Women Behind Mary Kills People Gather to Discuss Diversity in the Canadian TV Industry

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Corus Entertainment
Corus Entertainment

With movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp happening in the entertainment industry the need for gender parity both behind and in front of the camera is more apparent than ever. Television drama Mary Kills People is one series where gender parity has never been as issue, as most of its creative team and lead character are all women. Global Television brought members of that team together on Tuesday evening in Toronto as it presented the Women Killin’ It in the TV Industry panel to discuss women in the Canadian entertainment industry.

Women make up a huge part of the Mary Kills People production team, including 5 of 6 writers being female, 2 of 3 editors are women, as well as female executives, directors and its lead character. Mary star Caroline Dhavernas was joined on the panel by members of that team including Executive Producers Tassie Cameron, Amy Cameron and Tecca Crosby, writer and producer Marsha Greene, Corus EVP and COO Barbara Williams and Corus VP of Original Content Lisa Godfrey. The panel, hosted by ET Canada’s Sangita Patel, discussed assembling all that lady power on the Mary team, but also looked at industry-wide issues centered on gender and cultural diversity and what can be done to improve those areas.

If you weren’t able to stream the panel or be in attendance, don’t worry! The TV Junkies have you covered! Read on for some of our main takeaways and favorite words of wisdom shared by the women behind Mary Kills People.

 

The Mary team came about organically

“It was a very organic process. It wasn’t like we set out to say ‘we’re going to crew this up with women. We’re going to only hire female writers,’” said Tassie Cameron. Amy Cameron then recalled a story where the production team was all together late one night, testing champagne no less, and “we looked around the room and realized there were 20 women in the room and only one man. It was sort of at that moment we realized ‘Oh, this is predominantly women who are here making these creative decisions.’ So we didn’t set out to do it, but it was quite fun to have that moment and also have champagne flutes in our hands.”

Corus Entertainment
Corus Entertainment

Mary was a Canadian broadcaster’s dream

Corus VP Godfrey said that the moment her team read the script they knew Mary was going to be great and they had to do it because it had a quality she loves. “I like pushing the envelope. I like something that is complex and a controversial topic,” she said. For Corus COO Williams, she called the series “the poster child of what you try to do as a Canadian broadcaster.” The reason for that is because “this story was just so timely. There’s been a great debate going on in Canada about physician-assisted death and it was on the minds of Canadians. Suddenly, there it was, a script in our lap that spoke to Canadians about something that clearly really mattered to them,” explained Williams.

Mary is doing something truly special

For star Dhavernas, who has worked on several other successful television series, Mary Kills People is special because “there’s something that happens when you feel loved while you’re working and that everyone is there for the right reasons. It’s the best way to create something.” She recalls especially feeling this way at one point during shooting in Season 1 when “we were blocking a scene between Charlotte Sullivan and I, and at the end of the blocking you [Tassie Cameron] said ‘it’s so nice to see two female characters not talk about a man in a scene.’ I had never seen producers or a writer even say that on a set I had been a part of before. It felt very special in that moment,” Dhavernas recalled.

Gender parity is happening

The majority of people working behind the scenes on Mary Kills People are women, but what about the rest of the Canadian TV industry? “Speaking for Canada, I think there are actually a lot of strong, leadership roles being held by women at the broadcast and producing level. Most of the most successful producers for television right now in the scripted space are women,” noted eOne’s Crosby. She cited CTV’s Cardinal as a prime example of that. Crosby then said that she sees “the writing rooms are filling up with women. It’s very exciting for me to see a whole generation of female storytellers in these leadership roles everywhere in the world, and in Canada, I think we’re quite represented that way.”

Corus Entertainment
Corus Entertainment

But we can and need to do better with cultural diversity

However, “we can always do better,” said Crosby. She did say that “every broadcaster in this country is pushing us as producers and storytellers to ‘woman up’ in the writing room, in the director chair and the results have been phenomenal.” Williams agreed that “we have seen progress in gender diversity,” but was quick to note that she believes “we’re miles behind in cultural diversity.” Williams said that there is more awareness about the issues with cultural diversity and that more conversations are happening than in the past, but it’s not enough. “When push comes to shove, I think we still revert to old patterns and old behaviors. I think to succeed, ultimately in a true equal environment, we have to push through a bunch of stuff we haven’t even begun to talk about honestly,” she said.

