In the first Emmy season since the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, the conversation has shifted from being just about the shows that are eligible for awards to the conversations those behind-the-scenes are creating.
“There’s no shortage of strong female characters and dynamic women in the universe of Netflix,” SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris said at the streamer’s FYSee brunch for the “rebels and rule breakers” of their original series, adding that she felt the event was “so appropriate for the moment we’re being challenged in.”
“I believe the window of opportunity is closing to create change. I know no one wants to hear that, but it’s true. So if we don’t take explicit steps now, we may lose it,” she said.
While Carteris pointed out that the “status quo is no longer acceptable” in this post-Harvey Weinstein era and it is “exciting to be in the midst of all of this exciting deconstruction,” she noted that the industry is at a tipping point for change. Now, she said, it is time to inspire the next generations of leadership.
“It’s not only about eradicating harassment and discrimination, it’s really actually about speaking truth to power,” Carteris said. “This moment in time is a great opportunity for all of us [to] build a safer world for women and people of color … but it is only great if we create a true shift.”
“No longer is it every man and every woman for themselves, it’s all of us together,” she continued. “We need to mirror what we want to see. We need to find ways to celebrate inclusive behavior, educate, liberate, and mentor. We have to clear a path for those to follow and then we have to reach back to lift them up.”
Women in Film’s Kirsten Schaffer shared that the members of her organization are reporting that there have been more jobs and at higher rates than usual, but that is just the start. “Attention can shift focus really quickly, and that’s why it’s so important we continue to talk about these issues with each other in public, in the media, on sets,” she said. “Let’s keep our heads up and continue to do the work.”
The streamer’s FYSee space at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, Calif., was home to two such important conversations on Saturday — “leading the charge,” moderated by Variety’s own Jenelle Riley, featured powerful women in front of the camera, including Alison Brie (“GLOW”), Danielle Brooks (“Orange Is the New Black”), Sarah Gadon (“Alias Grace”), and Regina King (“Seven Seconds”); Variety‘s executive editor of TV, Debra Birnbaum, moderated a panel with those behind the camera — showrunners and “shot callers” Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch (“GLOW”), Marta Kauffman (“Grace and Frankie”), Gloria Allred (“Seeing Allred”), Veena Sud (“Seven Seconds”), Melissa Rosenberg (“Marvel’s Jessica Jones”), and Netflix’s own vice president of original series Cindy Holland.
Although she is an industry veteran, King revealed that she has worked with very few female show creators. “This is the first time in 30-plus years,” King acknowledged. Her first time was “227” with Marla Gibbs, which she noted she had “a front-row seat” to how Gibbs worked on set and with the network, and perhaps “subconsciously planted the idea that I would go on to produce and direct some day.”
“I watched her to fire some people and watched some people try to fire her,” King said. “You know when you’re getting an education, but you don’t really realize you’re getting it? I was soaking that s— in. … I was in training.”
Brie noted that having a woman at the center of the show changes the energy on set because there is no male gaze. “The energy that happens on set when women are trying to impress a male boss is just a different type of energy,” she said, noting it can lead to competition that can get “real dark, real fast.”
On “GLOW,” Brie pointed out, the showrunners are women, as are most of the writers and directors. “It feels really good,” she said.
Brooks, whose first real role was on “Orange Is the New Black,” added that there is a “subconscious mentorship” that occurs when women are in charge.
“When you see Jenji Kohan running the show and all of the writers and the producers, and to even Cindy Holland running Netflix, you’re so empowered, and it reminds me, the actor, who most of the time is the least important part, that I can do any of what they’re doing … because they’re doing it,” Brooks said.
All of the women agreed that leading by example and speaking up when there are concerns is key, but they also admitted that there is still a long way to go.
“When we’re in production on ‘GLOW’ … I look around and I see all different types of women … complex women, and I’m like, ‘Everything’s changed, and this is the future.’ And then we finish production and I’m released back out into the wild of the industry and I’m very disappointed,” Brie said. “[We’re] paving the way for that to be a more constant reality. I don’t know that we’re there yet.”
“We’re not there yet,” King followed up. “But I will say, thank God for Netflix. … They have created this landscape that is creating opportunities for different types of roles. Movies, they have a long way to go. I’ll be honest, half the time I’m like, ‘I don’t need to go to the movies.’ If I’m not trying to see the latest superhero movie, there’s just not enough content out there that has stories that I’m interested in seeing. Netflix is providing that space for it to happen.”
But, King noted, it is “baby steps.” And with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, King pointed out that young generations will not have to deal with some of the things they did, including knowing the answer to something, but being too afraid to speak up in class. “We are leaning into girls being strong,” she said.
Gadon is already an example of that. “I’m not just passively watching and waiting for the industry to change,” Gadon said, adding that with the roles she chooses and the people she opts to work with, “I am that change.”
The change is a long time coming. Holland shared that when she was starting out in the business and got a meeting she was excited about — only to have the male interviewer tell her point-blank that he wasn’t going to hire her because she was a woman. “I could have said something and had a lawsuit, but I wanted to work again,” she said. And thankfully, she had a better experience with Paula Weinstein, who was at Warner Bros. at the time and was a mentor who told her that her voice mattered just as much as the heads’ of studios.
In order to make sure there this push for change continues to be a movement, not just a moment, Holland said it’s all about “making sure we have a diverse and inclusive workplace, making sure sets are safe and happy environments. It’s the simple stuff, but we’re doing it more and more.” She noted that it’s a combination of saying yes to writers like the women on the stage, but also the men that are doing it right, too.
Kauffman wanted to stress the importance of telling women’s stories, as well as hiring from within. “We all model what we’d like to see the workplace look like, and people are working for us and hopefully learning from us and when they go off and do their own shows … hopefully they have attained a sensitivity and an openness that they may not have gotten in other places,” she said.
Although Rosenberg noted it may not be the best language, she said learning how to take a hit is key to persisting in the industry. “This business is tough for everyone — men and women, more for us,” she said. “We have not achieved parity yet in this business, or the world. … It’s wildly unfair, but in order to change it, we have to keep picking ourselves up.”
Sud added that from the creator standpoint, it’s often also about “constantly pushing” to put more women in important roles. “Being that champion for other women is very, very important because if we’re not, who will be?” she said.
Allred acknowledged that there has been a power shift, and within the industry a lot of confidential settlements are occurring to avoid the need for lawsuits while still making sure the offenders are facing consequences. Noting that the world is looking at the industry in terms of presenting the image and status and position of many women, that’s just the start. “In the real world there have to be consequences,” she said. “The cost of the wrong will be borne by the wrongdoers.”
“The heroes are the women who refuse to be victimized,” Allred continued. “They don’t have to have a title to do that — it’s just what they do out there in their real lives.”