The crowd, mostly young women, cheered so loudly you could barely hear the names of the panelists as they were introduced – 19 of them altogether, all female showrunners.
There were so many female executive producers gathered at Twitter’s offices in Santa Monica last night that they had to be arrayed in rows in two back-to-back hourlong panels, and there was a fair amount of networking and drinking during a brief intermission in between. “I’d just like to say that our panel is drunker than the first panel,” joked Chance showrunner Alexandra Cunningham. “If we were men, we’d be talking about fighting the first panel.”
Indeed, the hashtag for the panels was #inclusionandcocktails. You can watch a replay of below.
Moderator Liz Hannah, screenwriter of The Post, called it a “night of positivity, a night of not us-versus-them,” and the evening lived up to that for the most part, with panelists talking about how their mentors – many of whom were men – had been instrumental in guiding them in their careers. There was talk about inclusivity and about how it’s no longer the norm to be the only woman, or the only minority, in the writers room.
“There’s a danger in white men telling our stories and creating the images and the language that we use,” said One Day at a Time showrunner Gloria Calderon Kellett. “And it’s not that men can’t write great parts for women, but it shouldn’t be only men.” She recalled not too long ago being the only woman, and the only Latina, in a writers room and being expected to be the voice “of all women and all Latinos.”
On her show, she said, she’s passionate about inclusivity and has sought out and hired LGBT performers and actors in wheelchairs to speak to a specific — and at the same time broader — audience. It’s fundamentally important, Calderon Kellett said, that audiences be able see themselves in characters on screen and, at the same time, to see and understand characters whose backgrounds and experiences are different from their own.
“If you don’t see it, you can’t be it,” agreed Aida Croal, supervising producer on Jessica Jones.
Everyone acknowledged that while the industry is changing for the better, aided greatly by the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, there’s still a lot of catching up to do. Nondisclosure agreements, which shielded abusers and silenced victims for so long, still are widespread in the industry, said Counterpart EP Amy Berg. “They’re still in every writer’s contract,” she said. “NDA’s are the most destructive thing in the industry.”
The Bold Type creator Sarah Watson said that “somebody I hired has been accused, and I believe her so hard. I hired this man. His name will forever be associated with a show about strong women.” She didn’t name the man or the show but said it still haunts her.
Absentia co-executive producer Samantha Corbin-Miller said that the industry still has a long way to go in dealing with sexual harassment. “At this point, there’s kind of a gloss and a Band-Aid, and a lot of corporations running for cover. It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg,” she said.
“And we haven’t begun to discuss the emotional harassers who are hijacking the creative space in many cases, and they’re getting away with it,” said Lauren Iungerich, creator of On My Block, who described bullying and berating on set as “emotional terrorism.”
Asked what inspired them to become showrunners, Dee Harris-Lawrence, co-executive producer of Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G., said, “My inspiration came from not seeing people like me.”
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow co-RP Keto Shimizu, a graduate of an industry diversity program, described her mentor as “amazing,” and said, “It’s so important to give that back and try to steer people in the right direction.”
Panelists also discussed changing attitudes about story and character. Veena Sud, executive producer of Seven Seconds, said she doesn’t want to see one more script “about a white guy who’s a genius. Surely there are genius women.” Many panelists also said they don’t want to see any more scripts about “a girl who doesn’t know she’s pretty” – a tired cliché that overemphasizes beauty and looks.
Others taking part in the panels included Alison Schapker (Scandal), Beth Schwartz (Arrow), Corey Nickerson (Black-ish), Gabrielle Stanton (The Flash), Laeta Kalogridis (Altered Carbon), Lauren Hissrich (The Defenders), Moira Walley-Beckett (Anne with an E), and Monica Breen (Midnight, Texas), and Sera Gamble (The Magicians).
Click the links below to watch both of Wednesday night’s panels. Note that the first one begins about seven minutes into the session because of earlier audio problems: