This story was originally published by USA Today on Oct. 5, 2018. Read the original on usatoday.com.
There’s a consensus in Hollywood: Change is slow and it’s coming, but the industry can’t afford to let the gas run out. And it might.
A year ago, the #MeToo movement took flight as The New York Times and The New Yorker published stories cracking open the decades-long predation of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Since then, the producer has been banished from the glitterati’s ranks, and more victims began speaking up about the horrors behind Hollywood’s doors. (A New York judge will decide if a case against Weinstein involving assault and rape will move forward on Nov. 8; aside from civil suits he is also facing a civil discrimination case brought by the New York attorney general ).
With their stories, so too went the standing (and careers) of top executives and formerly revered figures like Charlie Rose, Louis C.K. and Kevin Spacey. Some cases have proved too old or flimsy to hold up in court; prosecutors rejected filing charges against stars including actors Ed Westwick and Anthony Anderson, while director Brett Ratner settled with one of his accusers, whom he sued for defamation, just this week.
But jobs were lost by the likes of “Transparent” star Jeffrey Tambor, who was fired by Amazon following sexual harassment claims (he has denied the allegations), and “Today” show’s Matt Lauer, who was dismissed after allegations rose against him. And just last week, Bill Cosby, whose accusations from more than 60 women mushroomed before #MeToo, went to state prison for drugging and molesting a woman.
But as the one-year anniversary approaches – and the country focuses on whether Christine Blasey Ford’s emotional testimony will deter Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s ascent to the Supreme Court – it begs the question: Is Hollywood’s #MeToo movement in full flux or in danger of losing traction?
Much of that answer so far comes from the actual changes women are seeing off the red carpet. On the ground. In meetings. In auditions. On sets.
In February, a USA TODAY investigation found that 94% of women surveyed who worked in the entertainment industry said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault over the course of their careers.
The 94 Percent: How common is sexual misconduct in Hollywood?
It is, of course, futile to expect a dramatic change in the pervasive extent of workplace sexual abuse in a mere 365 days, in Hollywood or anywhere else in American life. The entertainment industry is 100 years old and functions the way it does – the “casting couch,” for instance – for reasons that go beyond just the selfish or criminal behavior of some of the powerful men who have run it over the decades.
Moreover, quantifying change in a reliable and understandable way is tricky when dealing with a complicated multi-billion–dollar international industry that operates at the intersection between economic and artistic priorities.
Having said that, how has the industry fared, one year after #MeToo exploded, in its effort to put new protocols in place to prevent history from repeating itself?
Analyzing new pathways to reporting sexual harassment in Hollywood
First, in the past year more tools and pathways have become available to victims. Time’s Up launched and raised $22 million for its Legal Defense Fund, administered by the National Women’s Law Center.
Women in Film’s Los Angeles chapter launched a new helpline in December, and has since received hundreds of calls from women who have experienced sexual abuse and harassment, according to executive director Kirsten Schaffer. They have referred roughly 100 women to pro-bono attorneys.
And just this week Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law in California that prohibits secret settlements and non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment cases. Beginning in 2019, a victim can choose to keep his or her name private, but the perpetrator’s identity cannot be confidential.
But the law can only go so far. Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey established a task force of specially trained prosecutors after the Weinstein news broke to investigate allegations of sex crimes in the entertainment industry. To date, law enforcement agencies have referred 36 cases to the sex crimes unit but there has yet to be a criminal filing.
Lacey’s spokesman Greg Risling says 10 cases were declined because they were outside the statute of limitations; open cases involve Weinstein, Sylvester Stallone, Steven Seagal, Kevin Spacey, adult film star Ron Jeremy and producer David Guillod.
On the ground, most Hollywood studios and companies say they have retrained their staffs on harassment (with many including unconscious bias training). But what follows the (frequently pedantic) sessions is often laughter.
“The way people react when they walk out of those meetings, it’s almost, like, funny,” says Brittany Rostron, the founder of FACES, a nonprofit organization aimed at helping women develop their careers in the entertainment industry.
“It’s not taken that seriously for the most part,” says Rostron, who has worked on several studio-backed productions in the past year. “It seems more like a ‘this is what we have to do now’ and less ‘we’re trying to change the culture of the industry.’ “
Some studios don’t want to talk about how they address sexual harassment within their studio systems. Warner Bros. and Sony each issued statements to USA TODAY affirming their commitment to workplaces free of unlawful discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Disney, 21st Century Fox, Paramount Pictures and Universal Studios declined to comment or respond.
