Social media scolding is influencing international TV, particularly in the realm of women’s issues in the #MeToo era, producers said Wednesday at a panel on women in television at MIPTV in Cannes.
Both Federation Entertainment’s Pascal Breton, producer of Netflix’s first French original Marseille, and Bambou Productions’ Theresa Fernandez-Valdes, producer of Netflix’s first Spanish original Cable Girls, said they are aware of the streaming giant’s sensibilities.
If that sounds like self-censorship, it is a bit, as well as an effort to reach millennials who have more modern and politically correct attitudes, which they are quick to share and shame on social media. Look no further than the recent Twitter trend of critiquing old episodes of Friends, which are now considered insensitive to a variety of identities.
Channels are looking to connect with these younger viewers and move away from the violent police dramas and procedurals that tend to portray women as victims, said Fernandez-Valdes.
One example of this kind of treatment was Breton’s Marseille. The gritty political drama starring Gerard Depardieu was criticized for its often aggressive treatment of women. The panelists agreed that it can be a Catch-22 to depict sexual harassment and dismissive or aggressive behavior towards women that reflects the often problematic real world without appearing to endorse it.
“I wanted to be close to reality, and the reality is politics is extremely violent towards women … especially with sexist attitudes,” said Breton, who said he deliberately aimed for “politically incorrect” in the first season. But because of being called out on social media, Netflix wanted to approach the second season differently.
“It’s true that in the second season both us and Netflix said, ‘We won’t do that again,’ because people don’t understand it,” he said, citing scenes that were aggressive towards women.
“In our case, we take care — with Netflix especially — we take care about the social media [reaction] and some arcs, some characters we adapt to contemporary times,” said Fernandez-Valdes, noting a transgender character on the 1920s-set drama Cable Girls. “We are very sensitive about what is happening right now with this topic.”
CanneSeries president Fleur Pellerin said producers face a dilemma between depicting violence and being seen to endorse it. “Sometimes you want to showcase it in a series in order to criticize it, so it’s difficult to talk about these issues and know the best way to go about it,” she said. “You will be criticized either way, whatever choice you make.”
However, Breton was careful to note that he is also sensitive to self-censorship in these #MeToo times, calling the current American sensibility “puritanical.”
“We feel it when you want to make it global,” he said of shows like The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, which premiered at CanneSeries out of competition. In the original novel, a male college professor falls in love with a 14-year-old girl. In the series adaptation, she became 16, and there is talk it will be edited to change her age to 18. “Then it’s a very different story … and that is what happens with many shows now,” Breton said.
Puritanism aside, the U.S. system of showrunners should be imported to Europe to foster female talent, said Audrey Fouche, creator of the upcoming Netflix sci-fi thriller Osmosis.
Breton has enlisted a female screenwriter for his upcoming Joan of Arc drama, and is searching for a female director, but is finding there is a pipeline problem. He is working with Cezanne and I helmer Daniele Thompson on an upcoming Brigitte Bardot project, but she is coming from the film world.
Fouche added that without a history of female helmers in France, where women have often topped out at the screenwriter level in a culture that reveres the “auteur” director, there are few to choose from in cinema and even fewer in TV. Based on the notion that screenwriters are not as important as the director’s vision of the film, women have been traditionally relegated to writing, only to be cut out of the final product.
Breton said that half of the scribes in a writers room — also a newer concept in France — should be women, though none of the panelists supported a quota system on the production side. Pushing women into schools, training programs and even festival juries is a way to start bringing parity to the industry.