At this point, it’s no longer news that television is a male-dominated field. When I have occasion to be in large groups of showrunners, I’m usually one of a handful of women and maybe a couple of people of color – unless it’s an event dedicated to one of those groups.
People are still surprised when they discover that my show, Power – full of sex, violence, and a high body count -- was created by and is run by a woman. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, Patricia Highsmith wrote the Ripley novels, and I write Power, with the help of my writers’ room -- which is about half female.
I get asked about creating “strong female characters,” which isn’t a specific goal on my part. Women are strong in real life – have you been through childbirth? I’m trying to reflect the real world on the small screen. My characters, male and female, are complex, unpredictable, and occasionally make huge mistakes. In other words, human.
When we give full humanity to fictional representations of women, it resonates with the women who watch, who see themselves. It resonates with men who watch, because they see the women they know. When we create these characters, it gives female actors an opportunity to play more than just the giggly girlfriend, the idealized sex object, the shrewish harpy wife. It gives other women the chance to soar.
When I first pitched Power, I went into the networks with quite a large group – my executive producers, my agent, the head of my studio at the time – and at some networks, once the executives were seated, I was still the only woman in the room. That’s not as rare as you might think – and it has to stop.
True gender equity is a long way off in the entertainment industry, but we can make it happen faster by investing in the people behind us on the ladder. I was mentored, so I mentor. I was encouraged, so I encourage. I was hired, and so I hire. I hire women to work for me in as many positions as I can – from assistants to 1st ADs on set to editors to high-level producers, and of course the women who write in my room. I don’t hire them because they’re women – I hire them because I want to benefit from their immense talent and grow a network of women who can call each other teacher, colleague, and friend.
I am passionate about the growth of women in our industry, and I am grateful to be in a position to spur some change. The question to ask is: “how can we be of service to each other?” If we ask ourselves that question as women, the opportunities around us will become clear. It doesn’t mean that we discriminate against men – it means we make sure that men and women are always represented at the table. It’s not enough that I’m in the room. You need to come too.