How Did Harvey Happen?
It should go without saying that I deplore those incidents of abuse against women that Harvey Weinstein’s admitted to, and those of which he’s been accused, but it’s gone without saying by too many people for too long, so I feel the need to add my voice. What does it say about our industry and the way it treats women that this could be allowed to happen, and for so long?
I’ve never met the man or worked for him. My nearest encounter with him was when his minders ordered me out of the elevator in BAFTA so he could use it. Whether this was because of concerns over the weight limit, or because he didn’t want to run the risk of being bothered by a filmmaker with an ‘elevator pitch’ I cannot say. If it was the case that he did not want to be harassed in a elevator, sounds like he’s not the only one.
The question many men in my business are being asked is did you know about him? Everybody in the film industry knew. Anyone who claims not to have known is playing word games: they may not have ‘known’ for a provable fact, but, like me, they knew his reputation. It was even the subject of a joke in an Oscar ceremony – it was the very definition of an open secret.
If we knew and did nothing, does that implicate us? Surely that depends on what at level we knew. If we witnessed sexual harassment and said nothing: absolutely it does. If we’ve heard all the stories but have no direct experience or evidence: what can you do?
In my industry’s favour I can say that I’ve never witnessed any behaviour on set or in the cutting room that was likely to be considered to be inappropriate towards women. The nearest thing I came across was a disreputable old-school editor who I briefly assisted who spoke about women in ways that were far from appropriate. He was a relic from the 1970s, and I probably should have called him out but I didn’t witness him talking about women that way to their faces, so I felt little harm was being done. So I’ve been living in a world where my profession is full of generally chilled, thoughtful, politically switched-on people. Sure there are some bad eggs – psycho directors, crooked producers, overbearing HoDs – but they are the exceptions to the rule.
Then #MeToo happened.
I now see my business with differently eyes. At least half the women in my professional circle have reported ‘me too’, and of the actresses I know: most of them have stuck their digital hands in the air. And only a few of my friends have worked with Harvey Weinstein. Of course I know that there are other sleaze-bags out there, particularly in Hollywood, but quite so many in the sleepy ol’ cottage industry that is British film? I have been naïve.
In some ways it shouldn’t surprise me: the film industry is inundated with people desperate to get in, actors in particular. I once cast a film where we were looking for three actors: Asian male, early 20s; white male, early 30s; white female, late 20s. Via Casting Call Pro and other sources we received the following applications:
Young Asian male: 8
White, male 30s: 28
White, female, late 20s: 200+
When so many actresses are putting themselves forward, even for a low paid supporting role, the situation is vulnerable to abuse. Every actress knows how many other women are waiting behind her in the queue for each part. The power dynamic with her potential employer is heavily stacked against her. Add to that the tendency of actresses to be more than averagely attractive, and it is hardly surprising that they are targeted.
The film industry on both sides of the pond is a people business. Most things are done by word-of-mouth, there are few official application forms. We often work with people we know and the people they know. In this environment reputation spreads fast and is important. All our careers are vulnerable to vindictive bad-mouthing.
We’re also a business where meetings are held informally. I’ve been interviewed in cafes, pubs and restaurants; productions working abroad often base themselves in hotels, meaning that meetings in hotel rooms can be entirely legitimate. While not intrinsically wrong, these situations do play into the hands of those who look to blur the line between the professional and the personal to their own ends.
So, how do things improve from here? While it looks unlikely that the shape of the film industry and many of the factors that fuel this problem are likely to change, the culture can. The very fact that Weinstein has been revealed so publicly and has been brought down – rather than, say, being elected President – is encouraging. It feels like change, particularly in a post-2008 world where crime at high levels so often goes unpunished. Maybe things have already changed.
But Hollywood has yet to digested all the lessons from the Weinstein scandal. The Hollywood Reporter was quick to gather a panel of industry grandees who they recorded in a roundtable discussion being shocked and appalled. While there was little wrong with the panel’s responses, it’s worth noting that the magazine had chosen a group of 6 men and 1 woman. Were all but one of the important women they asked really too busy or too reticent? Or did they just not think to ask them? If ever there was a demonstration of Hollywood just not getting it, there you have it.
In the UK, BAFTA has very publicly suspended Weinstein’s membership but PACT – the professional body for film and television producers – has remained silent on the scandal. While Harvey is not a Brit and may not be a member of PACT, it is clear that this is an issue that is bigger than one man and applies to our industry too. Without doubt we have our own Harveys and our industry leaders need to be, well, leading.
Even so, various practical suggestions have been proposed, like changing the law on Non-Disclosure Agreements to make it more difficult for abusive producers to pay for their victims’ silence. Sweden meanwhile is leading the way in encouraging gender equality, with state funding for film getting close to being evenly distributed between the sexes in the top jobs. I’ve also heard tell of a scheme where film cast & crew ratios have to be 50:50 to qualify for public money. I believe that schemes like this will make a difference. The culture that allows women to be the primary targets for abuse will continue until the film industry starts taking women seriously and hiring them as equals.
Copyright © Guy Ducker 2017
Edited by Dr Sara Lodge