television

How TV Writer Angela Nissel Is Bringing Her Unique Voice to Tyler

the Creator’s The Jellies, and Why Black Female Writers in Hollywood Need to Be Heard

Angela Nissel; scenes from The Jellies (Adult Swim)

If you took a look at the writers’ room of some of your favorite television shows, you’d be hard-pressed to find a black person, and even harder pressed to find a black woman. But for the last decade, Angela Nissel has been leaving her mark behind the scenes on shows like Scrubs, The Boondocks and, now, The Jellies—Tyler, the Creator’s Adult Swim show, which premieres Oct. 22.

Before Nissel’s foray into scripted television, she was best-known as one of the creators of Okayplayer and for her two sidesplitting memoirs that captured the essence of her formative years, and of being broke and biracial. Both The Broke Diaries: The Completely True and Hilarious Misadventures of a Good Girl Gone Broke and Mixed: My Life in Black and White were heralded by critics, as well as the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Halle Berry, and Nissel became the “it” woman of literature in the early 2000s.

It was those books that set the University of Pennsylvania grad (she graduated with a degree in medical anthropology) on her way to a career in TV. But, of course, Nissel’s ascent into television writing wasn’t easy, especially as a black woman. After being in the game for 15 years, she is still fighting her way into writers’ rooms, and she made it into The Jellies’ room even though she thought she hadn’t landed the gig.

“Me being old enough to be Tyler’s aunt, I said, ‘I’ve heard of him,’ but I don’t really know him. And then I researched him. I was nervous in the meeting, but when Tyler came in, he just wanted to get to know about me. Ten minutes later, the meeting was over. I called my agent and was like, ‘I’m pretty sure I didn’t get that job; they thought I was a total nerd,’” Nissel says.

As luck talent would have it, Nissel landed the consulting-producer-and-writing gig on the series, and so her work began. And, yes, she was once again the only black woman in the writers’ room. As Nissel segues back into animation (after lending her talents to The Boondocks), she notes that writing live action and books is totally different from writing for animation, especially when it comes to the fans.

“In books, everything you write, even typos, it’s your fault. When it’s live-action TV, people tend to realize there’s a writer behind the words,” Nissel says. “But in animation, people fall completely in love with those characters. I’ve never worked on anything quite like animation, where the fans are so into it. And with the way Tyler’s fans are, I can only imagine the response the show will receive,” Nissel says.

To call Tyler’s fans “die-hard” would be an understatement. From his music to his cartoons, they’re nothing if not loyal. Both Tyler and co-creator Lionel Boyce, who make up Odd Future, premiered The Jellies on Tyler’s Golf Media app in 2015. Some may think the premise of a family of jellyfish adopting a human boy strange, but to them, chances are it’s not.


The Jellies follows in the footsteps of cartoons like The Boondocks in that it is created by young black men. But as Nissel lends her comedy and writing expertise to yet another animated series, the question remains: Why is there still a lack of black people, particularly women, in Hollywood when it comes to writing? Veterans in the game, like Nissel, have paved the way for the Issa Raes out there, but it’s still a drop in the bucket.

“I’m usually the only black woman in the writers’ room. I remember I pitched a really shitty joke one time, but Tyler said, ‘No, maybe women will understand the joke.’ He was so good about listening to my point of view, where sometimes, in other writers’ rooms, I would get shut down,” Nissel says. “When you’re immediately shut down, you don’t feel like you ever have the space to speak up again. But he always gave me that space to feel free to speak my mind.”

It’s that aspect of being shut down that many writers have to deal with when they’re in the minority. Earlier this year, Tyler quickly had to shut down a question from a fan during Comic-Con, when he decided to change Cornell, the main character in The Jellies, from a white teen to a black teen.

“How many fucking black cartoon characters is it on TV right now?” Tyler responded. “Name five. I’ll give you time.”

Nissel shares similar sentiments about Cornell’s newfound blackness.

“If you don’t like Cornell being black, color him another color in your head. What is wrong with people wanting to see the representation of themselves on-screen?” Nissel asks. “That’s why I think their generation will do better, and hopefully build on what my old-ass generation wasn’t able to do. Tyler is an outsider coming into this industry and wants Cornell to look like him. I don’t understand how anyone can be upset with that.”


