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‘Russian Doll’ Creator Leslye Headland: ‘White Women Need to Step Up Their Game’

With one Netflix hit under her belt, Headland is not mincing words when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

Leslye HeadlandVariety Inclusion Summit, Los Angeles, USA - 09 May 2019

Leslye Headland

Katie Jones/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Russian Doll” creator Leslye Headland had some strong words for her fellow white women at this week’s Variety Inclusion Summit. During a panel discussion that also included “Vida” creator Tanya Saracho and “Queen Sugar” producer Carla Gardini, Headland stopped the proceedings to call out what she saw as the white (pun very much intended) elephant in the room.

“I think white women need to kind of step up their game, to be quite honest,” Headland said. “Sorry, but I’m calling you bitches out. You really do. ‘Cause like, I couldn’t agree more with everything these women are saying, but I’m also seeing the silent killer, which is a lot of white women at the top who are kind of reinforcing a lot of old ideas.”

Headland added that many white people lack the language to explicitly demand diversity in their writers’ rooms, casts, and production staffs. In addition to creating Netflix’s smash hit “Russian Doll,” Headland directed three episodes of “SMILF” and wrote and directed the 2015 movie “Sleeping with Other People.” She emphasized that she was speaking from her own personal experience when she continued.

“I wasn’t sure how to be an ally. I got so caught up in what kind of terminology I was supposed to be using, and being politically correct. And as I started to rise in television I started to get more blunt and start saying like ‘I would like a black writer.'”

“Because if I said diverse, you get ‘well, white is diverse,’ which is something somebody said to me. … I reached out to the women that I respect who are not white writers and directors and I said ‘what should I say? What language should use?’ And I think it’s worth it if you’re in a position of hiring power or green-lighting power to reach out to people that are not like you and say, ‘what can I do to be an ally? And how can I support writers of color and LGBTQ and disabled writers?'”

Headland added that her experience as a queer woman made her more sensitive to portrayals of gay characters.

“I find it a lot as a gay woman, with gay characters, whether they be gay men or gay women, where I’m saying, ‘that’s not a gay person.’ You basically want me to cast someone that you find attractive, straight white man.”

Check out Headland’s full comments below.

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