With the surge of allegations within Hollywood and the TV and film industries regarding sexual harassment and assaults in recent months, it seems that women’s voices are becoming louder, stronger and more determined. There is a strength in numbers, and while there have always been individuals encountering these unwanted advances, this seems to be the first time women are coming forward in great numbers to tell their stories and say ‘no more’.
The number of women behind the scenes in film and television is vast; probably more than any of us really know. While many female actors are claiming lead roles and finding acclaim for telling their stories their way, it is important to point out that a previously male-centric industry has been experiencing a shift over the last decade. Women are now top producers, writers, showrunners and more, and while the focus of the recent movement of #MeToo and #TimesUp seems to be on those in front of the camera, it is important to realize the power of the female voice behind it as well.
A recent event held in Toronto by Corus Entertainment and Global TV set out to give that voice a platform. The current hit, Mary Kills People, shows not only a strong female lead in the form of Dr Mary Harris (played by the incomparable Caroline Dhavernas) but also features an entirely female production team behind the scenes. This was not something they set out to do, but something that came about in an organic and natural way that also showcased the number of powerful and talented women within the Canadian television scene.
Using the show, and its season 2 finale, as a launching pad for a thought provoking discussion, the individuals behind Mary Kills People sat down to discuss the recent social change gripping the entertainment world, and the power of the female voice. Global Television presents Women Killin’ It In The TV Industry was full of entertainment heavy hitters, including the star of the show, Caroline, executive producers Tassie and Amy Cameron and Tecca Crosby, writer Marsha Greene, VP or Original Content, Lisa Godfrey, and executive vice president and chief operating officer Barbara Williams.
Fangirlish was fortunate enough to be included in this event, and the first thing we noticed was the confidence of those involved. There were admittedly few men in the room, and it was clear that the women owned the night. Hosted by ET Canada’s Sangita Patel, she guided the evening through tough topics, as well as the hopeful sense of a changing tide within the industry.
“Today is a little different than the usual panel that we do, it is a change to discuss what is happening, the movement that is happening, and a chance to talk about what we want to hear from our leaders as women.” said Sangita Patel.
It kicked off quickly, discussing the show and its success with 9 CGA nominations in only 2 seasons. And, of course, the fact that the majority of the team is female; a feat that is virtually unheard of in the industry. When asked if having such a female-centric team is a magical occurrence, producers Amy and Tassie Cameron are quick to respond.
“It was a very organic process. We didn’t set out to say we would only hire female writers, it just happened.” – Tassie Cameron
The questions turned to the character of Mary herself; a woman balancing life, career, motherhood with her not-so-usual side project, and the moments when EVP Barb Williams and VP of Original Content Lisa Godfrey took the lead.
“I think from the beginning it was so rapid fire, it’s not something we would have done so quickly, but Rachel (head of production of drama) called me and said ‘I just read the best script, we have to do this’. The title was amazing, and then this complex character, controversial, everything in the treatment, story and voice, that was very clear from the beginning.” Lisa Godfrey added.
And, of course, the subject matter grips you from the start.
“There has been a great discussion in Canada about physician assisted death, and it was on the minds of Canadians. And suddenly there was a script in our lap that spoke to viewers, and we were in a position to jump and go, with a title we never wanted to change. It all just came together.” said Barb Williams.
The eyes moved to show star, Caroline, and if the inclusion behind the scenes in turn influenced her character and the portrayal of such a complex individual onto the screen.
“There is something that happens when you feel that everyone is there for the right reasons and interested, and it is the best way to make something. We are all on the same page, all speaking the same language, and it is the best way to tell a story,” Caroline Dhavernas said.
Of course, it wasn’t long before the subject moved to the appearance of women behind the scenes of the industry, and if a new movement has been coming. Tecca pointed out that there are many powerful female leaders in the Canadian scene, that the writing rooms are filling up. Talking about her time in the industry, she mentions back to a time when it was male lead and a woman asked if a woman could be a showrunner to a panel of male runners…they were diplomatic in their response, but noncommittal.
