The New York Times to Spotlight ‘Overlooked’ Women in First Scripted Series

Ida B Wells

The women-helmed anthology series will recognize the trailblazers the Times forgot.

History is man-made. Written by those with power, history frequently omits key people and events that have shaped our present. The New York Times has played its own part in distorting the past through its selective editorial lens. Specifically, its obituary section has long featured white men while glossing over the lives of trailblazing women. Now, the Times is trying to make belated amends.

With its first foray into scripted content, the New York Times is partnering with Paramount Television and Anonymous Content to create the anthology series Overlooked. Based on the Times editorial project of the same nameOverlooked will consist of 10 episodes per season, each part telling the story of an extraordinary woman who never received proper recognition in the paper’s obituary section.

Amisha Padnani, a digital editor at the NYT obituary desk, first developed the idea for the Overlooked editorial project in early 2017. When she discovered that Mary Ewing Outerbridge, credited with introducing tennis to America, had not received a NYT obituary upon her death in 1886, Padnani began a quest to find other overlooked individuals. “Those who didn’t get [an obituary] were, not surprisingly, largely women and people of color,” Padnani wrote in March.

“Since 1885,” the Overlooked project description reads, “obituaries in The New York Times have been dominated by white men. Now, we’re adding the stories of other remarkable people.” These remarkable, under-recognized women include Marsha P. Johnson, a central figure in the gay liberation movement; Sylvia Plath, an influential poet and author; Madhubala, a legendary Bollywood actress; and Ida B. Wells, a pioneering journalist who exposed and fought against the epidemic of lynching.

The featured women and cast that will bring Overlooked to life haven’t been announced yet, but we have some suggestions. Carey Mulligan and Priyanka Chopra would be excellent as Sylvia Plath and Madhubala, respectively. Regina Hall (who actually has a master’s degree in journalism from NYU) would also be a great choice to play Ida B. Wells for both her background and her looks. And, while we’re at it, why not recommend Carrie Coon as Charlotte Brontë, Emily Warren Roebling, or any other woman on the Overlooked list (TV just really needs more Carrie Coon).

The series won’t just be an empty feminist gesture. The Times is walking the walk. Each episode of the show will be written and directed by women. With women taking centerstage both on screen and behind the camera, Overlooked will be an urgently needed addition to the television landscape.

When choosing the women who will helm Overlooked, there is abundant talent to choose from. Ava Duvernay, whose show Queen Sugar is one of the first to feature all-female directing slates for every season, would certainly elevate the series as a director. Mimi Leder, who has done phenomenal work on The Leftovers, would also be an excellent addition. Reed Morano, Karyn Kusama, and Michelle MacLaren would also be great choices, having lent their directorial brilliance to countless other shows, including Breaking Bad, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Halt and Catch Fire.

Exceptional women writers are just as plentiful. Jill Solloway (I Love Dick), Amy Sherman-Palladino (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Lisa Joy (Westworld), and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) have written some of the most blatantly feminist shows around that are as brilliant as they are radical.

NYT’s pivot towards scripted content appears to be part of a larger expansion into television. FX and Hulu recently nabbed the Times’ new docuseries The Weeklywhich Deadline describes as a “weekly documentary news program” that will stream exclusively on Hulu and FX’s streaming platforms. Scheduled to air later this year, The Weekly will feature NYT’s most prominent visual news stories each week, following “the stories and the reporters that work on them every step of the way” as they piece together information, interviews, and research.

Beyond creating a new revenue stream for NYT, The Weekly is also an interesting attempt to demystify the journalistic process in a time when more and more people distrust mainstream journalism. Producer Ken Druckerman believes the goal of the series “is to add a new dimension to these stories by bringing [NYT reporters’] words and work to life on the screen.”

Whether it’s rectifying the omission of trailblazing women from history or reaffirming the importance of credible journalism, The New York Times certainly has some lofty goals in its transition into television. Both its scripted and documentary series have excellent premises — now, we’ll just have to see if they can pull them off.

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