But unions have beefed up their support systems. A sampling:
- The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees says they’ve redoubled outreach efforts to inform members about available resources, and have seen an increase in reports of inappropriate workplace conduct to its hotline and representatives.
- As of July 2017, prior to Weinstein hitting the news, the Directors Guild of America began including a provision for employers to provide sexual harassment training for all members.
- The Producer’s Guild of America now urges the practice of naming multiple, gender-diverse crew members on sets as points of contact for reporting harassment.
- And the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists called for a ban on auditions and interviews in hotel rooms or residences unless a support peer is present. SAG-AFTRA is expected to work the proviso into their 2020 contracts.
- More recently, SAG-AFTRA began to offer counseling services and scenario-specific guidance for members on how to avoid and/or address sexual harassment in the workplace.
The audition guideline “has had a powerful impact,” says Gabrielle Carteris, SAG-AFTRA president. “I’ve heard directly from members that they are seeing a shift in industry norms. Our members are feeling more empowered to decline these types of meetings and value the ability to request a support peer.”
But is it enough?
“It’s awesome that unions are putting things in place, now it’s just a matter of time of waiting to see them take effect,” says Morgana McKenzie, a freelance camera operator who previously shared her story with USA TODAY of the daily harassment endured on set. “People are this way because of habitual behavior. So we can post as many posters and PSAs as we want, (but) the ultimate problem is getting fully formed and grown adults to break habits, and that’s hard.”
‘There’s still a real big price to pay for coming forward’
What Hollywood continues to lack, say experts, is a centralized system for identifying repeat offenders. Non-union employees and employees who work for smaller companies, some of which lack dedicated HR teams, remain vulnerable. And still, many people fear retaliation for speaking out. Being blackballed. The loss of the ability to pay their bills.
Terry Lawler, executive director of New York Women in Film & Television, says they’ve seen “an uptick in calls but not necessarily an uptick in legal action” on their partner hotline, managed by the Human Rights Commission. “There’s still a real big price to pay for coming forward.”
L.A.-based labor lawyer Genie Harrison, who represents a former Weinstein assistant and recently filed a John Doe case against Kevin Spacey, stresses that “every single” hotline caller with a harassment complaint should be referred to a lawyer, so as to understand “what the consequences are going to be if they choose not to take action within the statute of limitations.”
The odds remain stacked against the women who come forward unless investigations are handled appropriately – which, in many cases, comes down to whether an organization brings in a third-party to investigate, says Angela Reddock-Wright, managing attorney of Reddock Law Group.
Reddock-Wright, who has seen a 25 percent increase in calls for investigations by Hollywood-related corporations and guilds, stresses that impartiality remains a major factor in investigations. That’s especially the case when it comes to high-profile figures like Ryan Seacrest, who was cleared by an internal probe, or former CBS chief Les Moonves, pushed out after he was accused of sexual misconduct and retaliatory practices.
“The biggest lesson for companies in entertainment is to act quickly when they get the complaints,” says Reddock-Wright. “Even with Les Moonves, they sat on it. You’re supposed to bring in someone independent and you’re not supposed to put any inhibitions on the investigation.That’s going to be the next stage of the #MeToo movement –companies understanding they need to get on top of these complaints right away.”
A new temperature on film and TV sets
Has behavior on the ground changed? That depends on who you ask.
Last month Julia Roberts acknowledged she was the wrong sort of starto speak out , given how seldom she dips back into the throes of the industry. “I can’t say that I’m a credible witness because I don’t really participate in the world enough,” the Oscar winner told USA TODAY. “But I would say energetically I feel that people that felt they had to be silent don’t feel that way anymore.”
Talk to those in the trenches and it’s clear there has been a shift, at least as far as representation goes.
Actress Megan Densmore, who came forward with her story of sexual assault in USA TODAY’s investigation, says agents used to tell her: ” ‘Well, you’re not blond enough and your boobs aren’t big enough so you can dye your hair red and get a boob job,’ ” recalls the actress, who is also a professional body builder with short blond hair. “Now I look even more specific and unique look and I’m getting auditions.”
