21CF showrunners Liz Meriwether (“New Girl”), Nahnatchka Khan (“Fresh Off the Boat”), and Julie Klausner (Hulu’s “Difficult People”) discussed the challenges and opportunities facing women in the television industry during the Tribeca Film Festival’s #DaringWomenSummit. The April 20th session spanned a range of subjects, such as the lack of female directors in Hollywood, the progress women have made in recent years, and the work that still needs to be done. Danielle Nussbaum, Senior West Coast Editor at Entertainment Weekly, moderated the panel, which also featured journalist and “Being Mary Jane” writer Keli Goff.
“Our show is about representation,” said Khan, whose series “Fresh Off the Boat” is produced by Twentieth Century Fox Television. “The family sitcom has been around since the beginning of television, but now we’re taking these stories and showing them through the lens of the immigrant experience, the first generation experience. We’re [always thinking about] how that’s different from other ways of telling stories.”
Nussbaum noted that the success of series like “Fresh Off the Boat” speaks to “the importance of on-screen visibility in terms of getting opportunities,” and asked the panel why series featuring flawed female characters are increasingly populating the media landscape.
“Our shows are working because women like to watch women who are like women,” Meriwether said. “Making my first pilot years before ‘New Girl,’ [the network] would say things like, ‘OK, this one’s smart, and this [other character] likes sex,’ and I had to say, ‘No, she’s smart and likes sex.’ Things have changed in the past eight years in that people are beginning to understand that women characters can be more than just one word.”
Meriwether went on to mention that as much change has been made on screen, progress remains to be made behind the camera.
“There is a huge, huge problem with [the lack of] female directors in Hollywood,” she said. “We go out of our way to try and hire female directors on ‘New Girl’… We’re moving forward, but there’s definitely a long way to go.”
According to Khan, the way forward is to keep encouraging female voices and giving them the platforms to tell their stories.
“As women, you’re still the minority,” Khan said. “Men still run things for the most part, so we have to adapt to them. We have to write everybody, but [men] don’t necessarily have to [write women]… The more opportunities we get, and the more we rise up, the more that power balance is going to shift.”
Visit Entertainment Weekly for additional coverage of the panel, including a full video recording, and learn about the Fox Global Directors Initiative, a program launched in 2014 to champion the work of female directors.