Why Producers’ Fights for Abortion Protection and Diversity on Sets Are Intertwined (Video)

TheGrill 2022: “It shook us and the women on set into thinking, are we in a space where we’d be taken care of,” “Reservation Dogs” producer Tazbah Chavez says of filming in Oklahoma

Producers have to fight for a lot on behalf of everyone on their sets. They’re battling for the creative vision of the directors and writers, they’re dedicated to building sets free of harassment, abuse or COVID-19, they fight for diversity both in front of the camera and behind the scenes, and the latest challenge in a post-Roe v. Wade world involves making sure everyone has access to abortions and reproductive healthcare.

But as the panel of TheGrill’s Producers Roundtable presented by Gracenote on Wednesday explained, the fight between being inclusive and making sure people have access to reproductive healthcare are more intertwined than you might expect.

Tazbah Chavez, a producer on FX’s “Reservation Dogs,” explained that in order for her show to give opportunities and visibility to the indigenous tribes in Oklahoma, they need to film on location in a place that today does have a strict ban on abortions. When one of their indigenous actresses had an ectopic pregnancy, it forced the producers and crew to think more deeply about the issue and what could have been were they still in Oklahoma at the time.

“It puts us in a strange place,” Chavez said. “It shook us and the women on set into thinking, are we in a space where we’d be taken care of? And how do we balance that with the work in the tribal communities and the stories we tell and the people we’re employing? It’s a very nuanced conversation. For us we can’t do it anywhere else, and we don’t want to take away opportunities from indigenous folks over there.”

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, national executive director and chief negotiator for SAG-AFTRA, was amazed how a conversation about Roe dovetailed into one that involved representation and diversity on screen. He explained that it’s crucial for producers to be able to expand beyond the horizons of New York and Los Angeles in order to find new talent, seek out underrepresented communities and go beyond the casting agents’ call sheets.

“That’s one of the things that’s jeopardized by the Roe situation,” Crabtree-Ireland said on the panel. “There are companies who are scared of being attacked by right-wing politicians or prosecutors in the state. We have to get our heads around that and the industry has to be willing to stand up to that. We cannot let the lowest common denominator determine the rights and protections of people who work in our industry.”

“I do need to point out how f—ing insane this all is,” Sera Gamble, creator and executive producer of “You” added. “We feel responsible for the safety and health [of our staff]. It is so f—ed up to tell your boss you need an abortion.”

But Chavez put even a finer point on the nuance of the situation. Her team on “Reservation Dogs” as well as several other shows that have utilized indigenous actors has had to develop a process to people who are not part of casting directors’ directories, speaking with people who are not involved in the industry or don’t yet have a spec script, representation or even a reel, all of whom are the individuals who may most need additional protections and support from their producers.

“It’s looking at writers and actors and artists who have something to offer even if they’re not working in the current context, because they’re still storytellers,” Chavez said. “It’s opening up the way that we think of who can sit in these rooms and who can be on our sets, and I’m super proud of what we’ve been able to do.”

TheGrill’s Producers Roundtable panel also featured “The Handmaid’s Tale” executive producer Warren Littlefield, Hello Sunshine’s president of film and television Lauren Neustadter, Madison Wells’ head of TV and Film Rachel Shane and executive director of the Producers Guild of America Susan Sprung.

Watch highlights from the panel above.

For the record: A previous version of this story said that the woman who had the ectopic pregnancy experienced it while on set for “Reservation Dogs,” but the pregnancy took place outside of filming.

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TheGrill 2022 sponsors include Loeb & Loeb, City National Bank, Gracenote, Warner Bros. Discovery, Gerber Kawasaki, Sony Pictures, Take-Two Interactive, SAG-AFTRA, New York Festivals, Samba TV and IMAX.