Female Producers Say Fighting for Equity Is Tougher Than Making Movies in COVID (Video)

Power Women Summit 2021: “That type of philosophical challenges that I’ve had through my career is real, still present,” “Passing” producer Nina Yang Bongiovi says

Every producer in Hollywood in the last year and a half has dealt with the pressures, stresses and challenges of trying to tell stories during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the women who spoke at TheWrap’s Power Women Summit say these barriers don’t come close to the ongoing challenges of fighting for equity for women and people of color on screen.

In a producers roundtable titled “Inspiring Change Through Storytelling,” the panel of seven women, all powerhouse producers in Hollywood, went back and forth talking about some of the challenges they had trying to get films and shows made during the pandemic. But the conversation found its way back to the real challenge of representation and how these women are each using their position to impact who gets to tell stories.

Nina Yang Bongiovi, a producer on the Netflix drama “Passing” and partners with Forest Whitaker, said it’s those “philosophical” challenges that keep her up at night. She recalls having conversations with financiers who have asked if she could increase the presence of some of the white male roles in her film just so it could “travel” better in international markets.

“I hear it all about the COVID stuff. I was able to work on the second season of Godfather of Harlem, and all the compliance was very, it was a struggle, but we got through it. But when you’re talking about projects career-wise, I think my biggest challenge is that constantly fighting for budget equity, acquisition equity, when it comes to narratives that star talent of color, narratives that showcases stories that come from specific cultures,” she said. “That type of philosophical challenges that I’ve had through my career is real, still present.”

Stephanie Allain, who moderated the panel, asked if Yang Bongiovi gets tired or exhausted fighting the constant pushback that when one of her movie succeeds, that it’s only because it’s a “one-off” rather than a smart move or proof that such narratives about the audience are false.

Nina Jacobson, who spoke about her series “Impeachment: American Crime Story,” agreed and talked about the ongoing cycle of “comps” in the business and being unable to create new examples to show that diverse movies can actually perform at the box office internationally.

“The only way that you break free of that prison is to create new comps. And yet every time you do, like you say, it gets called one off, the exception that proves the rule,” Jacobson said. “Of course a movie doesn’t travel if you don’t put money into traveling. So you can’t say, ‘Oh, that kind of movie doesn’t travel.’ But of course, it doesn’t travel because you didn’t travel with it and you didn’t go out and promote it there. That’s not a fact, it’s a bias realized as effect.”

Tanya Seghatchian, who produced Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” praised her fellow panelists for sticking to their guns and trusting that there’s an audience that shares your own interests.

“That was really important to me when I was starting out to know that there were other people, other women who stuck to their taste, who didn’t just say, ‘This is a woman’s movie,’” she said. “But they made what they wanted to make, what they believed in, and that success followed that. I think it’s really important that we just remember that and that we acknowledge the parts that we’ve all enabled.”

Also joining the producers roundtable panel were Stacey Sher, producer of “Respect,” Laura Berwick, producer of “Belfast,” and Rachel Shane, producer of “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.”

You can watch the full conversation here.

The Power Women Summit is the largest annual gathering of the most influential women in entertainment, media and technology. The event aims to inspire and empower women across the landscape of their professional careers and personal lives. This year’s PWS provided three days of education, mentorship, workshops and networking around the globe – to promote this year’s theme, “Represent.”