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‘The White Princess’ Showrunner Emma Frost Digs Into Hollywood’s Misogyny & Britain’s Production System

Where to Stream

The White Princess

The White Princess weaves together the voices of many strong women jockeying for power in the early Tudor court, but its drama comes from the mind of one woman alone: showrunner Emma Frost. The British writer and producer was the head writer on its prequel series, The White Queen, and has been the primary architect behind bringing Philippa Gregory’s lush historical novels to life.

Even though Frost was the head writer and associate producer on The White Queen, writing and producing The White Princess was a completely different experience for her. She became, for the first time, a bona fide showrunner. She explained to me why she finds the American system better than her native Britain’s over breakfast a few weeks ago. “Well, the British system doesn’t have showrunners. So, as you say, The White Queen was developed through the BBC as a British production, so the system that simply works that writers on TV in the UK are very much like feature writers here. So you write at home in your pajamas or whatever, and then a designated adult takes the script off of you and produces it. There’s quite a creative apartheid between writing and producing in the U.K.,” Frost said.

The White Princess showrunner Emma Frost on the set.Photo: Starz

“When you get to a certain level of achievement and status, you get to also be a producer of some kind on the show. It is often a little bit titular and your opinions are considered when they accord with everyone else’s and otherwise ignored. It’s a very peculiar system in the U.K. So because The White Queen was a British production, I was an associate producer, but most of the creative decisions were driven by people other than me. So when we did The White Princess, which was fully financed and fully made by Starz, we did it in the American system. So I’m the showrunner which means essentially I’m the CEO of the production and all the creative decisions come through me. From my point of view, there’s no going back,” she laughed.

“It’s bizarre!” she added. “I worked extensively in production before I was a writer so to become a writer and to not be allowed to do all the stuff I had already been doing for years – and to be treated like a child, which is what the British system is – was anathema and really incredibly difficult. The showrunner system makes complete sense. You know, if you write something and conceive something, you are the best person to make decisions and all producing is is having opinions!”

Photo: Starz

The White Princess joins a small legion of exciting female-driven shows, like Big Little Lies, FEUD: Bette and Joan, Harlots, and The Handmaid’s Tale, debuting this season. When I asked Frost how it felt to be apart of this moment, she sneakily asked me to list all the shows about women that were being showrun by women. I mentioned Harlots and Girlboss, but she was fast to point out that shows like Big Little Lies and The Handmaid’s Tale were being helmed by white men. “The politics of it are awful!” Frost explained, “What’s awful for me is that we are even needing to have this conversion. We are in 2017. 50% of shows should be helmed by women. 50% of shows and movies should be directed by women. We shouldn’t even be talking about gender anymore. We should be talking about human beings who are talented doing the thing they do creatively. The fact that we’re even still having to comment on it makes me want to weep!”

“So rather than celebrate the tiny smattering of shows that are helmed by women or directed by women, I want to lament the movies — 90% — that are not. I think we’ve gone backwards. I don’t think this is a moment to celebrate. I think this is a moment to scream with frustration and say, ‘Why is this happening?’ You only have to look at things like Beauty and the Beast and how well that’s performing at the cinema to say female-driven shows, female narratives, the female audience drives the box office! Women buy the cinema tickets. Women control the remote control. Women are influencing what households view and what you go see at cinema more than men are,” she said. “And it really upsets me because women are just are talented as men. Where is this perception even coming from? It comes from a refusal to relinquish power from the people who have the power. Oh, some guy in a baseball cap can direct a first movie and then, hey, lets give him an action movie! That doesn’t happen for female directors, for a female showrunner. I’m not a showrunner; I’m a female show runner. I’m like an adjunct, an other.”

Photo: Starz

Ironically, when I asked Frost about what inspired her to return to the world of The White Queen and she said it was actually the boys: “For me, it’s the closure of the story about what happened to the Princes in the Tower, which is one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in British history. And to leave it where we did in The White Queen, where Prince Richard has come back, just felt like we hadn’t finished this story.”

The White Princess has been a joy from start to finish. I’m immensely proud of the show and I feel it was a real opportunity this time. I’m very proud of The White Queen, but there are things we’ve done differently on The White Princess…and I think it’s a vastly superior show,” Frost said.  “I think for me, the story in The White Princess has a lot more dramatic grist. I mean, The White Queen is actually a tough narrative to tell: two people fall in love and get married. Where’s the conflict? The conflict’s in the rest of the country. But with The White Princess, it’s such a great story — these two people who are forced to marry for the sake of the country and they hate each other. And they’ve got historical, political, and personal reasons to hate each other. That’s a great story, but it’s also a great way to write about gender and power and to tell a very personal story about a marriage, while also telling a very political story. So it felt dramatically like a real gift to tell this story.”

 

Stream The White Princess on Starz

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