For the sixth year, the Women Rocking Hollywood panel represented at San Diego Comic-Con. The panel continually brings women working behind the camera in film and television to the forefront; this year’s panel was no exception.
The panel started with introductions of each panelist by Leslie Combemale, senior contributor for the Alliance of Women Film Journalists and producer/creator of Women Rocking Hollywood. Each panelist spoke about their work and answered questions from Combemale.
First up was Shaz Bennett, writer and director of Alaska is a Drag and director of Queen Sugar. She presented the trailer for season five of Queen Sugar, which she described as “an incredible, painful reckoning year” seen through the Bordelon family. Season six will build on the past year and how it changed us, the family and new characters. Bennett went on to praise the “real sisterhood in this directing group of women” creator Ava DuVernay put together behind the scenes of Queen Sugar.
Bennett and Combemale also discussed Bennett’s upcoming show Sovereign; the first Native American family drama developed for network television. Ava DuVernay will produce; Sydney Freeland (Navajo Nation) of Fear the Walking Dead and Grey’s Anatomy will write the show and executive produce as well.
Next on the panel was Sian Heder, producer, writer/director of the upcoming film CODA. CODA is the first film in Sundance history to win all top prizes in the US dramatic competition. It features the only hearing member of a Deaf family helping her parents and brother with their business. 40% of the script is in ASL. Heder worked with two ASL Masters for cultural authenticity and said creating a film like CODA requires “a different kind of language in terms of syntax and grammar…it’s a real process to translate written language into ASL”.
Christina M. Kim then spoke about her work on The CW’s Kung Fu, one of few American network dramas to feature a predominantly Asian-American cast. Kung Fu is the story of Nicky Shen, a young Chinese American woman. After a breakdown, she runs away to China and a monastery led by women. Kim made the conscious decision to populate the world with strong, interesting women, just like her writers’ room. She said, “for almost all of my career, I was always one of one or two women…I wanted to change that on my show”. Kung Fu’s writers’ room has an even gender split and many women in other positions behind the scenes. This was true even of the show’s score; Chinese American composer Sherry Chung represented the balancing act of Asian and American sides many Asian Americans feel.
When introducing Kate Herron of Sex Education and Loki fame, Combemale described Tom Hiddleston as “a Loki encyclopedia”; Herron said he always brought joy and his A-game to set even after being locked down for four months. She also discussed the way she storyboarded nearly every scene of the show. Herron worked hard to bake gender and diversity balance into the show both in front of and behind the camera. Herron said she decided as a young filmmaker that “when I have the chance to hire, I’ll make sure people aren’t shut out,” and that this is important to Marvel as well.
The final panelist came in with a public services announcement from Women in Film identifying key discrepancies in the representation of men and women behind the scenes in film. Combemale asked Ebony Adams, manager of Women in Film’s public programs, how we could keep the momentum of 2020 now that things are back in person. Adams said, ”there’s no going back to the status quo and normal that we had…we want more women in charge of big-budget films, independent and smaller, episodic television”. She added that we have an opportunity to deliberately and actively resist the notion that hiring people of color or women is taking a risk.
There are so many talented women filmmakers that deserve attention. We have a chance to be visionary and bold as we move forward in film; we can do so by recognizing the filmmakers that are already making the media we love and demand more of that. Panels like Women Rocking Hollywood draw attention to them and help make sure there’s space for female filmmakers to go out into the world and deliver their art.
There is even more great content coming from SDCC 2021 practically every minute! Keep an eye on this space for more updates.