“I think there is an urge for us to woman up in the writing room, in the directors chair, and the results have been phenomenal. We can always do better, but we are on the way.” Tecca Crosby added.
As this movement has progressed, and more voices are stepping forward, there have been different displays of support for the topic. From the hashtag #MeToo, to the recent influx of black clothing on the Golden Globes red carpet, all meant to show solidarity for those victimized, and to make a clear stand that it will no longer be tolerated. Host Sangita commented that during her time at the Golden Globes, she was at first unaware of the intention for stars to wear all black in support of the movement. Admittedly, there were critics of this particular choice; that wearing black isn’t a stand, or if they felt so strongly, boycott the awards as a firm voice. Of course, everyone has their own opinion on the ‘right’ way to show support or guide a movement, but Sangita had an interesting observation during her time in LA.
“The energy was so different, I’ve never felt anything like it before. It’s a form of protest, its been done for decades, and its been done with fashion.” Sangita Patel observed.
Of course, the women on the panel had their opinions on the movement, and the display of solidarity across the industry.
“A loud voice is a good voice, there is power in numbers, and when we come together and speak loudly, and aren’t afraid, it’s a good thing.” – Lisa Godfrey
As some of you may know, Fangirlish recently ran a two part article series on the #MeToo movement and the impacts on society with a focus away from Hollywood and into our every day lives. The majority of the stories gaining media attention are from the entertainment industry, which casts a skew on the relevance and incidence within our world. Caroline spoke up regarding this same observation, and her fear that it only seemed to be happening in her industry. This is clearly not true, but she was quick to point out that the industry itself is a platform; it is an inspiration when we see someone like Harvey Weinstein, a man who had it all, fall in such a way, that it comes to a point where the power isn’t enough, and his time is up. It is also becoming a learning experience for many people to discover what sexual harassment is, to learn to have a voice, and to speak up when we previously wouldn’t have.
When asked if this recent media coverage is giving others the power to step forward, Barb Williams took the helm.
“There is a safety in numbers, and research has shown over and over that you need a certain number of women on a board, or a production team, an amount of gender diversity for people to finally have a voice. I’ve been in this industry a long time, and it is getting better. I feel dragged into saying it is good enough, I don’t think it is. There is always room for more, there are more industries to tackle for this, there is a lot of thinking and talking to be done across all industries. Huge steps have been taken, and the more we can get together, we can enjoy the fuss of the conversation, push it forward, and take it somewhere.” Barb Williams said.
When asked what could be a solution to bring more gender and ethnic equality to the forefront?
“Its quite easy. Just hire people.” – Barb Williams
With that premise, comes another direction of questions. Pay equity is a right that women have been fighting for since they first joined the workforce, and yet, there remains a significant and glaring gap between women and their male counterparts. Recently, the BBC offered transparency with regard to their payroll; an act which was applauded as much as it was criticized when the stark difference in pay between male and female workers was shown in black and white. Additionally, the recent revelation in Hollywood regarding All the Money in the World stars Mark Whalburg and Michelle Williams, and their drastic difference in pay for reshoots of the film following the dismissal of actor Kevin Spacey after allegations of sexual misconduct. Yes, Whalburg donated the money to the movement in Michelle’s name…but why was he granted that much of a difference in the first place, for the same job? Obviously none of this is his doing or fault, and as the panel quickly pointed out, many people are reluctant to discuss pay rates and the like with colleagues, therefore wage gaps such as this are usually a silent issue.
Tecca Crosby, having been in the industry for some time, looks back now and is left wondering what opportunities she may have missed due to her gender, or additionally, whether her pay was competitive in comparison to her male coworkers. That is something very hard to know, and she commends the BBC for diving in to that area, and is hoping other agencies do the same. Also, for workers to become more transparent with regards to issues such as pay; particularly women. The panel encourages women to understand their worth, know the competitive salaries, and ask for what they are worth within the industry. Ask what the person before you was paid, what was their job, especially if they were male. Know all the facets, and use that to empower your voice moving forward in all areas. Wage is simply one aspect where a discrepancy exists.
