Female Execs Demand Industry Action In Wake of Weinstein Claims at Rome MIA
Industry leaders from the U.S., U.K. and Italy discussed the importance of creating female-driven stories and using the sexual harassment firestorm as a catalyst for change in the entertainment business.
At Rome’s third annual MIA Market, top female entertainment industry executives from the U.S., U.K. and Italy gathered to discuss issues facing the future of women in the business. The conversation inevitably opened with talk of Harvey Weinstein, and the participants were eager to lay out a strategy in response to the wave of allegations against the disgraced producer and other men like him in the entertainment industry.
Before an audience of international guests, the panelists spoke of their hope that the industry would not treat this as a one-off issue or trend, but rather see it as a catalyst for real change.
“The issue about Harvey is an issue that is prevalent in North America, starting with the heads of state and the leader of the U.S.,” said Rola Bauer, managing director of Studio Canal. “We really need to look at that as a starting point and bring it down to a reality. Now what can we do to make real moves, instead of treating it like a trending topic?”
“When something so massive and so public happens, it almost becomes a trend of conversation in our industry. We have a really bad habit of turning important things into trends,” agreed Helen Gregory, managing director of Pinewood Television. “Our everyday behavior is very important. It’s not just the big story of a massive predator.”
“It’s made me question just how much as a woman we’ve had to put up with,” said Sally Woodward Gentle, CEO of Sid Gentle Films.“We did all know about it. We knew that he took advantage of young women and he was a massive bully.”
Woodward Gentle said the Weinstein news has made her look at the big picture of how the industry operates as a whole. When it comes to decision-making for example, “People generally ask a man rather than a woman,” she said. “The whole gender imbalance is desperately ingrained in how we operate.”
As to what can be done now, the panel discussed the importance of creating female-driven stories at this time in history, and carving out roles for women at all levels. “I’ve never believed in positive discrimination until recently,” Woodward Gentle said noting that a male director will often get booked for “extraordinary gigs” after just one film, but the situation is never as easy for a woman.
Katherine Pope, head of TV division at Studio 8 also believes that the outing of Weinstein is the first step on a very long road of change. “It’s going to be a day-by-day, brick-by-brick job. For those of us based in L.A., there’s a huge way to go,” she said.
Pope stressed that key changes include not adhering to the stereotypical image of a director as a “white male bully” who approaches a set like a dictator, but rather to fight for a team approach.
“The industry values male characteristics,” said Gregory.“When a female director comes in who is more searching in her response to things, we as an industry say they don’t know what they’re doing. Where’s the ego, where’s the drive? We have overvalued certain male characteristics of ego, drive, certainty. It makes for quite bland drama.”
Pope believes that because the industry is producing more than 400 shows each year, it prevents people from going against the flow. “I think it’s created this almost anti-risk taking because they’re worried about how competitive it is,” said Pope.
She called on decision-makers to lead the charge when making hiring decisions. “Take a step back and look at your slate, just look at it.” Pope called for executives to include not just one name, but multiple names of women or people of color when putting together a list of potential writers and directors for a job. “If you interview five people and one person is a person of color or a woman, all these studies have found that statistically, it’s almost impossible for them to get the job,” said Pope. “Look at it and add more names to it.”
“If a script comes in and it feels that the women are defined by men, it doesn’t get past us, and we need to carry that on,” said Kate Crowe, Head of TV, Scott Free Films, who said her company employs a large number of women.“It is a point of women uniting and carrying it forwards.”
Katie O’ Connel Marsh, CEO Platform Media, largely believes the lack of female stories is, “a gatekeeper problem,” calling on the need for more women to assume decision-making roles. “There are plenty of women in development,” she said. “We can get SVP jobs every day of the week.”
And Italy, unfortunately, has its own set of challenges, as can be seen in the recent media coverage of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, where several media commentators put the blame on the victims, and multiple newspapers used scantily clad photos of the female accusers in a textbook case of victim-shaming.
Eleonora Andreatta, the first female Head of Drama at Rai Fiction, noted that Italy has very few women executives, and as a result most of the leading characters shown on TV are male (Montalbano, Don Matteo). And historically when women were leading characters, it was usually in a love story or in a mother role.
Andreatta, who has pushed through series including a show about a young female politician, said she is focused now on representing imperfect characters. “In Italy, for many, many years, the type of beautiful and young woman was a criteria not only for advertisements but also for television,” she said, noting that in the last five years RAI has made more steps to become more inclusive of its representation of women.
She noted that misogyny is deeply ingrained in Italian culture. Women were only given the full right to vote in 1946. They could only become judges in 1965. “Before they were not considered reliable,” said Andreatta. Up until 1981, the country granted men accused of honor killings a special status to receive a lenient penalty. And only in 2008 did Italian courts overturn a ruling that women wearing tight jeans “cannot be raped.”
“The responsibility of what we are representing is really, really very important,” said Andreatta who noted that the task of gender equality must be ingrained at a young age in Italy. “Only when you are very, very young can you learn how to respect the other gender,” she said. “It’s something you learn very, very early in life and then it’s difficult to change.”
The panelists were hopeful, however, in the conversation that has resulted in recent days. O’Connel Marsh, who also teaches at USC, said she brought up the Harvey Weinstein story with her students right after it broke, and felt optimistic about a younger generation carrying the industry forward.
“What was encouraging was that in all the dialogue we had, the young men in the class were really engaged,” said O’Connel Marsh. “And the one question that really stuck with me was one of the young men said, ‘Gosh, what is our toolkit, what can we do as men to address this?’ It was a really lovely conversation.”