by Emily Paluba
Emily Paluba (they/she), 22, is a queer reader and writer from New Jersey who indulges in many art forms, where their passion for advocacy meets their love for poetry. Their work appears in Full House Literary, Queerlings, and elsewhere. When they're not in their notebook, you can find them walking their dog, doing yoga, or napping. Learn more about them at emilypaluba.com, or keep up with them on Instagram @emilypaluba.
Rewatching, Retelling, Reclaiming: The Drama Queens Podcast
In November 2022, in real time, I listened to three womxn—Hilarie Burton Morgan, Bethany Joy Lenz, and Sophia Bush Hughes—unearth the manipulation they experienced, twenty years later. This was about five years after the #MeToo hashtag went viral and they came forward the first time, realizing yet another layer of how they were pitted against each other as young womxn in TV at the hands of the One Tree Hill creator, Mark Schwahn. This is just one example of how the act of rewatching their show, together, through their Drama Queens podcast, allows them to claim the truth of what really happened behind the scenes, which represents a world filled with womxn who have been and continue to be suppressed in similar ways, no matter the environment. This discussion seeks to continue the narrative, to uplift, to engage in the work of discovery that is so crucial to the significance and momentum of #MeToo, and to show how breaking a pattern in one place can break patterns in others.
One Tree Hill was the first show of its kind that I watched. My first Netflix show, my first teen drama, the first time I felt a connection to characters this deeply. I was devastated to learn that the creator was so terrible to the womxn on the show, as many people in the past decade have been devastated as behind-the-scenes truths were revealed, and continue to be revealed, in the name of #MeToo. I was even more devastated to read that the truth was kept under wraps by these womxn.. The podcast episode this essay focuses on is called “It’s a Fiasco,” reviewing Season 4 Episode 4 of One Tree Hill, which involves a Maxim photoshoot that the actors were required to do in real life. However, this photoshoot was encased in manipulation, body-shaming, and threats.
The aftermath is felt in the podcast. The pain the three womxn feel runs deep; it can be heard in their voices. How at times they exclaim, they laugh, they deflect, they rage, they cry. But they do it in the presence of each other, working it out, talking it through, no matter how hard it is to relive the memories of sexual trauma. If this was simply what was happening on camera, behind the scenes, the same misogyny thrived. By rewatching and discussing these issues, they put into practice the work that needs to happen to overcome the deeply layered detriments of this lack of awareness of the creator and writers of the show. These three womxn show how to overcome, to force yourself into the seat of the subject, and quite literally grab a hold of the mic.
On the podcast, the womxn never dive into the details of the abuse they experienced, although this information can be found online, like in Variety Magazine. But the details are not important. Their safety was unstable, and that is enough. Not only did their boss harass them, but he also did it in a way that split them apart, which is exactly what stops progress and justice, as the #MeToo movement has shown. They were all set up to be mad at each other, to not have relationships and feel the community required for revolution. The way they exclaim is what really needs listening to; this is more than a tabloid, than breaking news.
All three womxn put a stop to the dance of rape culture using their podcast, showing how pausing to reclaim can dismantle the momentum of silence that allows rape culture—a world in which the roots and effects of sexual assault are not wholly considered and abhorred—to flourish. They all express anguish at what womxn have to go through that men do not, but have hope that now, young womxn talk to each other, instead of being divided, tension festering. They are trusted, believed, open, creating the space that should have been created for them all along by prior generations. This is the soul of the podcast, one that pushes for a better future, all womxn fired up by the same things, expressing it in different ways, because is that not what it means to be oppressed in the United States and beyond?
While doing research, I found plenty of stories with quotes from the womxn, some talking about the abuse they experienced and the stressful conditions on set. And although the truth is important—and the telling of this truth is indeed important—no news story can surpass the significance of the podcast Burton Morgan, Lenz, and Bush Hughes create by coming together, being vulnerable, and sharing their process to a willing, engaged audience. In response, I did have many questions. I wanted to know what happened to Schwahn, what he thought, what his statements were, how specific the womxn have been in what they have experienced. I found the answers.
But while relistening to the episode for research, viewing pictures of the womxn, and finding an article that discusses how our Drama Queens “make joy out of pain,” my feelings evolved. Nothing else matters nearly as much as the act of reclaiming and the community created because of it. It does not matter what others think happened, especially the perpetrator who cast such a wide net of hurt, but rather that we listen to the womxn’s accounts. This rings true for other #MeToo stories. It feels like the news stories are the facts, but all this? This is the truth in every sense of the word, as a noun and a verb, what the womxn are doing and what they make.
It is essential to let the facts speak for themselves, but to also listen intently to the truth, engaging with the speakers as they buckle down and venture into freedom. We can learn from what these three womxn do as they rewatch, reclaim, retell, show up as completely, utterly themselves every time, to break our hearts so that we can rebuild, together.