Lifetime Exec, Hollywood Figures on ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ Impact | BANFF 2019

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ITV and Banff execs talked about strides being made to empower women at the Hollywood Reporter-sponsored Women on Power luncheon.

After the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements rocked the entertainment industry, progress is apparent, entertainment industry insiders made clear at The Hollywood Reporter-sponsored Banff Women On Power luncheon on Tuesday.

But more industry change is needed, execs and stars said. “I think that’s it’s always going to be challenging to be brave. It’s sometimes hard to do the right thing. But the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have made owning your story easier,” Brie Miranda Bryant, senior vp of unscripted development and programming at Lifetime, told a luncheon panel.

The Lifetime documentary series Surviving R. Kelly, which traces R. Kelly’s history of alleged abuse of young girls, sparked record ratings for the cable network and an avalanche of online and cable news conversations. Bryant said the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements also “laid the foundation for us to continue the dialogue that obviously needed to happen.”

Logan Browning, star of the Netflix series Dear White People, applauded Surviving R. Kelly and Leaving Neverland, the HBO and Channel Four documentary about sexual abuse allegations against Jackson, for allowing for a conversation that she felt until then seemed mostly restricted to white women to suddenly involve black women. 

“I was just personally grateful to see those stories shared, because I don’t think those stories are often told,” she said. Browning also pointed to “micro-aggressions” on film and TV sets where a crew member or guest star afraid to lose their job wouldn’t speak up.

So Browning feels an obligation to stand up for talent who she feels are being taken advantage of.

Canadian songstress and actor Jann Arden recalled her own viewing of Surviving R. Kelly, and the conversation that followed. “I remember when this broadcast, the following day was just texting, ‘Did you see that? Can you believe it?’ It was very palpable,” Arden told the Banff panel.

And that has made conversations among her friends recalling historical sexual harassment and assaults that much easier. “I have girlfriends talking about things that happened in high school. Do you remember that dance? Remember that guy? All these experiences that women 20 and 30 years later are willing to share are because of that program,” Arden added about Surviving R. Kelly.

Arden added that she felt progress had been made, but it’s only a start. “I think it’s getting better. My network CTV is very at the forefront of making sure everyone is comfortable and we adhere to the rules of the road and we all feel comfortable,” she added.

During a separate Banff master class on Surviving R. Kelly, which featured a trio of series producers and survivor and author Kitti Jones discussing how their six-part documentary was made, and received, the avalanche of online and cable news conversations, and that criminal investigations that resulted in the sex crimes case now surrounding R. Kelly came up.

“We just didn’t see it becoming such a big thing. It’s been overwhelming. I’m at a loss for words,” Jones told Banff delegates. Surviving R. Kelly executive producer Dream Hampton also said she didn’t see the overnight impact of the documentary series possible before it launched on Lifetime.

“I wasn’t certain that this would have impact. But watching it that night, on Twitter, I knew that this would be big and the conversations would be iterative,” Hampton recalled of the first night reception.

Saska Schuster, ITV controller of comedy, recently launched a Comedy 50:50 initiative to help female comedy writers reach hard-to-access indie producers with whom ITV and other UK broadcasters work with. And Schuster said she has backing from ITV to encourage more female comedy writers to get ahead in the entertainment industry.

“The biggest change is I’ve changed my terms of commission. There is an element for change of having to force it. And my network is coming on board with this,” Schuster said of her conversations with U.K. production companies that might make comedy shows for ITV.

The Banff Women On Power Luncheon followed the Canadian government partnering with the Banff World Media Festival to invest $2 million over four years to encourage more women-owned companies in the Canadian media sector.

The planned Banff Accelerator for Women in the Business of Media program will train women entrepreneurs to build and grow their own businesses in the screen based industries, whether in production, post production, visual effects, animation or other specialties.

Jenn Kuzmyk, executive director of the Banff World Media Festival, said a survey of current ownership of Canadian media companies revealed that around 10 percent of companies are owned and operated by women. “That’s not an awesome number and we can all do better,” she said.

“If you have women at the top, that will have the power to really change things,” Kuzmyk added.

June 11, 5:30 p.m. Updated with comments by a trio of Surviving R. Kelly producers and Kitti Jones made during a master class on the Lifetime series.

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