At the recent Tribeca TV Festival some of Hollywood’s most powerful women—including Oprah and Beyonce—gathered to share industry war stories and present new productions to media and fans. Despite an impressive range of projects, a palpable sense of frustration hung over some of the industry insider events. Female-led creative teams may now be more visible, but they don’t yet have a seat at “the table”—at least not according to the numbers. Per Variety, women represent only 13 percent of Hollywood writers and 17 percent of executive producers, despite the fact that women watch far more TV than men and also buy more movie tickets.
“We all give a lot of lip service, you know, saying ‘Oh the business, the statistics are so staggering, it’s so depressing’”, said Sedgwick.
In Ten Days in the Valley, which debuted at Tribeca TV Festival, Kyra Sedgwick plays Jane Sadler, a driven TV showrunner who faces a personal tragedy which unleashes a storm of controversy, igniting a compelling dialogue about gender, power, and equality in entertainment.
Sedgwick, who also serves as an executive producer for the series, believes that not only do women need more opportunities to shine at the helm of creative teams, they also need to seek out more relevant, authentic stories to produce.
“One of the biggest draws (of the show) was working with women,” said Sedgwick, who helmed a panel at The Tribeca TV Festival. “We all give a lot of lip service, you know, saying ‘Oh the business, the statistics are so staggering, it’s so depressing’, but we really need to make choices based on that knowledge.”
“I had to do a lot of soul-searching, myself, because I was so scared of writing this,” said showrunner Tassie Cameron.
The story of Ten Days in the Valley was born in a creative cauldron familiar to many female screenwriters, according to show creator Tassie Cameron. As Cameron wrestled with the complexity of portraying the tug of war between motherhood, career, and Hollywood politics, she also had to prevent the story from devolving into cliché, or a politicized object lesson.
“I had to do a lot of soul-searching, myself, because I was so scared of writing this,” said Cameron. “I was scared for her that she would be judged, I was scared for me that I would be judged, it took a long time before I was brave enough to write this and share it with anyone. It’s easy to write male characters with all of these flaws, but it, in some ways, is even harder for women to write (about) women.”
“We explore how difficult it is for people to deal with a powerful woman who doesn’t apologize” said Sedgwick.
The industry’s seeming failure to create an atmosphere which encourages women writing about women—which was echoed by many other female producers whom I spoke to off the record—is another major hurdle for female teams trying to find equity in Hollywood. While there are no shortage of stories with women as victims, saints, or bystanders, fully-realized characters with moral depth and incontrovertible flaws are rare.
“I’m in the business of playing authentic, real people,” said Sedgwick, adding that the character’s raw blend of missteps and heroics were what she loved about the role.
“On television, often, the male character isn’t judged by his parenting and often women are,” said Executive Producer Marcy Ross.
Sedgwick believes that the promotion of complex characters like that of Jane are not just vital for Hollywood to be more inclusive, but it just makes better TV.
“Mother guilt is something we explore a lot in the show, we explore slut-shaming, we explore how difficult it is for people to deal with a powerful woman who doesn’t apologize for her sexuality and a lot of those kinds of issues, and I’m so proud of that.”
“When we have a complex male character no one ever worries ‘Is he the personification of a great father?’”, stated Executive Producer Marcy Ross of Skydance Media. “That never comes up. On television, often, the male character isn’t judged by his parenting and often women are.”
The series is above all a thriller, and according Cameron, over its 10 episodes viewers will be invited to question not only their own ideas of female “goodness” but also how we look at the blurred lines between reality TV and life, as well as our discomfort with moral shades of gray.
Watch Ten Days in the Valley on Sundays at 10/9 CST on ABC.