Hol­ly­wood needs a sys­tem to save fu­ture vic­tims of abuse

Waterloo Region Record - - EDITORIALS & COMMENT - Nell Scov­ell Nell Scov­ell is a Hol­ly­wood writer, di­rec­tor and pro­ducer who cowrote “Lean In” with Sh­eryl Sand­berg. This piece first ap­peared in the Wash­ing­ton Post.

“Th­ese are dark days for Hol­ly­wood rapists,” a friend of mine joked on the phone re­cently.

I was grate­ful for the laugh. Since the week­end, the open wound cre­ated by Har­vey We­in­stein has prompted ac­tors, writ­ers and crew mem­bers to re­call their own hellish tales of as­sault. For those of us who work in TV and movies, the sto­ries pile up in our so­cial me­dia feeds and phone texts. They all have two things in com­mon: one hu­man dis­re­garded an­other hu­man’s agency; and the names of the of­fend­ers are not re­vealed.

In the old TV show, “Drag­net,” names were changed to pro­tect the in­no­cent. Now they’re dropped to pro­tect the guilty. Vic­tims are of­fer­ing de­tails of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour while leav­ing out the one de­tail that could make the big­gest dif­fer­ence.

Still, who can blame them? Not me. It’s been al­most 30 years since I joined this not-very-ex­clu­sive club, and I’m not nam­ing names. My fear is not of the per­son, but what speak­ing up will sig­nal to the com­mu­nity.

“Hol­ly­wood is the only place where if some­one screws you over and you call them on it, you’re the jerk,” a writer friend once said to me. We were talk­ing about an­other friend whose idea for a TV show had been stolen by a big-name pro­ducer. The in­jured writer made a cal­cu­la­tion and de­cided it’s not worth an­ger­ing a gate­keeper when he can shut the door in your face. Then who have you hurt? (Hint: Not the gate­keeper.)

That writer felt he had no re­course. It’s the same with vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault. Hol­ly­wood is built on re­la­tion­ships and the way you keep re­la­tion­ships is by play­ing nice. If I bust my as­saulter, some­how that makes me the trou­ble­maker. Sud­denly, I’m the jerk.

“I moved here 30 years ago this month,” ac­tress Julie Warner wrote on Face­book. “There ex­ists a per­ni­cious dis­ease of sex­ism here in Hol­ly­wood ... I could tell my truths about the pow­er­ful men who crossed the line with me in my 20s, and 30s, at­tempted rapes, ha­rass­ment, vile truths, but I don’t want to freak my kid out. I could also name the pow­er­ful men and women who knew and told me to cope but never to re­veal if I wanted to keep work­ing.” Julie hash­tagged her com­pelling and mov­ing post: #No­pi­ty­please­justchange.

Julie’s post took me back to 1991 when I watched Anita Hill tes­tify at Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings. I was riv­et­ted by Hill’s hon­esty, brav­ery and poise. At one point, Sen. Den­nis DeConcini, D-Ariz., said he couldn’t un­der­stand why she hadn’t quit her job if her boss made the work­place so un­com­fort­able. “Well, I think it is very dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand, se­na­tor,” Hill an­swered. She ex­plained that she stayed “be­cause I wanted to do the work ... and I did not want to let that kind of be­hav­iour con­trol my choices.”

The de­sire to keep do­ing what we love su­per­sedes the de­sire to pe­nal­ize bad be­hav­iour.

It’s not just pow­er­ful male ex­ec­u­tives who abuse their po­si­tion. A suc­cess­ful male writer reached out to tell me about a preda­tory fe­male ex­ec­u­tive who reg­u­larly feasted on the tal­ent, pres­sur­ing one mar­ried writer to have sex with her in the of­fice. In his 20s, my friend had been cor­nered by a dif­fer­ent high-pow­ered ex­ec­u­tive and suc­cumbed to the pres­sure. “Her first words af­ter we fin­ished were, ‘By the way, there’s a project, I want to pitch you later,’” he texted.

It felt trans­ac­tional, but my friend said he’d gone along be­cause he thought it would’ve hurt his ca­reer to say no. “Do you be­lieve me?” he asked.

That broke my heart. “Of course, I do,” I wrote back.

Not nam­ing names al­lows the preda­tors to per­sist, but nam­ing names hurts the vic­tims. This stale­mate means that part of the so­lu­tion has to come from out­side. The en­ablers are a huge part of the prob­lem. At the very least, peo­ple need to start be­liev­ing the vic­tims and stop defending the per­pe­tra­tors. At one of my more re­cent jobs, a crew mem­ber was fired af­ter three women re­ported that he had rubbed up against them in­ap­pro­pri­ately on the set. My male boss came into my of­fice to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion. He shook his head. “It’s just a shame,” he said. “Those poor women,” I replied. Tal­ent agen­cies and en­ter­tain­ment lawyers can do more to pro­tect their clients. Agents could start cir­cu­lat­ing a list in­ter­nally: “Here are the peo­ple who have been re­ported for treat­ing clients of ours un­pro­fes­sion­ally.” If an agency’s own client lands on that list, the agents should ques­tion their com­plic­ity in po­ten­tially crim­i­nal and cer­tainly dam­ag­ing be­hav­iour. And if an agent or man­ager ad­vises a client who has been mis­treated not to say any­thing, that ad­vice should be fol­lowed by, “I’ll say some­thing and make sure you’re pro­tected.”

Also, if an ac­tress or ac­tor tells their lawyer that they’ve been emo­tion­ally abused or phys­i­cally as­saulted, that lawyer should feel an obli­ga­tion to con­tact the abuser’s lawyer and put them on no­tice. The Guilds — Writ­ers, Di­rec­tors, Pro­duc­ers and Screen Ac­tors — could gather and spread more in­for­ma­tion. Jour­nal­ists can make a dif­fer­ence, too. Some names of of­fend­ers crop up re­peat­edly, and re­porters should fol­low those leads. If those re­porters get the silent treat­ment from the net­work, stu­dio and man­agers, that com­plic­ity should be­come part of the story.

Julie Warner had a lovely idea: women — and men — in the in­dus­try should meet in pri­vate and con­fi­den­tial set­tings to share their ex­pe­ri­ences. If some vic­tims still didn’t feel com­fort­able speak­ing can­didly, they could scribble down names and throw them anony­mously into a hat. When a name comes up more than once, the group could be alerted and given the chance to come for­ward to­gether. Per­haps just know­ing that we’re all com­par­ing notes would change the worst be­hav­iour.

The ul­ti­mate goal is that the as­saulters are not just tried in a court of pub­lic opin­ion, but in an ac­tual court of law. So far, the preda­tors seem to be a step ahead of pros­e­cu­tion. Bill Cosby has avoided jail. Don­ald Trump be­came pres­i­dent. Roger Ailes ran out the clock. We­in­stein sup­pos­edly flew off in a pri­vate jet to a sex rehab clinic in Europe.

Hol­ly­wood cul­ture could use some sex rehab, too. It would be so nice to live in a place where if some­one screws you over and you call them on it, they’re the jerk.


The open wound cre­ated by Har­vey We­in­stein has prompted ac­tors, writ­ers and crew mem­bers to re­call their own hellish tales of as­sault.

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