The Women Behind MTV’s New Women-Lead Series Have A Simple Piece Of Advice For Telling More Female Stories
If you turned on MTV today, you might be a little envious (in a good way) of preteens growing up with such progressive programming, especially for young women. At the New York Television Festival, a panel titled "The Struggle Is Real," celebrated MTV's scripted series that showcase just that. The cast and producers of Loosely Exactly Nicole, Sweet/Vicious, and Mary + Jane talked about their experiences in the industry, the idea that specificity leads to universality in storytelling, what changes they are seeing today, and what problems millennial women face today.
The three shows make up a diverse lineup. Mary + Jane is about two young women who go into business together selling marijuana. The show deals frankly with the concept of "Single White Female"-ing other women, something you don't often see taken seriously on television. "The coolest thing for me," said Scout Durwood, one of the stars, "was that my character was not [originally] written queer. I am queer. So to get to play a, like, 'whatever, sleeps with whoever' type of person on TV, growing up, I didn't see that. Ellen came out during my lifetime."
Loosely Exactly Nicole is based on comedian Nicole Byer's life and experiences. "Very rarely," said Byer, "do you see a heavy woman, especially a woman of color, being sexual unless it's a joke." Byer also talked about body positivity and the importance of recognizing the days that you feel good about yourself. "Very rarely do big, fat women on TV say they look good."
Finally, Sweet/Vicious creates a fantasy world in which two girls on a college campus become vigilantes who fight sexual assault when the administration does nothing. "I thought about what I wanted to see on TV and I felt super underrepresented," said creator Jennifer Robinson," I wanted to write a show for empowered young women and young women who were unapologetically themselves, nuanced, broken, and strong at the same time." All three shows manage to tell rich and complex stories about female characters that are also funny, and light, and entertaining as well.
"The struggle for millenial women, especially in comedy, is dudes who don't shut up," said Byer. "Just because you're louder than me, doesn't mean you're funnier than me." You know when you're trying to make a point in a room full of men, and end up having to restate yourself or be louder and more aggressive than your point in order to be heard? "You have to assert yourself," she continued, "and then people are like 'why are you being so b*tchy?' and I'm like 'I'm not being a b*tch, you don't know how to listen.'" She advises women to surround themselves with people who listen, regardless of gender.
Listening was a real theme of the panel, which makes sense. Think how much we can learn about racism, sexism, gender, and sexual violence just by closing our mouths and opening our ears. These shows have a lot of women in the room working to create the content you see on screen, but there are male writers, producers, and executives as well. What, as the moderator put it, makes the men at MTV who work on these shows so woke? "Listening," reiterated Loosely Exactly Nicole producer Christian Lander, "it's not that hard."
Harry Elfont, executive producer of Mary+Jane and the other man on the panel, talked about being in the writer's room on the episode and not understanding the emotional hook to the afore-mentioned episode because, as a man, he didn't relate to the experiences being dramatized in the episode. So he took a step back, and listened. Hopefully, more men will follow that lead and let women lead the charge in telling women’s stories, with MTV as one positive example.
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