The single most important panel I attended at this year's ATX Television Festival was in celebration of Sweet/Vicious, MTV's brilliant show about rape culture that was tragically canceled after ten episodes. But creator Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, in attendance with showrunner Amanda Lasher, Executive Producer Stacey Sher and stars Taylor Dearden, Eliza Bennett and Aisha Dee, gave us some small reason to hope. "MTV's been very generous in terms of telling us that if we can find another home for our show, it can live there."
Four studios have expressed interest in helping them continue producing the show, Sher said, but they’d still need a home to broadcast it. “We’re still incredibly hopeful.” Robinson added, to this audience desperate to make a difference, “There are some things you can do to move the needle. Netflix has a page where you can request that they pick up certain shows. Spam that page. Tweet about it, tweet the networks. Those optics matter.” The hashtag is #SaveSweetVicious, and after yesterday’s panel, I’m ready to quit my job and devote myself full-time to saving this wonderful, powerful, profoundly important show.
I don’t quite have the words to express what this panel meant to me, what it meant to a room full of women. Nearly everyone in that room – onstage and in the audience – was in tears as we discussed what this show has done for survivors and allies. “Is anybody in here a therapist?” Lasher joked as audience members traded tissues and brought some onstage for Eliza Bennett (Jules), who broke down several times talking about the women who have told her their stories after being moved by Jules’. Like many of us, Bennett has several friends who have been raped but never told anyone – but after Sweet/Vicious, these women felt empowered to tell her. And so much of that is because of the remarkable character Bennett crafted along with Robinson, Lasher and the other writers. “Jules is an incredible person. She’s so brave. And just because she’s broken doesn’t mean that she’s not also brave, because you can be both things.”
Dearden’s character Ophelia stands for the allies of the world. She hasn’t been sexually assaulted, but she’s as fiercely and passionately committed to fighting rape culture on their campus as Jules, and she suffers depression and anxiety, making her as resonant a character to many viewers. Ophelia feels selfish for her depression after what Jules has been through, but of course Ophelia’s pain is as valid and important as Jules’. “We as women try to find a reason for our feelings, when the feelings themselves are good enough.”
There are so many more quotes from the panel that moved me, that meant something to me – like the fact that Robinson said the writers didn’t want to show Jules in the shower after her rape, because “we should never depict that it’s on the woman to scrub herself clean,” or Dee expressing her anger at her character Kennedy because “women not believing women is very difficult to shoot,” or Sher marveling that, “I’ve been doing this for thirty years, and I’ve never had an experience where everybody on staff was a woman. It was an extraordinary, incomparable experience.” – but it’s more important to me to tell you how that room felt.
It felt safe. It felt strong. It felt honest and hard and important. Dearden and Bennett held hands throughout the panel, and at one point, as Dearden was speaking, she leaned over and comfortably wiped a tear from Bennett’s cheek. The camaraderie among these six women is a miracle, especially after only ten episodes. It’s the solidarity of knowing that they did something significant together, and as viewers – the ones who fought for this show, who loved it, who saw ourselves in it – we were somehow a part of that significance. Robinson said of the show, “We were able to reach through the television and say to survivors, ‘you fucking matter.’” At one point they asked an audience member to stand up. She was wearing a t-shirt she’d made, and on which she’d drawn Jules and Ophelia. Beneath her beautiful illustration she’d written their motto: “We believe you.”
It’s such a powerful message, such a vital message, and it’s one that cannot and will not be lost no matter what lies ahead for Sweet/Vicious. Robinson’s final words to us were a beautiful promise: “Looking at the cancellation of our show, it’s easy to believe your story doesn’t matter, and that couldn’t be more false… We wanted to tell survivors’ stories, and we still do, and every single woman who worked on this show will continue to tell those stories.”