After watching the first two episodes of the new season, I was left wondering one simple thing: “WTF?” And it wasn’t a bad “WTF?” either. More like amazement at how and why jellyfish are living among humans and raising a black kid. Even with Cornell going through his own self-discovery and having jellyfish as parents, shortly after the 15-minute cartoon starts, you actually forget they’re even jellyfish. Especially when it comes to Cornell’s mother, who is a combination of Tyler’s and Lionel’s moms. She definitely has the whole “I’m tired of your shit” down to a T when dealing with her jellyfish husband.

“Cornell’s mom is so tired of her husband,” Nissel says. “He reminds me of my ex-husband, and that’s why it was funny to write her. If you had a husband like that, you’re going to drink just to forget about it. I look at her as the epitome of someone who’s had a hard upbringing and a hard life.”

In The Jellies season premiere, Cornell has to deal with his parents fighting, primarily over his father’s spending habits, and he decides to track down his parents’ favorite R&B singer, who ignited their love for each other.

So where does a teenager go to track down someone who was popular back in the day? The Gangster’s Paradise retirement home, of course. And yes, a life-size statue of Coolio welcomes each visitor. Viewers will also notice little jabs here and there at celebrities, as well as some pretty on-point pop-culture references. Basically, nothing is sacred.

People watching the cartoon will soon realize that the comedy isn’t for the faint of heart. Nissel realizes that and helped set the tone by cautioning against certain things making it from the script into the show.

“Sometimes I would say, ‘This may be going a little too far.’ Even if [Cornell’s mother] is a jellyfish, people might be offended. Sometimes you have to be that person, when you’re the only one in the room, to educate people on how others may view things,” Nissel says. “So, sometimes I’ve had to be the person to say, ‘Yeah, we’re all laughing in this room, but we all have the same type of humor. But when it gets outside of the room, it could be viewed differently.’”


As someone who has watched Nissel’s career and who considers her a black-writer heroine, I know she has experienced it all: from people promising to turn books into movies, to seeing others get their careers catapulted, all because they were social media famous, and most importantly, having to be somewhat of the oracle for everyone who isn’t white.

Adult Swim

“Being forced, till this day, to speak up for everyone who is not white is my biggest gripe. When they turn to you and ask, ‘What do you think a handicapped person would say about this?’ Having that burden of having to speak for everybody, when even among our own community, we all have different points of view,” Nissel relates.

“And then having to hold your breath when something comes out because you realize just because it has ‘written by you’ on it, [but] it has to go through the editor, studio and network, and someone is going to find fault in it. As an artist, you want people to be happy. In this day and age, when outrage sells, you don’t want people to be upset about something you create,” Nissel continues. “There’s not a lot of black women, or women, period, in comedy. We’re just exiting the era of ‘Women aren’t funny.’ We’re just now getting a black woman late-night talk show host. It’s slowly coming around.”

With the success of this summer’s blockbuster hit Girls Trip, the spotlight is now shining on funny black women in front of and behind the camera. And Nissel has some savory advice for the bigwigs in Hollywood.

“I wish more people realize that having one voice in the room sometimes isn’t enough because you’re only going to get one point of view. At the end of the day, I just wish people would go outside of the neighborhoods and make friends with people who aren’t exactly like them, so they can bring that to the room if they don’t have the budget to hire 25 women,” Nissel says.

“I really want to create shows that show that women over the age of 40 still have lives, and they can be messy,” she adds. “To talk about the imbalance of women and men, like my own personal story of paying alimony. I want to tell the richness of women of color over 40 because sometimes I look on TV and we’re all dead, except for Oprah.”

Nissel doesn’t mince words, and as far as The Jellies are concerned, it’s coming out at the right time. Between the doom and gloom of a Trump presidency, sex scandals and everything else shitty in the world, laughter is definitely going to be the best medicine that you don’t need health insurance for.

“I have grown tired of watching TV that shows the bad of the world. You go online and everyone is ranting about something horrible” she says. “The Jellies is a big bowl of WTF. It’s 15 minutes of Easter eggs and fun hip-hop references. It’s like traveling to a world of where jellyfish and humans co-exist. And you can just forget everything for 15 minutes. It’s just pure silly comedy, and I think that’s something comedy has gotten away from.”

