Jen was saying how grateful and fortunate she feels and I always like to point out that men never feel grateful or fortunate to be in the positions they are in. Men feel like they earned the right to be in the room.
So, I like to say I don’t feel grateful or fortunate to be here. I earned my right to be here. I worked really, really hard just because I know that men say the same thing. But, yeah, there are totally doors that are not open yet. It would be ridiculous to suggest that everybody just throws open every door when they see a really annoying Black woman striding toward them, demanding her space.
~ Shonda Rhimes
Netflix’s Bela Bajaria, Amazon’s Jennifer Salke, Disney’s Dana Walden and uber-creators Shonda Rhimes and Ava DuVernay get candid about their responsibilities and realities: “I like to say I don’t feel grateful or fortunate to be here. I earned my right to be here.”
In a year when much of the industry was flatlined by the pandemic, Netflix’s Bela Bajaria saw her purview balloon, as she assumed responsibility for the TV viewing habits of 208 million global members.
Amazon’s Jennifer Salke muscled her way into both the Oscar conversation (thanks to Sound of Metal and One Night in Miami) and the blockbuster one (Coming 2 America); and Disney’s Dana Walden installed new and largely female leadership across a vast portfolio that includes broadcast, cable and streaming.
Meanwhile, Shonda Rhimes released the buzziest show of the year with romance drama Bridgerton; and Ava DuVernay not only sold a slew of new projects but also fundamentally changed how Hollywood productions will be staffed going forward with her Array Crew database.
On a Friday afternoon in late April, these five women — among the most powerful in Hollywood — gathered via Zoom to discuss everything from deal-making to Scott Rudin.
I want to start by acknowledging that this past year has been like no other. How has this period impacted the stories that you want to tell?
JENNIFER SALKE We had a lot of projects in the works leaning into a lot of serious issues. If you look at Them: Covenant or The Underground Railroad coming, even One Night in Miami, it’s heavier content that you really need to invest in.
What we realized, and it wasn’t a big surprise to me, with something like Coming 2 America, suddenly everybody’s like, “Please, I want to go to a party.” It’s helped us refocus a bit on accelerating some of that balance going forward.
SHONDA RHIMES A lot of people have been asking, “Has the racial justice uprising or the political uprising changed what stories you want to tell?” And I always say, “I’m sure that this year has been an awakening for a lot of people and I am really grateful for that, but you can’t wake somebody up who never really had the privilege of being asleep.”
But before the pandemic, I’d reached a place of wanting to feel more joy in stories. It felt like the world was already in a very dark place. You can tell a great ghost story or a great sad story when the lights are on, but when the lights are off you want people to feel a little more hopeful. So, no, I don’t think it has changed anything. It oddly gave me the cocoon to put my head down, take care of the people around me and just work.
THR’s 2021 Women in Entertainment Power 100
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