Jill Soloway, Lena Waithe Offer 13 Suggestions on How to Change Hollywood's Harassment Culture

Jill Solloway, Lena Waithe Vulture Festival - Getty - H 2017
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Vulture Festival

Jeffrey Tambor’s run on Amazon Studios' Transparent may have come to an end but series creator Jill Soloway has other ideas about how Hollywood can change.  

The Emmy-winning actor on Sunday stepped down from his starring role on the Amazon series, citing a “politicized atmosphere” following sexual assault and harassment accusations leveled against him by two transgender women.

His exit came less than a day after Transparent creator Soloway declined to address the accusations during a panel at Vulture Fest L.A., where they appeared onstage alongside Master of None writer-star Lena Waithe.

“Because there is an investigation that we are amidst, I am not able to say anything about it and trying to just protect the process, and make sure that we do the most — have the process with the most integrity to make sure that…it turns out fair,” Soloway said Saturday night.

Despite Soloway’s reticence to broach the Tambor allegations, she and Waithe — the latter of whom became the first black woman to win the Emmy for outstanding writing for a comedy earlier this year — nevertheless came into the evening loaded with ideas on how to fix an industry in turmoil. During the hourlong panel, Soloway and Waithe offered a series of solutions — some obvious, others bold — in a dialogue that was by turns thoughtful, impassioned and remarkably forthright.

Given that both are members of historically marginalized minorities in a town still largely run by straight white men (Soloway is gay and identifies as gender nonbinary; Waithe is a gay black woman), their experiences have afforded them a unique perspective. Below, THR rounds up their (informal) proposals for a more inclusive and less toxic Hollywood.

Establish a “50/50 by 2020” mandate industry-wide.

That is, ensure a system in which women fill at least half of industry leadership positions by 2020, in addition to (in Soloway’s words) “30 percent people of color, if not more.”

“I’m talking with a bunch of women…[and] we’ve come up with this notion,” she said. “We're calling it a ‘challenge’.… Can you get to 50/50 by 2020 on your boards, with your partners, if you're an agency or if you're a guild? For TV shows it would be writers, directors, showrunners, and department heads.

“We’re not even asking for reparations here, we’re just saying ‘match reality,’” Soloway added later. “If we asked for reparations, it would be 100 percent women and people of color. But we're being chill. We're saying 50/50.”

Refuse to pick up series whose writers’ rooms fail to reflect the diversity of the population.

“I wish there was a mandate that no show could be funded without making sure that the [writers’] room is a reflection of society,” said Waithe. “Not a diversity hire BS, not that, but [networks] will not pick up the show if you don’t have a black person, a Native American person, a queer person, a trans person, a woman…and I know that’s a tough thing.”

Don’t depend on diversity programs to get the job done.

Concerning the above: Waithe isn’t convinced that controversial network diversity programs intended to get people of color into writers’ rooms are the answer. “The intentions are good, but my thing is like, you can’t just ask the oppressor to stop repressing the repressed,” she said. “You have to demand they are no longer allowed to do that.”

Prioritize mentorship.

For Waithe, this imperative gathered added weight after she participated as a fellow in the 2017 Sundance Episodic Lab, which brought her into contact with up-and-coming TV writers.

“It's not about thinking about self, it's about thinking about legacy...to me, my legacy is those that will come behind me,” she said. “I want to mentor people. I want to make sure that they know how to be the best version of their artistic selves. Because if they are, then they will be telling phenomenal, human, poignant stories long after I'm gone. That to me is the mission.”

Harness the power of the current moment; forgiveness can come later.

“What's happening is that women are holding a kind of moral currency,” said Soloway. “It’s just starting actually that the subjectivity is being held by the feminine for the first time. The morality is creating a currency, which means more than money and power right now. It is the power. The morality is the power. And so I want to stay there for a while before we get to a place of going into educating and forgiving and assessing.”

Declare the status quo immoral.

When it comes to abolishing inequality, Soloway sees no other option than to call out the inherent dishonor in allowing the system that favors the experiences of straight white men to remain in place.

“If you are a white male producer and you find that you are buying scripts by white men and you are hiring white directors and you're saying, 'Well, this is just a qualitative thing, this is the best script, or this is the best director’ — it means 'best' at reflecting your own version of your own protagonism as the hero of the world,” she said. “And that's kind of immoral when you already have that much privilege. You're literally hoarding opportunities to people like you. And my hope is that over the next few years, it will feel immoral [to do that]."

Hire more women and people of color to host late-night TV shows.

"It feels immoral to look at late night now and to go, ‘Wait, every last show [is hosted by a white man]?’” said Soloway. “When I watched Jennifer Lawrence and Kim Kardashian [on Jimmy Kimmel Live!], I was like, 'What if I had this every night? I would watch this every night before bed.'... Talk about opportunity hoarding. And then when they win awards, every single writer is a guy. And this is every show, every night!"

To illustrate the power of offering diverse representation in the late-night arena, Waithe described how seeing Arsenio Hall on TV changed how she viewed her own potential. “I don't think people realize that him existing in that space...that was my light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “Seeing someone like him and the way he had conversations with people that [I] looked up to and [had] their posters on [my] wall. That's important."

Clearly define boundaries and consent in the workplace.

“You should check before you give somebody a hug [at work],” said Soloway. “You just make sure that they want the hug. Because like two people who are the same level having a hug seems fine, but [it's different] if there's an older guy who has a lot of power...and he's like, 'Where's my morning hug?'”

If you’re uncertain about boundaries in the workplace, stop testing them.

“What if we don't have sex with people at work?” said Soloway. “We don't talk about sex at work. And we don't touch people at work. Just to try it!”

Stop treating individual victories as game changers. 

Although Waithe made history on Emmy night this year, she urges people not to use her unprecedented win as an excuse to stop fighting. “I’ve been the first black woman [to win the outstanding comedy writing Emmy], and I don't want to be the last,” she said. “I think we have to get out of that headspace, of, ‘Oh that [inequality is in] the past.’”

Create a space for expressions of emotion in the workplace.

On the set of Transparent, Soloway famously employs a team-building exercise she refers to as “Box.” This allows each employee — from background artists to grips to top-of-the-line stars — the opportunity to stand on a literal box at the beginning of each day and talk about whatever they want. The showrunner said she implemented the forum to foster a healthier workplace where emotions are encouraged rather than buried.

“We get everybody to gather and we just try to say, like ‘Hey, you know what's the most important thing here?” said Soloway. “It's not the schedule, it's not the money...what matters most is each other and taking care of each other, so let's make sure we're connected.”

Of course, as Soloway readily admits, not even that was enough to keep accusations from arising on her show. “Even having that [kind of] set, still what happened was that there are people who...didn't feel safe,” she continued, alluding to the allegations against Tambor. “So even in the safest of sets, where there were people who were really thinking constantly about how do we make sure we're heart-connected at work, things happened, or things may have happened.”

Stop prioritizing profits over people.

“People start to get mean around time and money,” said Soloway. “These [work]places where there are numbers...you know, 'Faster! We're wasting money, we're wasting time!' People become kind of awful around pointing at people who are causing a problem around money or time. And the awfulness then seeps into the culture, and there's a kind of ether of negativity where bad things can happen."

“Don't be a dick.”

Words to live by, courtesy of Lena Waithe.