Ilene Chaiken has done so much for bringing minority groups to the forefront of television. Firstly, she gives us The L Word, the first TV show that put lesbians lives and the lives of the LGBTQ community at the centre of the programme.
Then she gives us Empire, which is the first show to feature a majority cast of African Americans and their daily lives in the music and entertainment industry. The show is already into its third season.
Because Chaiken is a woman and an out lesbian, the fact she is at the head of these productions is a big achievement as Hollywood still struggles with diversity, in front of and behind the camera. Chaiken told Advocate Magazine:
Clearly, it’s still a boys’ club. As a gay person, there’s still is just an uphill road for us to hoe. We are underrepresented vastly, and we haven’t been represented in all of the ways in which we live in the world. I think it’s incremental, the progress that we see in that regard.”
TV is however outpacing film in regards to diversity, but this is not something that is happening everywhere. CBS got criticised in the summer for revealing an upcoming season of shows focusing on white, straight men. Chaiken believes a lot of this is also to do with the political situation in America at the moment.
Look at where we are now. It’s this extraordinary political moment and these two countervailing trends of political culture. There’s this great leap forward and this hideous and appalling kind of slide backwards. There’s a real tension in our culture right now that’s still being reflected in the entertainment culture.”
Chaiken is the lead in the writer’s room for Empire and she is a firm believer that her identities are her strengths in her job and she doesn’t see them as weaknesses. She went on to say:
The qualities that I ascribe to being a woman and to being gay are the things that I think make me good at my job. There are different ways of being a showrunner. And I like to think that I do it with a sense of inclusiveness, with a view to listening and welcoming the input of my colleagues and nurturing.”
When Chaiken led the writers room on The L Word she said that at first she was encouraged to hire writers who were straight and good at their craft but she quickly realized that writing experience was nowhere near real life experience and so she started hiring lesbian writers.
It just was so clear that in taking on this mission of doing the first show about lesbians in the history of mainstream television that lesbians had to tell those stories. We’re pulling back the curtain on our lives, and we’re the ones who know our lives.”
Chaiken also has some plans for the future and what is missing from TV right now. She says:
I’m just looking at the landscape, and I feel it’s time for another great gay show. There will be soon, I hope, and not necessarily a show about being gay, although I would welcome that, but also a show that simply is led by characters who are gay and are living their lives. In that way, we get to portray the nuances of our lives.”
This is good to hear and we will all be waiting to see what this amazing, talented and fearless showrunner will give us to enjoy next.