The Jellies premieres on Adult Swim at 12:15 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 22.

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About the author

Yesha Callahan

Deputy Managing Editor. Don’t start none, won’t be none.

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Ayesha Curry Inks Deal

…With Endemol Shine North America

TV and social media personality, best-selling author and chef Ayesha Curry has signed an exclusive deal with Endemol Shine North America. Under the pact, the studio will develop original unscripted content with Curry and Flutie Entertainment’s Yardie Girl Productions for Curry to both appear in and also executive produce. In addition, Endemol Shine North America will work in conjunction with Flutie Entertainment, supplementing its work on licensing and brand partnerships for Curry.

Curry, who has redefined the content distribution model and has millions of social media followers, is set to co-host ABC’s upcoming season of The Great American Baking Show and hosts her own series, Ayesha’s Home Kitchen, on Food Network.

“Ayesha is re-defining the way audiences connect with celebrities, brands and content and we’re thrilled to have her joining the Endemol Shine family,” said Sharon Levy, President, Unscripted and Scripted Television, Endemol Shine North America. “We’re already developing a number of potentially ground-breaking projects with Ayesha to front and we’re collaborating with her to executive produce others with our team.”

“From the very first meeting I knew that Endemol Shine was a great fit for me,” says Curry. “I believe that in today’s media landscape, we can create and distribute content on multiple platforms, while remaining fresh and relevant. Endemol Shine North America CEO Cris Abrego and Sharon Levy openly supported my vision of being able to push limits and be on multiple platforms and their creative spirit and enthusiasm made me feel comfortable and at home.”

Flutie Entertainment discovered Curry through her local Bay Area access show, Cooking with the Currys, and has been serving as her management firm since 2014.

Curry, who has had a life-long interest in food and is a self-taught chef, was encouraged by her husband to start a blog that parlayed itself into a YouTube channel and ultimately into TV and book deals. Curry also recently launched her own meal kit company, Homemade, and her line of cookware is now available at Target stores and will be released at retailers nationwide next month.

Her restaurant International Smoke, in partnership with Michelin-starred chef Michael Mina, has locations in Waikiki, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Curry, who is the mother of two daughters, Riley and Ryan, and married to NBA superstar Stephen Curry, was announced as one of CoverGirl’s newest brand ambassadors in September. For her first role as the newest CoverGirl, Curry will be starring in a national campaign that launches in October.

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Lena Waithe Breaks Down …

…What It’s Really Like to Be a Black Woman in Hollywood

Image via Getty

Earlier this year, Lena Waithe became the first black woman to be nominated for an Emmy for comedy writing for her work on “Thanksgiving,” one of the best and most acclaimed episodes of the last season of Netflix’s Master of None. But Waithe is by no means resting on her laurels. She’s also producing her own series for Showtime called The Chi, has a role in the upcoming Steven Spielberg film Ready Player One, and has been getting Whoopi Goldberg on the phone (okay, that’s an old story).

Waithe sat down for an interview with The Atlantic to talk about her career, the challenge in “selling complex minority characters,” and what her experience has been navigating Hollywood. And in true Lena Waithe fashion, she told it the way it was, giving us some really interesting insight on what it’s like for women of color in entertainment:

Honestly, [I learned about] decorum and the way specifically black women have to carry themselves in this industry. You can’t be pissed about a note, you can’t be angry about the way that something is happening, you can’t be unhappy about the creative process. When you handle it, you have to be Claire Underwood in House of Cards.

In that town, there is still a stigma that goes along with being a woman, particularly a woman of color, where people already want to label you difficult or not easy to work with. It’s happened to me. So we ultimately have to navigate this industry in a different way. We have to sometimes be kind to people who aren’t kind to us, we sometimes have to be polite, even when we’re not in the mood, we have to handle dealing with executives in a different way because otherwise we run the risk of being put in industry jail.

We’ve seen the films and shows. We’ve seen the data. We know for a fact that women of color are immensely underrepresented in entertainment, even though Hollywood is (slowly) waking up to the fact that it’s not the people “in charge” who are creating the culture that people actually want. But hearing what the experience is actually like, and what it takes to keep moving forward, is important and makes the success of women like Ava DuvernayGina Prince-BythewoodShonda Rhimes, and Waithe herself all the more notable.

