“The only reason I shared anything was [because] I saw there was a tone that was being taken toward the women that were coming forward, judging why that hadn’t come out earlier — ‘Why are they coming out now?’ — and I didn’t like that,” actor James Van Der Beek said of his decision to share his experience with sexual harassment in the industry. “My ire got up when I heard that, and so what I wanted to say was, ‘Allow people to process, everybody has their process, you can’t judge it.’”
“I’ve dealt with this kind of thing and therefore I can tell you firsthand that there’s an unwarranted shame, there’s a weird power dynamic, it feels impossible to overcome, so don’t judge,” he continued.
Allegations of sexual harassment and assault, which have rocked the industry this month, were prominent topics at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Television Game Changers Panel. Shonda Rhimes (“Scandal”), David E. Kelley (“Big Little Lies”), Norman Lear (“All in the Family”), J.J. Abrams (“Star Wars”), Ryan Murphy (“American Horror Story”), and Jill Soloway (“Transparent”) were all recognized as game changers.
The atmosphere, however, was not one of hushed voices or an unwillingness to grapple with difficult issues (with the exception of Lear, who mainly dropped pithy one-liners). The panelists in attendance — Soloway, Kelley, Van Der Beek, and actress Rita Moreno — were vocal about the overall responsibility to change the industry.
“I’m hopeful that it will change, because our problem is systemic, but we can’t just pretend that changes will be made — other people will make them,” Kelley said. “I think everyone sort of has to own up to this and confront the problems that we have and affect change.”
This willingness to tackle hard issues, open doors to new talent, and work with diverse topics is why the night’s panelists were honored as game changers. The panelists discussed the importance of story, the necessity of diversity, the elusiveness of time and gave an overall appreciation for Lear, whom many of the panelists credited for inspiring their careers.
Diversity in particular was an especially important topic to the panelists. Murphy — who explained what it was like not seeing representations of gay men on TV growing up — stated that diverse casts and stories are necessary and “good business.” Earlier this week, it was announced that the cast for his upcoming FX drama “Pose” would feature five transgender regular cast members — the most in television history, even surpassing Soloway’s “Transparent.” Last year, Murphy also launched the Half Foundation to provide mentorship for female directors and increase gender parity behind the camera.
For Rhimes, employing a diverse crew of writers and actors is seen less as a responsibility and more as a given. “That’s just a Tuesday,” she said, explaining that women and people of color tend to gravitate towards her company and the stories she’s telling.
Soloway, who identifies as gender non-binary (using the pronouns they, them, their), takes a different approach. Growing up in an activist family in Chicago during the Civil Rights movement, Soloway always felt that their art needed to be part of a movement for change. Telling diverse stories and employing writers and actors who reflect those stories is a special effort, they recalled.
Soloway also expressed frustration with the fact that for so long, “not only have men told most of the stories, but they’ve invested money in getting women not to tell their stories.” Soloway continued by referencing the large settlements reached over sexual harassment claims. “I want that money to make movies!” they exclaimed.