The conversation of current gender issues are now being spoken, but it needs to be between both men and women, not kept on one side of gender among themselves. The panel hopes more men are brought into the conversation, both for input and increased understanding with regard to moving forward. It is good to have these conversations, so long as the next round of engagement is followed. Those at the top, those making the decisions, need to be open and accepting; and those below them need to know their worth, ask for what they want, and don’t say no! There are so many talented individuals within the workforce, at all levels, all occupations, and risks need to be taken.
Lisa Godfrey put it quite simply:
“We can move up the ladder quite quickly…just by saying yes! Men don’t say no, they take risks and learn on the way. We need to do the same.”
With the recent success in stories and films such as Wonder Woman; of powerful, female led tales of strength and domination, the Cameron sisters are excited to see what else will come in the wake of such a change. Stories such as Mary Kills People, where a woman is not just a role of a mother or wife, but a career woman, with her own ideals and passions, are starting to come to the forefront of media. Many wonder now, with this change, how other tales would have been different if the lead role was female, rather than male. Subtleties, nuances, and gentle spins that come with a gender change, cause a butterfly effect through a television series in particular over time. Of course, some roles are more powerful with men at the helm; this is in no way to state that all roles should be swapped. It is simply a change in perception and insight, to consider in the production process, the possibility. Follow the trail of each option, and you may be surprised by the outcome.
With all these changes within not only the entertainment industry, but the world as a whole, it is natural to think ‘what’s next’? The recent movement of 50/50 by 2020 was brought up, an initiative that looked to 50% women, 50% men on the top tier level of career by 2020. Is it possible?
“I definitely think it can happen. Of course we can, there are so many talented people out there.” Lisa continued.
This rests with the decision makers, as it is a matter of taking that first step, that chance, and making this motion a reality. It is about finding a balance that works within each industry, but not ruling it out simply out of fear of the unfamiliar. Again, the idea that those in power are the ones who have that impact on the rest of the world, and simply need to have the understanding and the drive to put these initiatives in action.
Following into the conclusion of the discussion, Sangita asked a final question:
“What is that one piece of advice you would give your younger self when starting in the industry, now that you know what you do now?”
Barb: “Have the confidence to have your own ambition, your own power, and say yes. Trust that if they think you can do it, you can.”
Lisa: “Its about making moves and not being afraid. Even if it is a lateral move, it will grow what you know. Take the risks.”
Marsha: “What I wished I had known in my first job in television was to stand up for myself more. Know what you’re worth, and how you should be treated.”
Tecca: “Work hard. The people I see who get ahead, they work really hard. But in terms of women, you have to ask for what you want. If you don’t ask you don’t get.”
Amy: “Don’t be afraid to ask the questions. Had I asked more questions earlier, I think I would have looked less idiotic. If you don’t know the answers, or wonder why you weren’t put forward for something, ask. Don’t assume that someone else is thinking of that for you. No one will stand for your interests like you will. Information is power.”
Tassie: “Work harder than anyone else. It is crucially important to succeed in this business. Don’t screw up; I don’t mean don’t make mistakes, but don’t abuse your power, don’t be an asshole. It is a small business, you do encounter people over and over. But also, I wished I hadn’t apologized so much. For success and wanting more. Just stop apologizing.”
Caroline: “This work that I do has taught me to be confident. It is where I feel I belong. I am at an age where I know that what I have to say, if I say it to the right people, they know I am doing it for the best of the show. Trust that people will respect you for what you have to say.”
The panel closed off with a toast, to celebrate not only the show, but the movement and empowerment for women taking over the world. We at Fangirlish can’t thank Corus and Global enough for allowing us to be present at this incredible discussion. We hope that more like it happen all over the world, that women take these recent movements to heart; not for the horrors at their start, but for the empowerment they are causing. We can make change, if we stand together, and want it enough.