Densmore says that since the past spring she’s auditioned for roles that weren’t necessarily written for women. “I get a lot of auditions that were clearly written male that even sometimes have the pronouns adjusted,” she says, noting “a slight open-mindedness,” by those casting traditionally male parts, such as doctors or military personnel. They’re “trying to find room (for more women), is what it feels like,” she says.
And more women are being hired below the line.
“People are specifically reaching out and saying, ‘I would really love to have more women on my team or in my department,’ ” as location scouts, production assistants and directors of photography, says Rostron, who shared her story of harassment by a college professor with USA TODAY earlier this year. “That is the real benefit of the MeToo movement.”
A changed mood is affecting big projects, too. Keira Knightley will soon begin work on “Misbehavior,” an intersectional feminist story she doesn’t think would have been greenlit a year ago.
On the surface, everyone is noticing the optics, Knightley says. “We did a crew photo and somebody made a comment like, ‘Oh, where are the 10 women we’ve got?’ ” recalls the two-time Oscar nominee. “People are actually looking around and going, ‘This is really white and male.’ And that’s a change. Because I’ve never heard that, even though it was obvious before.”
The spotlight has grown in the past year to push equality across the board, in pay and opportunity. Companies like NBC instituted Female Forward, which gives women a pipeline to directing its TV shows and HBO retroactively fixed gender-based pay disparities within their shows.
“I’ve definitely seen a commitment to hiring more women as directors and in other positions,” says Lawler. But when it comes to #MeToo, “I think men are just being much more cautious, but I don’t think there’s an actual understanding of what needs to change culturally. Considering women to be lesser, not equal, is still there.”
When women are the boss
But many could do without the snark.
“My experience of it so far has been a lot of lip service,” says Tatiana Maslany, the Emmy-winning star of “Orphan Black.” “I’m on set or I’m in a situation and somebody will be like, ‘Oh, you can’t do that anymore.’ They’ll say that in general and it seems like it’s an affront as opposed to an actual internalized change.”
When women are the boss, it still often only takes one misogynistic voice to poison the well, says Emmy-nominated director Kari Skogland of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
A year into #MeToo, Skogland says she’s less afraid of speaking up and being labeled hard to work with. Still, disrespect “can come from anywhere. I’ve found crews to be very respectful. I think it often comes from only one bad egg who has enough of a voice that it polarizes a situation. I’m very good now at identifying that voice and making sure that they understand we’re equals and that I won’t tolerate it.”
Director/producer Ryan Murphy’s sets now require 50 percent of women behind the camera in accordance with his Half Initiative. But the Emmy-nominated “American Horror Story” actress Adina Porter says when it comes to reception of male and female directors, “there’s totally a difference.”
“Sometimes I have seen women having to prove themselves to the crew,” Porter says. “I love the crew and everything, but I have witnessed it. And I see her having to kind of take a breath and decide when she’s going to speak up. … I’ve seen women directors, their minds kind of going ‘OK,’ a little bit, like when I’m dealing with my kids. Like, ‘OK, I’m going to choose to pick this fight but not that one.’ ”
It’s why bystander engagement is so important, say experts.
“Even one person making an effort to contribute as best as they can to promoting a safe and respectful work environment has a positive impact,” says Laura Palumbo, communication director at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. “We need for changes to be happening at all levels, at the policy level, but also with individuals that are seeing this as an opportunity to be a part of changing the workplace culture.
The numbers reported are still harrowing
The biggest imperative? Many say it’s keeping a stadium-sized spotlight on #MeToo, because the numbers – about workplace sexual harassment and about the lack of women in power roles in Hollywood – are still sobering:
Nearly all of the women who responded to USA TODAY’s survey said they have experienced some form of harassment or assault, often by an older individual in a position of power over the accuser. Worse, more than one-fifth of respondents (21%) say they have been forced to do something sexual at least once and 69% of women said they had been touched in a sexual way at work.
Recent studies mirror these results. A survey conducted by the Writers Guild of America West found 64 percent of women say they’ve faced sexual harassment at some point in their careers in film and TV. A 2018 study from Hiscox found 41 percent of female workers country-wide say that they’ve experienced harassment in the workplace.
“There have been times throughout the year where people have been over it, or tired of it or the (accused) men were going back to work,” says Schaffer. “We can’t get tired of it – the media, the culture. It’s still happening. It’s not over.”
Contributing: Cara Kelly, Maria Puente