In 1999 Monika Mitchell wrote, produced and directed a short film that she took to festivals. At the time, she recalled Sunday at a Television Critics Assn. press tour panel, when her name came up in the credits there were so few women helming projects that she overheard an executive say, “Monika’s a funny name for a guy.” In the two decades since that experience, she has crossed mediums between film and television, working most recently on Lifetime’s original movie “Jane Green’s To Have and to Hold,” while the industry around her has made slower advances. Currently there are 17% women directors, while only approximately 15 months after the #MeToo movement went viral men such as Louis C.K. and Les Moonves are getting back to work.
“We can’t put all these men on an island and say, ‘Ah they’ll figure it out, let them eat themselves.’ … I think it’s our responsibility to figure out what that re-entering into the workplace looks like and how women will feel comfortable in that space,” “Jane Green’s Tempting Fate” star Alyssa Milano said at Lifetime’s female directors panel.
Noting that she “won’t allow anyone to go back” to the way things were before the movement, she added that there are some key things that need to go into place for anyone who is going to get in business with those who have been accused of abuses in the workplace — things from “ironclad contracts,” “due process” for all parties and an external human resources department.
“It anything we have proved that if you speak up we are holding people accountable for their abuses of power and we’re not going to allow that anymore,” she said.
Milano admitted that in the past she didn’t feel like she could go to unions with concerns, but that, too, has changed. “I used to joke that whenever there was an animal on set there would be someone from the Humane Society [there],” she said, but “women are made to get totally naked with not one protection mechanism anywhere. I think all of that is going to totally change.”
Angela Fairley, who portrays the real-life Regina Louise in “I Am Somebody’s Child: The Regina Louise Story,” shared that seeing the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement happens, as well as seeing the support behind them, made her realize she has experienced harassment. Noting that she has a day job in addition to her acting work, she didn’t specify where she experienced such things. She pointed out that many people don’t report because they have never heard of anyone else reporting it or don’t necessarily know who to go to or how it would play out.
“[Reporting may] create more of a problem in a workplace or for myself in the environment that I’m working in than if I just move on from it and avoid that person,” she said.
Mitchell added that there is a “power that women have that we are now owning” that is leading to these changes. Referencing the other women on the panel, including Milano, Fairley, Ginnifer Goodwin, Kim Raver, Erika Christensen, Tiffany Hines, Claire Scanlon, Janice Cooke and Rhonda Baraka, she said she believes “if the 10 of us went we won’t work with that person it actually means something now. And I think that is how it stays in check on a softer, less political [way].”
Goodwin (“I Am Somebody’s Child: The Regina Louise Story”) pointed out that having women in the important decision-making roles on projects allows the actors to feel safer. “We’re going to be harassed a lot less when there are a lot more women around,” she noted. While Christensen (“Jane Green’s To Have and to Hold”) pointed out that she is “more willing to be vulnerable with a woman, which is extremely valuable for the art form.”
Greater change will also come with more opportunities. As Raver (“Jane Green’s Tempting Fate”) explained, “If there’s not opportunity, then you can’t expand your career.”
Baraka (“Pride & Prejudice in Atlanta”) admitted that she always asks for female directors of photography on her project but is always “turned down” by those above her. “I keep asking, though!” she said.
Having come from Shondaland, where she would “go to work and I see female DPs, I see female directors, I see the writers’ room” and be inspired by that,” Raver stressed the importance of that only expanding as time goes on.
“When I see that around me, then I say I can do it,” she said. “If we don’t continue that then we don’t see it and younger generations…don’t know it’s available to us.”