Freeform Summit 2019: Stars of 'The Bold Type,' 'Good Trouble' & More Celebrate Young Adults and Authentic Storytelling

On March 27th, we had the absolute pleasure of attending the second annual Freeform Summit. The Theme was, “A Stage for Everyone,” and the event acted as The UnPageant, meant to break down the pre-established standards of beauty and redefine what it means to be truly beautiful. The night was all about Freeform’s identity, aimed to provide authentic storytelling, inclusivity and representation of youth culture. With a series of panel discussions, the event was inspired by the very themes that helm the network’s original shows. President Tom Ascheim opened the night and declared that the drive of the audience is what pushes Freeform to “create shows that are bold, authentic, brave.” He explained that “celebrating inclusivity is a part of Freeform’s DNA” and proclaimed, “our programming is meant to inspire, empower and celebrate the possibility of youth culture, and the panels you are about to see provide a stage for everyone—everyone here deserves to be seen.” 

In the first panel, “Young Adults Keep Ruining Everything,” the panelists engaged in a conversation about overcoming the image of entitlement and using their platforms to challenge gender norms and diversify the media business. The idea of youth disrupting social norms and what society expects them to be is something that was very present in this panel and was a theme throughout the enitre night. Kenya Barris, Executive Producer of grown-ish, black-ish, Unrelated, commented, “The idea that people who are disruptive in a positive way has never been more than what we see today.” The youth is here, and they are ready to take back their narratives and disrupt any expectations set upon them.

The Bold Type's Jane Sloan, Katie Stevens spoke about feeling unqualified to be with Freeform at times and how she has managed to develop the confidence to overcome her insecurities. She stated, “I’ve come to a point in my life that I’m truly unafraid to say that I have moment of being insecure [...] I have to, time and time again, tell myself that I am enough. It’s the thing that I wish I could go back and tell my 17 year old self.” She went on to say, “We are living in a society where we have social media, and we’re on social media, where we just see the highlight reel of how great everybody’s life is, and it makes you feel like you’re not doing enough—am I enough, and is what I did today enough?” YouTuber, Gigi Gorgeous, then insisted that people are “stronger in numbers” and stated, “We can conquer all, with networks like Freeform and platforms like YouTube. Share your story because we are stronger in numbers, and you never know who you are going to affect.” 

In the panel, “Be Whoever The FF You Want,” the panelists spoke about how to be authentic and represent true stories on screen. I. Marlene King (Executive Producer, Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists) spoke about the actors she works with and how they inspire her to keep her work honest: “This generation is teaching us so much about really being authentic and true to ourselves, but I feel like if I can impart any wisdom on the actors on the show, it’s to surround yourself with people that make you feel safe. Surround yourself with people who love you for who you are, accept you for who you are. If it’s not your family, make your family.” She also spoke about how she wants to reinvent the word "perfect" on her new show, as she reinvented the word "b*tch" on Pretty Little Liars to empower women and encourage them to take back the words they are identified with. 

Aisha Dee, who plays Kat Edison in The Bold Type, shared her experience working in the business and how she made it here from Australia. She told the audience, “I’m so honored to be a representation for young people who don’t look like everyone else and who don’t check all the boxes that humans have created [...] There’s duality in all of us, and we can’t possibly fit into any of these boxes that people have created for us. We’re this generation that is drawing our own boxes, and they’re whatever shape we want them to be—we color outside of the lines, and it’s really cool.” This statement received a roar from the audience, as it is the people watching Freeform's diverse shows that are creating thier own boxes and being whoever the FF they want. 

The panel, “A Stage For Everyone—What ‘The UnPageant’ Means To The Future Of Representation,” featured strong panelists, striving for inclusivity in areas such as fashion and storytelling. Joanna Johnson, the Executive Producer of Good Trouble, spoke about representing all people on screen: “Some of us are ingrained as writers to think that we have to put ‘attractive’ people on television and the idea of what we think ‘attractive’ is. I would encourage all writers and creators to think out of the box when you’re casting.” She further insisted, “We all have to try harder and challenge your own go-to ideas. We’re are programmed, and we have to un-program ourselves by questioning everything we do [...] It’s not enough just to have a diverse cast. If you don’t have the people behind the cameras who you are representing, then how are you writing those stories authentically?” 

Commenting on the idea of other people's perception of you, Sasha Pieterse, who plays Alison on Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists, shared about a time when a woman assumed she was pregnant and proceeded to over-explain her mistake: “She told me that it was because of the way I was leaning over the pool table, which made me look pregnant. I think assumptions are really difficult and important.” Representing people authentically and giving real storylines on screen is so important because it is a place for learning, and that sentiment was a major theme during this panel. It is the 'UnPagageant' that viewers need to see on their screens, not the "highlight reel" that we get on Instagram. 

This year’s Freeform Summit certainly did not disappoint with its exciting and thought-provoking panels. Full of empowering and influential speakers, the event provided a space for honest conversations and delved into issues that need to be addressed more often. We left feeling inspired and excited to see where the youth of today will take us tomorrow. The stars and creators of the shows present in the panels are all advocates for representing real and relatable storylines that challenge what we are used to seeing on TV. The event was also made accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities through its collaboration with Amplify Entertainment Company, formed by Sami Housman and panelist, Nyle DiMarco. As stated by Tom Ascheim, “we are in service to an audience that is paving the way and fighting for a more inclusive tomorrow, and we are so honored to be representing them on and off screen.”