In 2015, Lifetime, a network known for its female-oriented programming, announced a global initiative to hire more women as writers and directors and producers. According to the network, 78 percent of its original scripted programming slate in the first half of 2019 will be directed by women, a number that is far higher than the industry average of just 17 percent.
On Sunday, Lifetime hosted a panel at the Television Critics Association winter press tour to discuss the initiative, the current state of the entertainment industry, and the progress women have made behind the camera.
On the panel were Kim Raver, the director of Jane Green’s Tempting Fate; Alyssa Milano star of Jane Green’s Tempting Fate; Monika Mitchell, the director of Jane Green’s To Have and To Hold; Erika Christensen, star of Jane Green’s To Have and To Hold; Janice Cooke, the director of I Am Somebody’s Child; Ginnfier Goodwin, star of I Am Somebody’s Child; Angela Fairley, star of I Am Somebody’s Child; Rhonda Baraka, the director of Pride Prejudice in Atlanta; Tiffany Hines, star of Pride Prejudice in Atlanta; and Claire Scanlon, the director of the upcoming series American Princess.
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Here are the best moments and quotes from the panel.Photo: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for A+E Networks
On women having more opportunities after a certain age: “In the past, [acting] has been very limiting after a certain age,” said Raver. “And I think thanks to Lifetime and AE … your career doesn’t end at a certain age. It actually can just be improving because of opportunity. It goes back to opportunity. If there’s no opportunity, you can’t expand your career. And if you can’t see one, you can’t be one.”
“Being in Shondaland world, I go to work and I see female [directors of photography], I see female first [assistant directors]. I see the writers’ room. So that is inspiring,” she continued. “When I see that around me, then I say to myself, ‘Oh, I can do this or I can try to enter into that world.’ And … if we don’t continue that, then we don’t see it. And then younger generations and older generations, we don’t know what’s available to us.”
‘The spectrum has been broadening so much and reflecting the vibrancy of life and the spectrum of life so much that I don’t think there’s a whole lot of fear of doors closing right about now,” added Erika Christensen. “I think that’s not the general feeling about things.”
On TV being a good place for women to work: “Women face discrimination at every age and every job. And if it’s not in the entertainment industry, it’s a woman in the workplace that doesn’t get hired because she’s not married yet which means that she’s going to have to get pregnant, and we’re going to have to give her maternity leave. So there is always some battle that women are fighting somewhere,” said Alyssa Milano. “But I do think the entertainment industry has reflected upon itself and television has, not only with networks like Lifetime, but has always really been very mindful that women are the consumers, that advertisers are going to pay money for women‘s programming, So I think television has always been very good at showing … that women over a certain age can find a home on television.”
On the perceived lack of female directors of photography: “I think it’s what people used to say about women directors, [which is] there aren’t any. There are tons of them, you just have to hire them,” said Monika Mitchell.
Rhonda Baraka, the director of Pride Prejudice in Atlanta, said she regularly asks for female DPs on her projects and repeatedly gets turned down. And this is a problem, because as Tiffany Hines noted, women “have to be given jobs for them to grow and for them to be able to expand their horizons and show their talent and develop their talent. But they can’t be able to do that unless they’re given the opportunity.”
“If you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” added Milano.
Photo: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for A+E Networks
On working with women directors versus men: “I think I am more willing to be vulnerable with a woman, which is extremely valuable for the art form,” explained Christensen. “You wouldn’t have to mention any of your particular female problems, but you know that they get it. That’s a factor in things. There’s kind of just an understanding, and you can certainly have that with any human being, but it’s a specificity that does help.”
On having mentors in the business who aren’t necessarily women: “I’d like to mention that it’s not just … women that can give you opportunity,” said Claire Scanlon. “I came from The Office, and I like to say I graduated from the University of Greg Daniels because he was such a mentor to everyone on set. It was such an egalitarian set. I started out as an editor on that show and … I made it clear I was interested in directing and he paved the way for me.”
“I think men and women have helped me personally throughout my career. Mindy Kaling gave me my next job,” she continued. “I think when you ask and you push and you persevere, and you show you’re not giving up, it’s not a one-off, it’s not just a favor that you’re calling, and you continue, those opportunities actually land at your feet.”
On how we can move forward in the #MeToo era: When asked about continuing to be progressive in the future, Milano said we have to hold people accountable for their abuses of power.
“I think it’s our responsibility to figure out what reentering into the workplace looks [like] and how women will feel comfortable within that space. … If you are funding [former CBS CEO] Les Moonves or planning on working with him, you have to have an iron-clad contract that enables full due process for both scenarios, a human resources department that’s maybe external, not an internal. There’s a lot of things that can go into play. I think, if anything, we have proved that if you speak up, you’re holding people accountable for their abuses of power and we’re not going to allow that anymore.”
On having power as a woman in the entertainment industry: “In 2016, I didn’t feel like I had the power to reject a project simply because I wasn’t willing to put myself in those circumstances,” said Mitchell. “Now I get the support from producers and representation because I say I’m not willing to work with someone … The power that women have that we’re now owning… I think if the 10 of us went, ‘We won’t work with that person,’ it actually means something now.”
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