During a panel discussion at the ATX Television Festival entitled Television in a Trumped Up America, Queen Sugar producer Paul Garnes made a comment that made everyone cheer. In the midst of the discussion on how the election results have affected television, Garnes said, “One of my EPs on Queen Sugar thought maybe she’d run for president and she’s Oprah.”
Garnes added of Queen Sugar, “It caused us to reframe what the show was from a different landscape,” he said. “At the exact same time, we were six episodes into shooting Underground and that one was odd because we were filming the night of the election. The show creator Misha Green was writing that episode as we were shooting and it was a 40-minute monologue of Harriet Tubman, it was literally Harriet Tubman telling her story and I really think the election influenced Misha’s tone in that monologue. it ended like this amazing call to action.”
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In talking about writers room reactions to Trump’s win the day after election, the panelists had plenty of other stories to share, too.
“We work in Atlanta,” Vampire Diaries EP Julie Plec said, “so, you know, it’s not all ra-ra elitist. They were shooting a really difficult scene where a woman is in a violent situation, an actress of color, and the set we were on was a former plantation. You know, we have a lot of people of color on our crew and they were like, ‘This is just fucked today, we just don’t want to be here.’”
“I come from Missouri,” Beau Willimon (House of Cards, The First), said, “I felt it was going to be a lot closer than a lot of my friends in New York and LA thought it was going to be. I still thought Hillary was going to win, but I was like, it’s going to be a real squeaker because I grew up in a part of the country that voted for this guy and you can feel it in that part of the country when I’m home for the holidays. I was still shocked when it started to dawn upon everyone what would happen…I knew that this was catastrophic. There was not a moment to waste.”
In response, Willimon organized action sessions. “It was incredibly productive and I started to call friends from around the country…it was incredible, this wave of enthusiasm to try to correct this wrong.’”
“We didn’t know whether to cancel the room or whether to keep working, Casual EP Liz Tigelaar said. “We all just stumbled into work, everybody’s eyes were bloodshot…..I had told myself I’m going to be excited today because history’s going to be made….obviously what happened happened and we all just sat around looking at each other wondering what to do. It definitely impacted our youngest character Laura (Tara Lynne Barr), the teenager’s arc on the show. Casual is not a political show by any means, it’s a show that has a lot of political commentary, but with Laura we were able to create a political backdrop to her story.”
As for Garnes, one of the major blows dealt by the political change was the loss of Underground. “I couldn’t have imagined five years ago a show where Harriet Tubman was the superhero going out with guns and freeing slaves,” he said. “You couldn’t imagine that would happen, and as quickly as it happened, all of a sudden there’s a shift and now there’s no place for it.”
But some, he said, had been prescient about the need to secure positive change before the election outcome. “With Queen Sugar, before any of this stuff happened Ava DuVernay, who created the show, committed just out of the blue that she wanted to have all female directors, she didn’t want any male directors on the show, because she felt like I have three lead female characters on my show and I want them to make sure that that voice is heard.”
Despite all the doom and gloom, Willimon also pointed out creatively-oppressive situations have been dealt with throughout history. “I don’t think we’re living in a unique time actually when you look at the vast spectrum of human history,” he said. “When you look at artists in other countries where you can get killed or imprisoned for what you write.”
Javier Grillo-Marxuach, currently making The Dark Crystal prequel, wrapped it up with an uplifting call to more creativity. “We can catastrophize the coming of Donald Trump in any number of ways but if what we’re going through now can energize us to openly stand up for the right to live your best life on your own terms, there’s a strong possibility that great art can come out of this and politically we can be OK.”
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