Read the full interview here.

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AT&T Hello Lab

launches @SummerBreak and their Mentorship Program this week.

 

Real-time reality series and original YouTube franchise, @SummerBreak, returns for a fifth season with a diverse cast of Los Angeles high school juniors and seniors ready for a summer fueled by creative passions, friendship, college prep, and endless adventure. The social media-driven reality series follows 12 teens and their dreams, stakes, and heartbreaks.

The new season launches June 25 with episodes every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday through the end of summer.

@SummerBreak is part of AT&T Hello Lab, a collection of original entertainment created by, for and with Millennial and Gen Z audiences.

Fans can expect to follow and engage with more personal and purposeful content than ever before, as the cast is shooting much more of this season themselves. The series will follow a relatable cast with high aspirations and commitment to social good, including:

  • Nastasya Generalova, a gymnast, on her journey as she trains for a spot in the 2020 Olympics;
  • Amindi Frost, a singer/songwriter working on her debut EP, coming off the success of her first single, “Pine & Ginger
  • Harlan Holdman-Belsma, an artist and illustrator looking to focus on his art before heading to college, also the lead singer and guitarist for The Pavement, a Santa Monica local psychedelic, funk, rock band;
  • Isaiah Wood, an out-and-proud junior and advocate for the LGBTQ community

“This demographic is ever changing. Their value systems, their aspirations, their political agendas are all rapidly evolving. And @SummerBreak as a franchise has always intended to reflect youth culture by putting the story in their hands. this year, for the fifth season, we found an engaging and dynamic group who are changing their communities and chasing creative passions in ways that we hope inspire this audience unlike any year before” says Billy Parks, EVP of Otter Media creator and EP of @SummerBreak

Fullscreen is a streaming over-the-top (OTT, or over-the-internet) service of Otter Media, AT&T’s* joint venture with the Chernin Group.

“When AT&T first debuted @SummerBreak five years ago we knew we’d found something special,” said Valerie Vargas, senior vice president- advertising and Creator Lab, AT&T.  “Every year the cast wows us with their openness and authenticity in a way that helps other teens connect with each other and feel like they’re understood.”

Fans can follow the cast in real-time on the @SummerBreak Instagram and Snapchat, as well as on group text platform, Public. The show will also publish regular content on Tumblr, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Giphy, and as the season progress, Musical.ly.

YouTube and Facebook will continue to be distribution platforms for @SummerBreak, which will also be available on DIRECTV NOW in fall 2017.

Learn more at @ATTHelloLab.

AT&T* Hello Lab, a collection of original entertainment created by, for and with Millennial and Gen Z audiences, has launched its Mentorship Program.  It’s a new initiative that brings together entertainment industry leaders with aspiring filmmakers from diverse backgrounds as they create their signature work. The five filmmakers will debut their short films on DIRECTV NOW in the fourth quarter of 2017.  DIRECTV NOW gives you your favorite premium TV and made-for-digital video content with no annual contracts, set-top boxes or installation.

 

AT&T Hello Lab Announces Diversity-Focused Mentorship Program feat. Academy Award Winning Mentors

The 2017 AT&T Hello Lab mentors include:

  • Academy Award® Winner Octavia Spencer (Best Supporting Actress, The Help, 2012)
  • Academy Award® Winner Common (Best Original Song,Selma, 2014)
  • Rick Famuyiwa (director, Dope, Confirmation)
  • Desiree Akhavan (director/actress, Appropriate Behavior)
  • Nina Yang Bongiovi (producer, Fruitvale Station)

 

In addition, each filmmaker will be supported by a community of industry advisors, including studio and production company executives, agents and attorneys. Each of these mentors have overcome barriers to make important projects that touch on an impressive range of issues and narratives as people of color, LGBTQ community members and women.

 

“There are a lot of film programs out there designed to empower young filmmakers. But the word ’empower’ is a sort of a catch-all, isn’t it? What I love about this program is that it’s tactical. It’s enabling young filmmakers to make actual, physical work. It’s giving them the first crucial part of their reel,” asserts Octavia Spencer, who is mentoring Gabrielle Shepard in tandem with Mike Jackson, who is a partner at John Legend’s Get Lifted Film Co.

