The 'Arrow' and 'Empire' showrunners on why Hollywood needs to embrace diversity both in front of and behind the camera...
Mikey Nicholson

2 May 2016 - 4:07 PM  UPDATED 2 May 2016 - 4:47 PM

As Australia can’t even get its head around a public vote on popular television personalities without it turning into a racial bun fight, producers and showrunners in the U.S are pushing forward to tell more diverse stories, with more diverse actors and directors.

At the inaugural Alliance of Women Directors awards, which celebrates women behind the camera, two powerhouses in television, Empire showrunner Ilene Chaiken and Greg Berlanti, executive producer of shows including ArrowThe Flash, and Supergirl, were honoured for their work in breaking down barriers.

In his acceptance speech, Berlanti said, “This year, after three years of commitment to growing our numbers and our lists, our most veteran action show – Arrow – will have 50% of their episodes directed by either diverse or female directors – with our other series not far behind.”  

“I have no doubt that many of these directors will then have the material they need to convince film studios they’re the right women to be directing the tentpole films the studios are making these days,” he continued. “Obviously, we haven’t done enough yet; I haven’t done enough yet; this needs to keep happening until it’s no longer a conversation – it’s just a way of life.”

And his sentiment is also echoed across the board. “Everyone was in agreement, our directors needed to be as balanced as the writing staff, and the actors, and the stories we were telling,” Berlanti said about Arrow. “Not just because it was the right thing to do. Diversity is not a burden, it’s just smart business. It actually makes the shows better and more successful. New and different voices make for better storytelling.”

Chaiken, whose Empire was one of 2015's ratings phenomenons, acknowledged there’s still work to do. “We’ve made gains over the years, but we’ve also backslid… It’s a much reported fact that the most recent statistics are grim,” Chaiken said. “Maybe it’s progress that some of the behaviour that was once rampant is no longer tolerated, and some of the most overt rhetoric now has to be toned down or delivered with subterfuge. But it would still be an understatement to say that women still face obstacles to achieve equality." 

“In Hollywood we still fairly regularly hear stories of TV shows on which women directors aren’t welcome,” she continued. “‘We tried a woman last year and it didn’t work out’… ‘Our cast…our lead…our showrunner…just doesn’t work well with women.’ But we have great allies too. Men like Greg Berlanti, men that have long cared as much as we do about correcting the inequalities, and that know as surely as we do that their shows are better for it.”

While Chaiken admitted the shortfalls, she still remains optimistic and committed to the cause. “Tonight, I feel in good company saying I have an agenda,” she said. “Personally, I have a bunch of them; a gay agenda; an inclusive agenda. The Alliance of Women Directors is one of the best things that’s happened for my most cherished agenda, the one I believe is the most important – full and total equality for women. It’s an agenda that I inherited from my mother, that I share with my wife, and that I’ll pass on to my daughters. I’m grateful to AWF for including me tonight, and for staking such a powerful and undeniable claim on our path to equality.”


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