollywood as dozens of women — and an increasing number of men — have come forward to share stories of harassment and abuse within the industry.
“Everyone’s being made aware, so let’s be allies to those speaking out,” Yang said, noting the importance of believing those who are sharing their stories now. “And honestly, we need more women in positions of power. Basically that’s going to help solve the issue.”
Along with Yang, the HRTS panel consisted of television “hitmakers” Kenya Barris (“Blackish”), Bruce Miller (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), Dan Fogelman (“This Is Us”) and Issa Rae (“Insecure”). Yang pointed to that lineup as something he hoped to see progress in the future. “There’s one woman on the panel,” he said. “It should be half and half.”
Rae spoke out on behalf of the writers from her HBO comedy, which she says is “mostly comprised of women.” Her room made a point to discuss these issues from their real lives to decide if and how they, too, would work them into the storytelling.
“Every single woman has a story. And we’re so used to sweeping things under the rug, ‘Oh I don’t want to make a big deal out of this’ or feeling like you’re overreacting if you do speak up, so that was a discussion. So we’re asking, ‘Why is the onus always on us to speak out about it or feel like we have to make a statement?'” she said. “It happens too often to not address.”
Barris and Fogelman both said they were surprised by the levels at which harassment was happening. While Fogelman said that surprise might have come from his own naivete over just how many women have stories on the topic, Barris was more concerned with the length of time it has taken before these issues could come to light. “The idea that it has been going on for as long as it has been going on makes me sad. We’re just now getting into this, and these are tales from 20, 30, 40 years ago,” Barris said. “It doesn’t help that the president, before he was elected, was in this group and was still elected. The ideology of what it is to ‘be a guy’ has to change.”
“Being a guy,” he said, doesn’t mean using power to make someone else feel uncomfortable. And to that end the answer, for him, is keeping the lines of communication open between men and women at all levels. “What I don’t want to see happen is the divisiveness where women are afraid of men,” he said. “We have to make sure the women we work with and our daughters and our mothers and our sisters feel comfortable.”
While conversations around things like sexual harassment can be hard to navigate, Miller pointed out that is what makes those stories worth diving into. “Anything worth doing or discussing in a real way, it’s all nerve-wracking,” Miller said. “You want to always be pushing to make yourself and everyone else examine a question.”