The ‘American Horror Story’ creator wants to do a ‘Black Mirror’-style anthology about Hollywood predation.
Ryan Murphy is a busy, busy man. Since inking his record-breaking Netflix deal, Murphy has been racking up television credits left and right. His projects, for which he often serves as creator or executive producer, are major TV staples. From Feud to 9-1-1, Murphy knows how to make compelling television.
Perhaps his biggest impact on the modern television landscape is his exhumation of the anthology format. With American Horror Story and American Crime Story, each season has ushered in a series reinvention. As a showrunner, Murphy has run with this structural freedom to explore increasingly ambitious narratives.
But sometimes, ambition can cloud judgement. As could be the case with Murphy’s latest potential project: the tentatively titled Consent, an anthology series exploring the culture of Hollywood predation. In a new profile on Murphy in The New Yorker, the showrunner suggests the series would be akin to Black Mirror, with each episode exploring a different story — starting with Harvey Weinstein’s. As Murphy describes it, the series would feature “an episode about Kevin Spacey, [and] one about an ambiguous he-said-she-said encounter.”
This potential new project is certainly controversial. It immediately appears to be an exploitation of female pain, a powerful man cashing in on the trauma of women within his field. Plus, portraying an “ambiguous he-said-she-said encounter” alongside serious sexual assaults doesn’t seem like a particularly productive contribution in the era of #MeToo. Many critics are unenthused by the idea.
faced with revelations of widespread sexual harassment and assault in their industry, the men of hollywood ask: how can we turn our female colleagues’ pain into profits? https://t.co/4w5AFVYoDh
— Amanda Hess (@amandahess) May 8, 2018
For a series with such a sensitive subject matter, perspective, approach, and context are everything. If Murphy can recruit an all-female writing staff, it could lend the project some much needed credibility. Women, after all, should be telling their own stories, while slapping Murphy’s name on the show could help these stories get heard.
Murphy has already dabbled in using his clout for good. He walks the walk, having created the Half Initiative in 2017. The initiative aims to create opportunities for women and minorities behind the camera. Last year, it met its goal of filling half of the director slots on Murphy’s shows with women, persons of color, or members of the LGBTQ community.
His latest show, Pose, is also a major milestone for representation on the small screen, as it features the largest cast of transgender actors ever on a television series. Set in 1980s New York, the drama explores the interplay between the emerging yuppie class, the literary scene, and the world of ball culture.
Although Murphy has a positive track record creating equity behind the camera and bringing representation to the small screen, a series like Consent would be a difficult task. How do you amplify survivors’ voices without exploiting them? Even with an all-women writers’ room and a thoughtful approach, there is still a fundamental tension between television as activist art and television as a commodity.
Another question tugs at me: is it Murphy’s place to take it upon himself to tell these stories in the first place? Although Consent appears to be little more than an unpolished idea, Murphy’s mere intention raises issues about who gets to tell what stories.
Murphy is undoubtedly a gifted writer and filmmaker. His unique blend of camp and sincerity is incredibly effective. He could likely tell the stories of Hollywood’s serial predators competently, if not phenomenally. But at a time where women are routinely dismissed or ignored, the story of the scourge of sexual mistreatment that infests Hollywood should be told by women — or perhaps told in a completely different context. Drawing from reality can be slippery, and television may not be the best home for a nuanced look into sensitive and complicated stories of abuse.
It’s important to remember that Consent is still gestating. At this point, the series is nothing more than an abstract idea. Until it’s a fully fledged project, there is little else we can surmise about it beyond speculation. The very existence of the idea, however, inspires important conversations about exploitation, ownership, and the role of art in the era of #MeToo.