The Hateful One

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.

Seth MacFarlane snipes at Weinstein during the 2013 Oscars.

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.

Judd Apatow and Seth Rogan on the Hollywood Reporter panel

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

7 thoughts on “The Hateful One

  1. As a BAFTA member I would not like to think that happened in the London elevator as I would have given a sharp reply!!! To be honest I have been in our industry for over 50 years and have NEVER HEARD OF HIM until now. I obviously didn’t miss anything! He sounds revolting and I’m most fortunate in only having met delightful people.

    1. I’m a BAFTA member too and believe me, if I’d had greater presence of mind I would have given them a piece of it. However, when two gorillas come at you out of nowhere with the urgent authority of the Presidential Secret Service, you tend to obey. The thought “hang on, what gives you the right…!” came about 5 seconds after I’d registered that they were guarding one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, just as the doors slid shut.

  2. Thanks for this post.

    It’s great to see you talk about this topic Guy, and I appreciate your honesty with which you’ve shared your personal experience – particularly where you noted your surprise by the sheer volume of #metoo responses you witnessed. I think the main issue in the industry will continue to lie within this paragraph:
    “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.”

    I guess women shouldn’t have to be concerned about being more than averagely attractive, or that there are more women vying for parts. And although you haven’t mentioned this, I also want to add that a woman shouldn’t have to wear more clothes to cover herself up so she isn’t considered attractive. The issue lies with men believing that it is a situation where they can take advantage. There were still 28 white men going for one role…but in the #metoo’s I haven’t seen examples (yet – but this could be because men haven’t been as forthcoming, understandably) of women using situation like that to their advantage and inviting men into uncomfortable situations in order to secure a highly coveted low paid supporting role.

    I earnestly believe that there’s a fundamental flaw in the way we raise boys and girls if men, predominantly, believe they can use their strength (in instances of rape, sexual assault etc), and position of power, to take advantage. Wouldn’t we be better off spending time working out how to re-educate, starting at the point that boys and girls are in school? We shouldn’t be changing laws to keep the abusers from quieting their victims. We should teach our future generations how to respect both sexes, and how to treat others as equals so silencing people isn’t even necessary. Until that happens, the cultural change you speak of is unlikely to happen.

    Lets hope that the #metoo’s do start something of an educational shift at every level though. Again thank you for your thoughts, and I hope mine are useful too.

    1. Thank you, Angela for your insights. I hope you weren’t getting from my comments about the different things that make actresses vulnerable to abuse a Trumpian tone of “well, they knew what they signed up for”?! My implication was rather that there’s nothing actresses can do to change any of these factors: the can’t kill off the competition or make themselves less attractive… okay, theoretically they could do both, but we shouldn’t expect them to.

      You’re certainly right about education – therein lies the key to complete and permanent change. But only in 20 years time. Or rather 20 years after we’ve persuaded the world to change education policy. Meanwhile, we have an industry to work in filled with flawed people, some of who have very skewed ideas about gender roles. I think we need to do what we can to keep women safe in today’s world, while the battle for better primary education is being fought.

      1. No you’re very safe Guy….totally didn’t get that tone 🙂

        And I agree, there’s much we can do in the next 20 years. Even people like your good self writing articles like this is a lovely little step in the right non-sexist direction! Onward and upward.

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