WHILE STARLETS ARE THE ONES who tend to grace the covers of magazines, Hollywood has been — and still is — notoriously a boys’ club. With few exceptions, the roles for women are generally limited to ingénue, girlfriend, wife, and mother. Trish Nelson is trying to change that with BanterGirl, saving the world one laugh at a time by investing in female artists. Nelson and BanterGirl choose a few women and projects created by women each year to cultivate and produce. She spoke with Lady Clever about how changing the way women are portrayed in entertainment can change society, her thoughts on women being perceived as “not funny,” and how art can’t just be for art’s sake — a girl’s gotta get paid.
Tell us about what led you to starting BanterGirl.
As a creator, BanterGirl is the company that I’ve needed while building my career over the past 20 years, which was something to help fund and launch the projects that I write and create. We’re a production house first, but I would like for BG to become a new type of management company that financially invests in the work of the talent-base that it’s representing. We don’t quite have the capital to pull this off just yet, but I have no doubt that we’ll get there.
Why was it important for you to give a launch pad to women in the arts?
Once I realized that the imagery Hollywood was feeding me and my fellow sisters was essentially an aggressive form of brainwashing, I knew that I had to dedicate my life to changing what is being modeled to us as a culture. Most of the content that we’re being fed is essentially the product of male fantasy and isn’t an actual reflection of who women truly are. This needs to change, and I want BanterGirl to be a part of that change. One way to make this happen is to fund the voices of those creators, and empower them to create those characters and write those storylines.
How do you choose the comediennes and projects BanterGirl supports each year?
I’m attracted to talents of women who have been developing their craft for a substantial length of time and have often been overlooked by the industry because they don’t fit the Hollywood mold. For this first year, I knew the women who I was going to work with because I’ve been seeing them kill for years now. BanterGirl wants seasoned broads who have set standards of quality for themselves. Leaders rather than followers. Icons and future icons.
What was your biggest challenge starting BanterGirl?
Finding funding. It’s still my biggest challenge. While creating this company, I’ve discovered that investing in women, diversity, and female-generated content is still seen by a lot of Hollywood business types as too much of a gamble. There have been several disheartening moments of awareness that have happened along this path, but they haven’t thwarted my drive and determination.
Why do you think that society views women either as not as funny as men, or not funny, period?
Funny women are often viewed as too opinionated. Difficult to dominate. Not easy to sexualize and objectify. For some reason, these characteristics seem to make less-secure men feel emasculated, so they have turned to the simpleminded tactic of dismissing our abilities. When it comes to gender equality, it is a tactic that has been used for centuries, and has often worked.
Have you ever faced discrimination in the industry because of your gender?
I was 21 when I moved to Hollywood, and was immediately subjected to auditions where I had to put on bathing suits and do 360-degree turns in front of audiences of critiquing executives. No one was interested in my actual talent; they just wanted to make sure that my ass was going to look good on camera. I once had an agent ask me to jump up and down in front of him. Not totally certain what he was checking for, but it was alarming to say the least. I was advised by another rep to wear white underwear and short skirts so that casting directors could see the triangle of my crotch when I sat down. As a grown woman I’ve been told that at 170 lbs. my “type” doesn’t exist. I’d either have to gain 50 pounds or lose 50 lbs. It feels strange to be a person alive on this planet and to be told: “You don’t exist.”
What do you think of the move to close the pay gap between male and female artists that Jennifer Lawrence, Patricia Arquette, and a number of other female celebrities have been publicly calling for?
This is a universal issue that affects women in all professions across the board. The thing that’s so wild about Hollywood is that our society seems to model what it is that the entertainment industry puts in front of us. I think the industry holds a responsibility to help lead this charge. I’m proud of the women of Hollywood for no longer being bullied by the self-appointed “gate keepers” to keep silent on this issue. The more we speak up, the faster we will make this transition. We can no longer stay silent when it comes to discrimination.
What has been your favorite or most fulfilling aspect of BanterGirl so far?
Having creative women write to me and tell me their stories and their career goals. Accessible: that’s what I want BanterGirl to always be for all creative women who are trying to get their voices heard.
Why was it important for you to also have a crowdfunding element to BanterGirl?
I’ve been a part of the working poor for the majority of my adult life and so it was truly the only way that I was going to be able to raise the capital that I needed to launch. I was raised by a single mother who worked 2 jobs to help put me through college. Even though I have my masters degree in Theater, my taxes let me know that my main career for the past 20 years has been that of a waitress. Asking for help from the community was the only way it was going to happen.
Also, crowdfunding helped me solidify the fact that BanterGirl is a company of the people. We are all responsible for what we want to see, and to be able to directly fund projects that are shining a light on diversity and the female voice makes anyone who donated a huge part of that change.