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How Long Will TV and Film’s Boom Market for Female Stories Last?

NANTUCKET, Mass. — The #MeToo moment and the push for gender parity in Hollywood has opened doors for women artists in the film and TV business in the past year, but there are concerns that the appetite for female-led stories could be a “worryingly trendy conversation.” That’s how showrunner Sera Gamble put during a panel session Saturday at the Nantucket Film Festival that focused on the status of women filmmakers, actors and writers.

After so many years of hearing “no” to projects revolving around protagonists who are female or persons of color, it’s pleasantly surprising to be asked to bring in diverse material director-producer Miranda Bailey said during the “Women Beyond the Words” panel moderated by NPR host Ophira Eisenberg.  Bailey was joined by Gamble, actor-producer Alysia Reiner, actor Jeanne Tripplehorn, and documentary filmmaker Nancy Schwartzman.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Bailey, “I’m being told by every single studio please come in, we want a female director and female stories. I’m like ‘Great.’ ” Bailey, whose latest pic is the father-son comedy “You Can Choose Your Family,”  noted she has a backlog of projects stalled for years that are getting new looks. “I don’t know if it’s guilt or enough social pressure. or whatever. I don’t care how we get there as long as we respect each other and the men that are a part of the process as well,” she said. 

Gamble, exec producer of Lifetime’s “You” and Syfy’s “The Magicians,” said the good news is that there’s less pressure on a handful of female-lead productions to succeed at all costs.

“A single woman with a movie won’t be judged as if she has to represent all women on planet Earth,” she said. But she added her concern that Hollywood’s current interest in diversity hiring at all levels may not be sustainable at current levels because of what she called a “pipeline problem,” she said.

“It takes a while for a (talent) pool to be built up,” Gamble said. She and other panelists emphasized the importance of mentoring programs and women in positions of authority making a conscious effort to hire more women. Gamble noted that it’s important to ensure diversity in entry-level assistant jobs because so many of them are the writers, directors, producers and craft and tech artisans of tomorrow.

Reiner (“Orange Is the New Black”) has launched a female-focused production banner that is behind the comedy “Egg,” starring Reiner and Christina Hendricks. Reiner said the current wave of female apprenticeship and empowerment initiatives is different than in the past because there are larger networks that women can tap into, and there are more successful and affluent women to help others on the way up.

“This moment is not about complaining about things. It’s about acknowledging things and accepting things and then taking action to change it,” Reiner said. On the production of “Egg,’ every department head was a woman and 70% of the crew positions were filled by women.

Reiner pointed to Bailey’s decision to launch the CherryPicksReviews website to give a platform for female film critics. She was inspired by research indicating that some 78% of film critics in the U.S. are male. Bailey said she’d noticed over the years that reviews of some her films and films she liked — including “I Do … Until I Don’t” and “The Zookeeper’s Wife” — were received very differently by male and female reviewers.

Tripplehorn cited “transparency” as a key element for women to achieve prominence and parity in the industry. She noted her longtime close friendship with actor Laura Linney. The two regularly talk openly about what they earn for various projects.

“That’s the only way we’re going to get through to another level,” Tripplehorn said. “We need to be honest. Share how much you’re making, share how you’re dealing with people.”

Panelists agreed that women have break out of the mindset of being wary of helping other women to achieve their career ambitions out of concern that they will only create more competition for themselves down the road. That dynamic was in play when there were far fewer opportunities in film and TV for female creatives, but it is outmoded in today’s world.

“We’re all afraid that our pots are so small and we’re all fighting over the a little small pot,” Schwartzman said. “Women have wealth now. Women can invest in other women.”

Schwartzman, whose latest doc “Roll Red Roll” revisits the 2012 sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl by two high school football stars in Steubenville, Ohio, got a laugh at the close of the hourlong session after Bailey noted the condescending nature of some men who go out of their way to insist that they only ever want to work with “strong women.”

Schwartzman deadpanned: “I only work with weak men.”

(Pictured: Miranda Bailey, Alysia Reiner, and Jeanne Tripplehorn)

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