Jill Soloway Says Sexual-Harassment Settlements Show Need for More Female Storytelling

"Not only have men told most of the stories, but they’ve invested money in getting women not to tell their stories," the 'Transparent' creator said Thursday at an HFPA panel.
Courtesy of Hollywood Foreign Press Association/Image Group LA

Jill Soloway emphasized the importance of female and diverse storytelling when discussing the recent wave of sexual-harassment allegations in Hollywood on Thursday.

"In this moment, with what's going on with women's stories, I think the thing I was struck with the most over the weekend was, not only have men told most of the stories, but they’ve invested money in getting women not to tell their stories," Soloway, who identifies as gender nonbinary (preferring to use the gender-neutral pronouns of they, them and their), said at a TV Game Changers panel presented Thursday by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

"The settlements, the millions and millions — when I thought about that $36 million settlement somebody got for shutting up, women are getting paid to shut up, and I want that money to make movies."

Soloway appeared on the panel at the Paley Center with Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy, Norman Lear, David E. Kelley and J.J. Abrams. The Transparent creator broached the subject of the recent allegations made against Harvey Weinstein, Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailes, James Toback and even now-former Amazon chief Roy Price when asked about the rise of streaming platforms in TV.

[Note: Over the weekend, it was revealed that O'Reilly had paid a $32 million settlement to an individual who accused him of sexual harassment before Fox News renewed his contract.]

Soloway specifically discussed their Amazon comedy I Love Dick, which is based on a book by Chris Kraus. When Kraus first wrote the book, Soloway said publishers didn't want to print it and thought Kraus was telling the story of a powerful man in her life. He tried to sue to stop Kraus from telling the story. Soloway went on to explain that I Love Dick, which centers on the female gaze and female desire, "never would have been made ever before," they said.

Soloway said the rise of Amazon, Netflix and Hulu has led to more specific and niche stories, such as those told by women. "When you think about the fact that people didn’t need to all show up at 8 o'clock on a Friday, and now a show like I Love Dick or Transparent is sitting in a place, on a cloud in perpetuity and can be seen in hundreds of countries, I think much more specific art can be monetized now because it finds its audience so much more quickly," they said. "Streaming made it possible. A show like I Love Dick, which is a show about women finding their voices, actually got made."

Murphy echoed that sentiment when discussing diverse storytelling later in the panel. The prolific producer's comments came days after his FX pilot Pose made history by casting a record five transgender actors in series-regular roles.

"Now I think it is part of the business. I think it's good business," he said. "It's good business to give as many different voices and people experiences, and it just brings in audiences. Everybody supports that and wants that, and I think that, particularly in the past five years, if you don't do that, something is wrong with you."

Interjected Rhimes: "It's not normal."

"It's not normal, and you're not a good artist, and you're not a good business person. Executives support that, and they want that. Networks support that, and they want that," Murphy continued. "That is completely new. That was not around in the late '90s when I started, and I think that's an amazing, important change in the past 20 years."

Rhimes also weighed in specifically on streaming — her future home after she signed a rich overall deal with Netflix in August to create her own series for the company. Since her rise to fame with Grey's Anatomy in 2005, Rhimes has so far only created series for ABC and ABC Studios.

"I'm really excited about the future of Netflix. There's nothing wrong with having spent so many years [in] network television. It's just that the constraints of network television tell you what kinds of stories you can tell. Period. That's just the way it is," she said. "And I love the concept, but there is a brand that people assume that I am and the kinds of stories I can tell, and they have nothing to do with me as a writer, but simply have to do with the fact that we're on ABC and on network television. I'm excited to tell other stories. I'm excited to tell stories in different ways. I'm excited to be able to just do things in a different way."

Rhimes stopped short of predicting the demise of broadcast television, where her current series, including Grey's, How to Get Away With Murder and the forthcoming Grey's firefighter spinoff, will continue to live at the Disney-owned network and studio.

"It's just time. I don't think that it's about disrupting network television. I don't think that we're saying storytelling has changed," she said. "I think that good stories are good stories, and people find them wherever they are."

Murphy is also collaborating with Netflix for the first time, on the forthcoming One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest prequel series Ratched, starring and produced by Sarah Paulson.

"Creatively, it's very exciting, and I feel like it gives the showrunners, writers a lot of options," he said. "I think the way of the future is sort of upon us now, where you curate how you want to watch it and when you want to watch it."

Murphy noted he had recently binged the entire first season of Netflix crime drama Mindhunter over just three days. "I sort of see how all of the players in the game at this point are valid and interesting to me," he said. However, he also pointed to The People v. O.J. Simpson, saying, "We created those episodes in a very specific way, to almost be talking points each week and to log cultural conversations, so there was something very validating to me about releasing one week and people talked about it and wrote articles about it, and it launched conversations, and that was also really cool."

In addition to Ratched, Murphy still has three series at FX and one forthcoming drama at Fox, in addition to his Netflix drama. "I sort of feel that storytelling is storytelling, and it just depends on how you want to consume the stories you're watching, and I do both in my life," he said, also noting his daily diet of various iterations of Bravo's Real Housewives franchise. "It's just a different mechanism. I sort of feel the more options you have as a person is a good thing, and I think television viewing has become that."

But Lear, who spent much of his storied career on broadcast television before moving to Netflix with his One Day at a Time reboot, also extolled the virtues of the broadcast model — and specifically the quick turnaround of doing 22 episodes a season.

"The thing that's very different about Netflix and creating episode-by-episode is you can't be topical," he said of One Day at a Time. The show recently wrapped shooting its second season, which will debut in January 2018. "I miss that, but dealing with the streamer is delicious."

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