For all of the progress that movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up have made in pushing abusers into the spotlight, there is still a long way to go toward a fair and true balance of power.
At the Inclusion and Cocktails female producer event hosted by “The Post” screenwriter Liz Hannah and held at Twitter HQ in Los Angeles on Wednesday, “Counterpart” executive producer Amy Berg pointed out that contracts today still carry rules about what you’re allowed to talk about regarding your time on a show.
“I think the most detrimental thing in the business right now is the fact that NDAs exist — because the entire purpose of them is to protect perpetrators and silence and punish victims,” Berg said, noting that once she left a show and received a reminder that she could not mention the nature of her departure because “the nature of my departure was so ill-inducing and horrible and they knew that if I verbalized it ever the show might be affected.”
Berg noted that “most people don’t read the entire” contract they get when they sign on to be a writer of a show but they should — because “there is a clause in every single contract when you’re hired on a show these days that says you’re not allowed to talk about the show for the run of the show.”
“It’s just so egregious and wrong,” she said, “and I feel terrible for women who are currently being abused and are not allowed to talk about it.
Former “Parenthood” writer and “The Bold Type” showrunner Sarah Watson added that disparagement clauses in contracts are equally problematic because of how “we’re told to shut up.”
She shared that someone she hired on her “feminist show empowering women has been accused, and I believe the woman.” But, despite the fact that she watched the man “bully and belittle” people on set, after she talked to him about the behavior and told him it was not OK, she was not “backed.”
“I was told, ‘You have trouble with strong men,'” she recalled.
Watson said when she read that he was accused of harassment she felt sick. “I hired this man and his name is forever associated with a show about strong women, and I’m not even supposed to talk about it,” she said.
Getting changes implemented to contracts is only one step towards a solution, though. Another important step is getting more women into powerful positions and making sure when they’re there, they are training the next generation.
“I came up in a room where you’re the only one in the room [and] you have to represent all women [or] you don’t get a job because they already have their woman,” said “Black-ish” executive producer Corey Nickerson, who noted that when she sees a woman in the showrunner role she knows she doesn’t “have to pretend to be a thing that I’m not so I can keep my job.”
“I think that’s representation but also inspiration,” she continued. “I love working in a room full of people and making them feel empowered. … Delegating is the most important thing we can do because we’re building up someone else so they can do the job some day.”
Additionally, having women in the showrunner powerful positions leads to more inclusive storytelling on-screen.
Sera Gamble, who ran two rooms this year (“The Magicians” and “You”) shared that the “18-34 white, cis, hetero-y male is usually default…but I just decided that wasn’t going to be my default anymore.” While she said she would still write stories to give them something, too, her default was now the female audience.
Gloria Calderon Kellett shared she wanted to co-create “One Day at a Time” because she wanted to “right a wrong” in never seeing herself represented on television. But while she initially set out to tell Latinx stories, she expanded into veterans’ stories and LGBTQ stories, too. And come season 3 on Netflix, she’s excited to tell a story of another underrepresented population: a transgender woman.
“Doing the show has really opened my eyes,” Kellett said. “Seeing those communities come to be is so emotional. To see their lack of representation made me want to do more,” she continued.
After seeing a woman in a wheelchair “kill it” at a UCB show last year, Kellett put her into the show as part of the veterans’ group her protagonist Penelope (Justina Machado) attends. Now she is excited to do the same for a transgender woman.
“I get to be better,” she said.
“On My Block” showrunner Lauren Iungerich had a similar experience after she left her MTV high school comedy “Awkward” mid-way through its run “for self-preservation,” she pointed out. An editor who also left the show asked her if she had seen all of the tribute videos fans were making for the third season finale episode, which was Iungerich’s series finale. (“Awkward” aired through season 5, with the final two seasons run by two men.)
“All the kids were kids of color and they were acting out lines I had written and playing white characters, and I thought, ‘These kids need their own show,'” Iungerich said. “These kids healed me, and I wanted to give back, and I wanted to do it the right way.”
Now, Iungerich not only has a show with inclusive casting but also an inclusive writers’ room — including two young writers who come from Watts and Inglewood and have to take the bus seven hours both ways to work.
“I really fought to find them,” she said. “It was very hard…I hired to kids from the inner city because part and parcel…our diversity programs are completely broken in our business. When you work for free you’re treated like you work for free, which is you’re treated like shit. And a lot of showrunners don’t train.”
Iungerich said she feels it’s a “female thing” to “care that much and that deep,” but she also acknowledged that even though #MeToo is primarily highlighting male abusers within the entertainment industry, they have to call out any and all “emotional terrorists” who are “hijacking the creative spaces and are getting away with it.”
One way to do this, it was proposed on the panel, was to “do your due diligence” and research a person before agreeing to take a meeting, let alone a job. If there are rumors a person is abusive and people won’t take the meetings, “agencies and studios have to start listening because then they’re losing money.”
Alexandra Cunningham, who co-created “Chance” and is now adapting “Dirty John” for the small screen, shared a story from one of her early jobs about a man who was embarrassed by misinterpreting an action on set when he saw her conferring with a director. And in his own embarrassment, she said, he needed to see her cry. She ended up in her office calling her parents and her agent, afraid she was going to get fired after just packing up everything to move out to Los Angeles, when he knocked on the door and, seeing tears in her eyes, held out his arms for a hug. She said she let him hug her, all the while thinking if she knew where he lived she’d burn his house down.
“The rage is why I’m here,” she said. “And that’s why I became a boss — because I don’t want people to have to get enraged to succeed.”
(Pictured: “On My Block”)