To overload on the pop TV metaphors, Alyssa Milano has led a charmed life, but, 40 years after becoming a household name as Tony Danza’s sitcom daughter, she’s still the boss.
An actor, producer, writer and activist, Milano has not only had a successful, enduring onscreen career, with credits ranging from ’90s touchstones Melrose Place and Charmed to Netflix’s 2018 series Insatiable, but also, almost from the start, she has used her fame and public persona to amplify her voice in support of causes she cares about.
Sunday marked the five-year anniversary of Milano’s 2017 tweet, in which, in response to newly reported sexual assault allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein, she wrote:
“If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
Milano didn’t come up with the #MeToo hashtag — it was activist Tarana Burke who founded the #MeToo movement in 2006 — but Milano’s 2017 tweet went viral and is often credited with boosting Burke’s movement and a broader women’s rights initiative.
On Sunday’s anniversary, Milano reposted her original tweet on Instagram.
And on Monday, Milano took the stage at The Hollywood Reporter and A+E Networks’ Women in Global Entertainment Power Lunch at MIPCOM in Cannes to talk about her twin careers as a creator and activist and the women who helped her along the way.
In a revealing, inspiring and often very funny talk with A+E Studios executive vp Tana Jamieson, Milano highlighted some of the extraordinary women she credits with supporting and inspiring her, from her mother, a New York fashion designer that staged shows at the legendary club Studio 54, to her first onscreen “mothers,” Who’s the Boss? co-stars Judith Light and Katherine Helmond.
“At the time, Who’s the Boss? was very progressive: It was about a single mom who ran her own business (Light), who then hired a man to be the housekeeper (Danza), and had this promiscuous mother (Helmond) who lived in the guest house,” Milano noted. “In the early ’80s, nobody was really talking about gender issues.”
Milano recalled how Judith Light became a real substitute mom one day on the set when Milano got her first period. “My mom was not there, and Judith taught me what to do through the door,” she recalled, laughing.
Milano’s connection with strong female characters continued through her stint on Melrose Place, “watching Heather Locklear be this amazing number one on the call sheet for that show, the quarterback of the entire cast, was really incredible,” she said. “And then, you know, with Charmed [you had] three powerful women fighting evil. I’ve been incredibly lucky to not only have been mentored by incredible women but also to have the opportunity to be a powerful woman at a time when that wasn’t really the norm. And I think all of that enabled me and gave me the strength to really use my voice.”
Milano first found the power of using the voice that fame gave her when she agreed to kiss Ryan White, a teenage boy who had contracted AIDS through a contaminated blood transfusion and who had been ostracized at his Indiana middle school, live on television to prove you couldn’t get HIV/AIDS from casual contact.
“I went on The Phil Donahue Show and I kissed Ryan. And that was the moment that my life completely changed because I realized what it meant to have a voice by being famous and what it meant to do good with that voice,” Milano recalled.
Milano said she planned to use that voice in her role as a producer and content creator for A+E Studios, with which she has a first-look deal that will see her create and produce projects for all TV platforms in the United States and internationally. The deal also includes a pilot script Milano wrote for Things I’m Seeing Without You, an adaptation of a YA novel by Peter Bognanni.
“I’m going to tell love stories, to tell the stories of love in every respect, of love in all its facets and in all its many incarnations. … My passion for writing and producing also comes from a place of love,” Milano said. “And I want to tell stories that are funny, because [finding] humor is important in breaking the tension of fear or nervousness or anger.”
Referencing the theme of the 2022 Power Lunch, “Stronger Together,” Milano called on the other women in the room to support each other to help achieve true equality.
“I think it wasn’t until maybe #MeToo when we realized how much the patriarchy was fighting against women being together. I think it was all part of the plan to keep us very isolated so that we wouldn’t talk about what they did to us. [I always felt] like men in positions of power made us feel like we were in competition with each other.”
Instead of competing, she said, women in entertainment should do what women do naturally when they are out together.
“If you’re out at dinner and your friend says she’s going to use the bathroom, we all go together, right? So why would it be any different going to human resources?”
Standing up for women’s rights and equality needs to “become second nature” within the entertainment industry worldwide, Milano said, “so that [in the future] the women’s Power Lunch could also have tables of men who just get it and who are here to support us, because we need them. We can’t find equality and equity without them. [And] that’s why we are stronger together: because I don’t ever want to go through the trauma of being discriminated against as a woman alone again.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s editorial director, Nekesa Mumbi Moody, echoed that thought, kicking off the luncheon with a call for action.
“We’re in a room together, so many dynamic women, so many powerful women,” she said, “And what does that mean to help women in this business, to help us grow together, to be stronger together? I think it means greenlighting each other’s projects. It means mentoring each other. And it also means hiring one another and just being there for one another.”
MIPCOM: Alyssa Milano Looks Back on Life of Activism, Urges Women to Stand Together