 

AT&T Hello Lab will help each filmmaker create a high production quality signature film and provide support as they break into the entertainment industry. Advisers and mentors will counsel the filmmakers on pitching their work, managing budgets, and directing character-driven narratives. The shorts will all celebrate young adults and all tell a unique “coming of age” tale.

 

“I wanted to be a part of this program because opportunity is everything.  Connecting with young filmmakers, such as Nefertite Nguvu, is an honor. It’s the young and gifted visionaries who take the arts to levels we haven’t seen. I am blessed to have the career that I do and hope to be able to support and inspire her artistic vision and goals through AT&T Hello Lab Mentorship Program,” says Common, who is mentoring filmmaker Nefertite Nguvu alongside Shelby Stone, the president of production at his company Freedom Road Productions.

 

“Nurturing the next generation of creative minds is crucial for the entertainment industry,” said Valerie Vargas, senior vice president – advertising and Creator Lab, AT&T. “The AT&T Hello Lab Mentorship Program gives voice to filmmakers that may otherwise be silenced, and we can’t wait to see the ideas this unique group of creators develop.”

 

“We’re beyond humbled to join arms with these industry leaders who have catalyzed change and believe in the importance of supporting and amplifying new voices. The excitement around the films coming from the teams at AT&T and Fullscreen, as well as the mentors, advisors and mentees, is palpable. There is no doubt that this will lead to exciting, important and powerful work,” says Billy Parks, executive producer and EVP of Otter Media.

 

Fullscreen Media, a next-generation entertainment company, is majority owned by Otter Media, a partnership between AT&T and The Chernin Group.

 

Along with their one-on-one mentors, the mentees will receive meaningful guidance from a group of established industry advisors who include Judy McGrath (Founder & President, Astronauts Wanted), Mike Jackson (Co-Founder, Get Lifted), Cameron Mitchell (Agent, CAA), Bianca Levin (Partner, Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown), Ivana Lombardi (SVP, Film, Chernin Group), Kevin Iwashina (CEO and Founder of Preferred Content), Roberta Marie Munroe (Producer, Director, Writer), Brickson Diamond (Founder, The Blackhouse Foundation), Emily Best (CEO and Founder, Seed&Spark), Damian Pelliccione (CEO and Founder, REVRY) and James Lopez (Head of Motion Pictures, Will Packer Productions).

 

Program mentees include:

  • Neil Paik (filmmaker)
  • Matthew Castellanos (filmmaker)
  • Nefertite Nguvu (filmmaker)
  • Gabrielle Shephard (filmmaker)
  • Sara Shaw (editor/director)

 

More on the filmmakers and their projects:

 

Candid by Gabrielle Shepard (mentored by Octavia Spencer)

 

LoglineFaced with the memory of her late mother, an aspiring street photographer takes a surreal journey through the city as she reconciles her future and the relationship with her father. 

 

Bio: Gabrielle Shepard graduated as an MFA Film and Television Producing Fellow in the Conservatory of Motion Pictures at Chapman University. She has produced films that have been programmed in the Austin Film Festival, Pan African Film Festival and Cannes Short Film Corner. Gabrielle now pursues fresh and dynamic projects to bring to life as a writer, director and producer.  She currently works in the Motion Picture Lit department at William Morris Endeavor.

 

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Yoshua by Matthew Castellanos (mentored byNina Yang Bongiovi)

 

LoglineA group of outcast teens must flee their hometown of South Central to protect their big blue alien friend from a ban against its kind.

 

Bio: Matthew Castellanos is a Mexican-American filmmaker from South Central, Los Angeles. He intends for his stories to start new discussions and shed some light on humanity. For the past two years, he’s produced and directed twelve digital television shows on artist Tyler, the creator’s network GOLF MEDIA. This August, Matthew’s first linear television show NUTS + BOLTS premieres on the network VICELAND, which he’s serving as both executive producer and director.

 

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The Lost by Neil Paik (mentored byRick Famuyiwa)

 

LoglineThe events surrounding a highly publicized protest altercation are played out from three differing points of view.