How can that happen?

Williams said that she was optimistic about increased diversity because of the conversations that are happening, but “it’s a long way from conversation to action.” So what can be done, ultimately, to start getting some traction and improvement? “From my perspective the truth is that it’s not actually hard. You just have to hire people,” she said. However, Williams said unfortunately, “we don’t do it.” She said there’s still “a giant step between the conversation that is so overdue and finally happening, and translating that into actual action.” She said they “will keep pushing” but was realistic about the fact that the industry is “far away from being done in gender diversity, let alone cultural diversity.”

Industry-wide movements are a powerful voice

“There is power in numbers and when we come together and speak loudly and strongly and aren’t afraid to say what’s on our minds, that’s a good thing,” Godfrey noted about movements such as #MeToo. Dhavernas said that if “everything that happened in the fall made it possible for all the women who didn’t know that they had this voice, then this movement is just wonderful. It was about time.” Patel did ask what steps are being taken within the industry to change things and Williams noted that she’s “been around a long time in this business and for sure it’s better,” but that she doesn’t think “it’s good enough yet.” That’s why women coming together as one voice is so powerful she said. “Solidarity is a powerful voice. We have to push it forward and take it somewhere. This is big progress,” noted Williams.

Corus Entertainment
Corus Entertainment

Mary’s story was such a new and welcome perspective

Amy Cameron discussed how Mary Kills People was able to give such a different spin on the story being told because “there’s a subtlety that’s brought into the storytelling with the fact that she’s a mother, that she’s grappling with a separation and she’s now got the role of being the main breadwinner in the home.” Cameron said it’s those subtleties that “allowed that role to be very human,” but also was quick to note that she didn’t “think we’d be as remotely as successful with that series if we didn’t have Caroline in that role.” Crosby also noted the irony of Mary being chased by a crazed, obsessed villain in Season 2’s Rachelle Lefevre, but only truly being scared by the thought of her children not wanting to live with her. “That’s very visceral to me as a woman and very understandable,” Crosby said.

Takeaways from working on Mary

The experience of working on a show like Mary with so many women and that tells this unique kind of story has been beneficial in many ways. For writer Greene, she’s seen how “a lot of female led shows feel very fresh and very surprising because we haven’t seen them before. It feels like that person has never had a platform before. It makes you feel like the whole thing is kind of a ride and you’re at the edge of your seat.” Tassie Cameron said that Mary taught her to not be afraid to take risks. She said at the beginning of the show the team had to ask questions like “‘Is she going to be likable enough to watch? Can we dance on the edge of her being a bad mother or neglectful mother? Do we have to give the audience the nugget of her backstory in the first episode to make her relatable?’ The answer to all those was ‘no,’” said Cameron.

Some advice to their younger selves

The panel closed out with each of the panelists offer up what piece of advice they’d love to go back and tell their younger selves. For Williams, she said that she’s a “real believer in the confidence to have your own ambition and be comfortable with your power.” Greene said that she wished that she had “stood up for myself more. Stand up for yourself and know what you’re worth. Know that you allow people to treat you in certain ways.” Crosby said that women need to not be afraid to ask for what they want, even though they are sometimes loathe to do so. “If you never ask, it may never happen,” she said. Finally, Tassie Cameron said that definitely “work harder than anybody else,” but also “don’t treat people poorly. Don’t abuse your power. Be open and collaborative.” Cameron also said that she thinks she apologizes too much. “The self deprecation and apology for success and doing well,” is what she feels bad about. “That’s something I’d encourage young women, and even my own daughter, is to stop apologizing so much.”

 

What do you think of the thoughts shared by the panel? Add your comments below!

Mary Kills People Season 2 finale airs Thursday, February 8 at 9 p.m. ET on Global in Canada. Season 2 premieres March 12 at 9 p.m. ET on Lifetime in the U.S.

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