MIPCOM: Shondaland's Betsy Beers, Director Euzhan Palcy on Diversity in Hollywood, Breaking Gender Barriers
This year's Women in Global Entertainment event, hosted by THR, A+E and Lifetime, also featured A+E chief marketing officer Amanda Hill and 'UnREAL' stars Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer.
Shondaland partner Betsy Beers and director Euzhan Palcy, the first black woman to helm a Hollywood film (which earned Marlon Brando an Oscar nomination, no less), gave new meaning to the term "power lunch" on Monday as the two women were panelists at the Women in Global Entertainment luncheon, now in its sixth year, hosted by The Hollywood Reporter along with A+E and Lifetime networks, at MIPCOM in Cannes.
Palcy regaled the audience with stories about researching the 1989 anti-apartheid drama A Dry White Season, including smuggling tapes out in her underwear because she was afraid for her safety, and the hard-earned love and respect she received from Brando after the two butted heads during the editing process.
She also recalled that when doing press back then, journalists would often ask her where the director was, assuming they were waiting for a man.
Beers, who has produced films such as Casanova (2005) and 200 Cigarettes (1999), said she didn’t realize how male-dominated the film business was until taking her first TV meeting and being shocked at having two or three female executives in the room.
Women were allowed to move up in television because viewing decisions were often made by moms "holding the clicker" for the whole family. While that has changed in the Netflix era, the structure of television works well with women’s "get it done," multitasking mentality.
“There’s something about the energy of television that is very practical," said Beers. "There’s the deadline and there’s a lot less drama about it, and you have to make good product to have something that will continue."
Television also allows time for more nuance and character development, allowing female creators to tell the kinds of stories they want to tell.
“You can have twisted, strange, complicated people that still have relationships, and you will find people that watch those shows and are enthusiastic and support those shows, which is wonderful,” she said.
Shondaland's hit shows on ABC — Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder — pay off not only dramatically, but financially as well.
“Anytime we bring diversity into a show’s world, you get a better product. So what I say to people is, ‘You may not understand this, but I swear your product will be better and you will make more money,’ and that usually works,” Beers said of appealing to Hollywood’s bottom line.
A+E chief marketing officer Amanda Hill agreed that television allows more freedom for creators and that the current crop of shows demonstrates viewers’ desire for real, relatable characters.
“This is a generation that refused to be boxed in,” she said, noting today’s female characters are “fun, fearless and — thank god — also f—ed up.”
Continued Hill: “As storytellers, we can repaint the pictures of what is possible, we have the ability to change the social discourse.” Good, groundbreaking television then empowers women to “rewrite their own stories," she said.
UnREAL stars Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer are women who embody those values on and off screen, said Hill as the actresses took the stage.
“We are furthering the conversation of what women look like in the workplace,” said Appleby of the reality TV producers she and Zimmer play on the show. “They don’t have to be polite, they can be driven and they can be ambitious and willing to win at any cost.”
Zimmer said that the focus of UnREAL has also hit a nerve with women because it puts the characters’ friendship at the forefront of the story and that the imperfection of the characters is what is most appealing to viewers, even the show's male fans.
Appleby added that there has been a big shift during the 15 years she has been in the TV business, pointing out that on Roswell, on which she starred from 1999-2002, there was one female director in 65 episodes. During the 10-episode first season of Lifetime's UnREAL, four episodes were helmed by women.