 

Bio: Neil M. Paik is a filmmaker and artist from Los Angeles. After graduating from the film school at UCLA, where he was editor of the Daily Bruin, he filmed a documentary on the ground in the Middle East analyzing diverse perspectives in the conflict zone. His short fiction films have garnered several awards while playing at festivals nationwide. Over the last three years, he has worked in development and production at Warner Bros., Color Force, and WME and as a director’s assistant.

 

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The Last Two Lovers At The End of The World by Nefertite Nguvu (mentored by Common)

 

LoglineA future-set, New Year’s Eve wild night’s journey that follows two young lovers as they try to outsmart the end of the world.

 

Bio: Nefertite Nguvu is a graduate of New York’s School of Visual Arts, where she obtained a B.F.A in Film. Her thesis project at SVA won the award for outstanding screenplay. Nefertite is an award-winning writer/director and producer whose work includes, several narrative and documentary shorts, a host of web based programming, and a feature film entitled “In The Morning” which is currently available worldwide via Video on Demand.

 

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How to Bury a Hatchet by Sara Shaw (working title) (mentored by Desiree Akhavan)

 

Logline:After their youngest child is diagnosed with terminal cancer, an estranged family reunites and struggles to overcome their dysfunction. 

 

Bio: Sara Shaw is a director and editor. While attending NYU’s graduate film program at the Tisch School of the Arts, her filmBallarat Ghost Town won the Grand Prize and Audience Award at the Fusion Film Festival. She has edited a number of feature films, including Desiree Akhavan’s Appropriate Behavior (Sundance ’14), Adam Leon’s Tramps (Toronto ’16), Theresa Rebeck’s Trouble (SIFF ’17), and Desiree Akhavan’s forthcoming The Miseducation of Cameron Post.

 

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The Female Gaze

Thanks to the opportunities created by Peak TV, the once-elusive female gaze is beginning to emerge on the small screen. Below, directors, writers and producers reflect on the female gaze in their work and the challenges of working in a medium in which the male perspective has reigned for so long.

Melissa Rosenberg, creator, “Jessica Jones”

On not writing “female characters:” “It’s not like Jessica is a ‘female detective’; she’s a detective. When it’s a guy, you don’t say ‘male doctor.’ That’s really how I approach this. Certainly, her character is informed by her gender. You go through the world as a woman, you have a different experience, but I never approached it as ‘this is a female character.'”

Rashida Jones, executive producer-director, “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On”

On absorbing the male gaze: “We all have this internalized, unconscious bias because we live in a world that has primarily been seen through a male gaze. So we have also inherited a lot of that, and it’s really hard to break that habit. We live in a patriarchy and it’s really hard to escape that.”

Emma Frost, showrunner, “The White Princess”

On the male gaze: “The audience ought to be able to identify with a protagonist of either gender as long as that character is written as a human being. The problem has been, historically, the characters that have been constructed as human have always been the male characters. Female characters have been constructed as man’s other, a problem to be solved, a trophy to be won. Everything is about showing off the male prowess in relation to the woman.”

Jennie Snyder Urman, creator, “Jane the Virgin”

On objectifying men: “If we objectify anyone, we kind of make fun of ourselves for it. The humor is that we’re doing it to the men because it’s so often done to women. If we’re doing a slow-motion shot over [hunky male lead] Rafael’s body, it feels jarring because that’s something you normally see done to a woman. You’re so bombarded with what men think of beauty.”

On hiring women to direct 75% of this season’s episodes: “I always talk to the directors and I say this show goes through Jane. Covering Jane and how she reacts to everyone else is as important as what everyone else is saying because it’s filtered through her. … I hired the people who I felt understood that the most. A lot of them happened to be women.”

Moira Buffini, co-creator, “Harlots”

On sex scenes: “We feel a great responsibility towards actresses — and actors too. It is so intimate and invasive. You’ve got to be really careful and respectful of people. With female directors, we sort of knew without having to have the conversation that they would understand that delicacy.”

Ava DuVernay, creator, “Queen Sugar”

On the right way to think about women behind the camera: ”I can’t say what these women brought based on their gender. I just know that women have not historically had the opportunity to bring anything. The fact that they’re there and they’re bringing it is the story.”

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