Empowering Women in Arts and Entertainment in Partnership with TIME’S UP Foundation, featuring Kate Buckley
Welcome back to our interview series, ‘Empowering Women in Arts and Entertainment,’ in partnership with TIME’S UP Foundation. For our fifth installment, we spoke to Kate Buckley, Director, 42 and board member, TIME’S UP UK. Kate Buckley joined the leading UK agency for representing actors, writers and directors, Independent (then ICM), in 2000 and today is one of London’s foremost talent agents. Kate formed 42 in 2013, and she runs the management and production company with four partners: producers Rory Aitken and Ben Pugh and managers Cathy King and Josh Varney. Together they make film and television both in the UK and in America as well as represent actors, directors, writers, producers, casting directors and the UK’s foremost intimacy director.
What first drew you to the entertainment industry and how was the climate for women when you first started working?
I had grown up familiar with certain aspects of the industry: my father was an actor and my mother was a casting director called Mary Selway. I did not have a “show biz” upbringing but rather saw the harder, more unforgiving side of it. My mother was a single mother, a pioneer and strong in her field and the agency world is populated with strong women so from that perspective it felt equal but later I learnt not for most other professionals within the industry. She battled sexism and bullying but never seemed to sink — when she started there were very very few women in positions of any decision making. I will never forget her turning her back on Harvey Weinstein when he approached her at a time when it wasn’t a smart career move to do so. It stuck with me — she walked the walk.
As a woman, what is the biggest hurdle you have faced in becoming successful in your industry, and/or what are some of the key issues that women face in your profession?
One of the biggest hurdles I have faced is as a business owner not as an agent. As a female agent, you are seen as soft and friendly or a ball breaker if you are direct and strong. I chose deliberately to emulate my mother and be neither of those. I chose to be strong, fair, open, kind and very direct and to be willing to get up again and again when not treated in the same fashion. As a business owner, I was for the first 5 years or so the only woman and countless times I was ignored in favour of my male counterparts. I would bide my time and then be impactful but I had to create the space and be extra smart, erudite and captivating as opposed to just talk. There was always more thought behind it because I feel they expected less.
What is the best piece of advice a female peer or superior gave you, specifically relating to being a female in your profession?
I have to be totally honest and say the only person that gave me good advice was my mother and she was tough — she told me to make a choice in whether I just wanted to succeed in which case I could be like most people — cut corners, lie and find the easy route or I could be decent and honest and build a solid well-earned, enduring reputation which meant people would BOTH like and respect me but that was a far harder, longer and more vigilant path. Sadly, I always looked to women for advice and to emulate but I found few to none. A lot of the women in positions of power or authority were not as open as today I feel they are.
As a woman working in your industry, are there benefits to having a female supervisor or mentor?
It’s wonderful to be able to give honest feedback and advice. To help navigate and empower women coming through and in different stages of their careers — whether it’s finding and using their voice, or encouraging them to speak out and be bold around support on childcare and maternity, abuse, bullying, etc… Helping women and men to feel safe in their workplaces and think of themselves and of their colleagues. It’s the only way to have a cohesive progressive industry. Help and educate others to help and educate others.
Have you personally helped to drive positive change for women in your industry or have you seen others do so?
I built a company that empowers women, I became active in TIME’S UP UK and worked for the board. I speak to as many people in and out of the industry that I can to create jobs, inroads, awareness and change. I introduce women to women and take on projects big and large that facilitate change both immediate and long-term. I educate men on how to help be allies and women on how to identify the men that are willing to learn and be a part of the change.
What piece of advice would you give someone starting out in an entry-level role in your industry?
Talk to as many people as you can — find the figures you identify with. Be fearless. Listen and experience as much as you can. All areas of the industry are vital to understand and be aware of — it will only inform your chosen career more. Dig deep and ask questions, believe in yourself and take risks. Also, be honest with yourself if you feel it is not for you — find out what careers are available within the industry — a lot are not as well known.
Earlier this year, TIME’S UP released the TIME’S UP Guide to Working in Entertainment (TIME’S UP UK Edition) with practical ways entertainment professionals can advocate for themselves and their safety. How would you advise someone who is struggling to report harassment or discrimination?
Talk to someone you trust and ask them to help you navigate the best and safest way. Do it when you are ready. Do not feel under pressure — take a beat to talk it through with someone and then make a plan of action. Understand that it is your prerogative to change your mind at any time — it has to be right for you.
What are some positive changes you’ve seen take place since the #MeToo movement gained traction and TIME’S UP was launched to combat workplace sexual misconduct and harassment in the entertainment industry?
People are more willing to speak out. Roles are becoming more diverse and female roles less submissive. People are thinking about the language they use in meetings, auditions, scripts (sometimes). The female perspective has become interesting (wasn’t it always?!). The notion of a strong woman being “difficult” or “temperamental/angry” is slowly being chipped away at.
What do you think is still missing in the entertainment industry regarding representation, equity, safety and accountability?
A lot, but my main concern is that this is not a spike, a blip in how we do things in the industry but a real consistent enduring change. It’s going to take vigilance and many years to right the scales until it reaches full and habitual equanimity and if those of us working in the industry do not coalesce and talk to each other and stop working in verticals — then it will be a moment only. We need it to be a turning point and that takes energy, commitment and communication.
What further changes do you hope to see in your profession in the future?
I hope for full and total inclusion to be reflected in front of and behind the camera and on our screens. I hope for the storytellers to change so the stories change. I hope for all children of different backgrounds to see themselves reflected on the screen. I hope for a fair and clear process to raise awareness of the bullies and sexual predators in our industry and a structure to deal with them that does not rely on Twitter or social media opinion but is based in fact and has a clear pathway.