A day after the presidential election, a writer on “The Originals” turned in a script that featured a female character getting beat up by a man.
There were reasons for this: It was a memory — a flashback to centuries earlier. They were wearing period garb. “The Originals” is a supernatural show, and yes, demons can be awful, even the ones searching for redemption.
“But he beat her up,” said executive producer Julie Plec. “We realized at that moment they can’t be together anymore. And we killed a love story on that day. One that people who watch the show are probably rooting for. Narratively we were going down this path, but my conscience can’t advocate that kind of violence.”
A lot of things changed for storytellers in light of a Donald Trump presidency, but the depiction of females — and violence against women — especially became more relevant for filmmakers and showrunners in light of what had just happened. Plec was one of several producers discussing the impact of Trump on TV at an ATX Television Festival panel.
“If the day-to-day culture is saying it’s OK to not be inclusive or tolerant, that it’s OK to be bigoted, then it’s your responsibility to double down and make it OK in storytelling to be inclusive and tolerant,” Plec said. “The weight of that is always hanging, but in a good way.”
Plec noted that Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” about a post-United States society where women are completely oppressed, took on a much more urgent meaning once Trump was elected.
“I watch it and think, if Hillary [Clinton] were president, this would be a very entertaining and intelligent show,” she said. “Donald Trump is president, and I want to vomit. It’s so harrowing in the context of the reality we live in. The speculative fiction feels so presently of today in a way that it absolutely wouldn’t have if Hillary were president.”
Similarly, Plec last season was developing The CW pilot “Rise,” about a homegrown coup, in which a Clinton or Obama-like president is overthrown and replaced by a somewhat fascist leader.
“When we were developing in a Hillary future it was smart, riveting fun entertainment,” Plec said. “When the election happened it suddenly felt too close to home, uncomfortable, too political. In the span of two weeks, we went from high priority at the network to not getting ordered at all. Nobody said it was because Trump is president. The ripple effect of the content was instant… Instead of it feeling delicious and a speculative fiction adventure, it felt preachy and too political for some.”
Beau Willimon (“House of Cards”) said his new series, Hulu’s futuristic Mars drama “The First,” was conceived in a very different climate. “It takes place 15 years in the future, and you have to speculate what the world will look like 15, 20 years from now. Prior to November 8, 2016, what that world looked like was perhaps a lot different.”
As for “The Originals,” Plec explained that the villain in question is a character who is constantly battling the fight between trying to be the most moral upstanding creature and yet has a very deep, dark place borne out of being a creature of the night for thousands of years, and has worked so hard to overcome it.”
But in an episode that just aired, “his subconscious took control over his consciousness and he exposed that really dark side.” Female characters trying to help tame the bad boy is a staple of romance stories, but Plec noted, “in the context of the election, and all of us as women being particularly put off by what we saw as a misogyny, a sexism and a bullying that we watched on live TV, it just felt like that old chestnut was suddenly uncomfortable.”
On “The Originals,” she added, “we had witnessed was a woman getting beaten up by a man that we loved. We just drew a line for ourselves not to demonize the character who did it, and yet not to make excuses for it either… There are a lot of things you do in a supernatural universe that can toe the line and cross the line. This moment in time and this feeling that we had, we just felt dirty. And we wanted to do something about it.”
Plec said the Trump victory awakened her to embracing and mobilizing more powerful depictions of women. “It just felt like such a defeat for women,” Plec said of Trump’s win. “And I had to mourn that just as other women I know, politics be damned.”
The ATX TV Festival runs June 8 – 11 in Austin, Texas. IndieWire will be on the ground throughout, so check back for more coverage this weekend.