After Weinstein, Hollywood launches anti-sexual harassment hotline
By Steven Zeitchik,
LOS ANGELES — About a month ago, the television writer Tess Rafferty was browsing her Facebook feed when she noticed the “On This Day” feature pulling up some eerily timely memories.
“I saw all these stories that women were sharing a year ago about sexual harassment because of the release of the Trump [“Access Hollywood”] tape, and they were very similar to the stories women were now sharing because of Harvey Weinstein,” Rafferty, who worked for years on the E! hit “The Soup,” said in an interview. “I thought ‘are we going to be here in another year with the same stories?’”
The incident led Rafferty to organize an anti-sexual harassment march that set off from a main Hollywood intersection on Sunday, underscoring the entertainment industry’s role in the movement to stop workplace misconduct.
But even as the protest highlighted that momentum, it also revealed the challenges in reforming an industry with a tradition of male power and operations fueled by sex appeal.
[Ben Affleck. Kevin Spacey. In the wake of Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood’s reputation management machine is in crisis]
“We know how hard it’s going to be to change this culture,” Lauren Sivan, a Los Angeles television journalist who accused Weinstein of performing a lewd act in front of her, told The Post. “But I honestly never thought we'd have made this much progress in talking about it, so I’m also optimistic,” she added.
Hollywood efforts to prevent future instances are now beginning to take shape.
The Oscar-winning producer Cathy Schulman, president of Women In Film, an industry trade group, is launching a sexual harassment help line as well as legal-aid service for those experiencing such behavior in the industry. She said the new services will be available by Dec 1.
Schulman also described early efforts to change boardroom behavior — and the gender makeup of the boardrooms themselves — as instrumental in reversing harassment culture.
“It's a game, a game of power,” she said at the rally. “And we can win.”
Meanwhile, veteran producer and Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy has called for a commission to codify an industry-wide approach to fighting sexual harassment and assault.
And the California state senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino) intends to propose legislation early next year banning secret payouts in workplace harassment cases. Though it faces hurdles in becoming law, such a ban would, proponents hope, encourage victims to come forward and deter would-be harassers and assaulters.
“To all the [victims] here I want you to know the California legislature has your back,” Leyva said at the rally, addressing females in the crowd as “Wonder Women” while she wore a T-shirt bearing the superheroine’s logo. “The boys stick together. Now the women need to stick together.”
The event, which also saw marchers from the related #MeToo campaign, emphasized entertainment’s culture of harassment.
One protester carried a list of men working behind the camera on various soap operas she said had mistreated women. Another held a sign with faces of famous alleged male offenders such as Kevin Spacey.
The group chanted Hollywood-specific slogans as well. “Not in a pot, not in a plant, the place for your junk is in your pants,” went one such cry.
[The Kevin Spacey scandal will ripple far beyond his alleged victim]
From the podium, the anchor made another reference to the disgraced mogul. “We want our daughters and our sons to never have to go to a meeting with a dude in a bathrobe,” Sivan said to cheers and nods.
But the culture of Hollywood may be harder to change than that of other industries. Increasing the number of female power brokers quickly is difficult because executives often take years to rise through the ranks; overnight successes are rare.
Further complicating the issue is that some of the most powerful companies are closely held and privately run. These include production firms and talent agencies, the latter of which have been criticized for looking the other way when it came to booking clients in projects with reputed harassers.
Agencies have also come under scrutiny for not doing enough to weed out misconduct among their own ranks. A number of agents have faced inquiries or been fired over sexual misconduct allegations in the past several weeks. One agency insider who asked for anonymity because she was not authorized to talk about the issue publicly described the current moment as a “blacklist situation — everyone is afraid of being called out so they're closing ranks.”
Equally challenging, say insiders, is that casting entails a very subjective process from which it could be hard to remove power or sex.
“The casting area is difficult,” said Avy Kaufman, a leading casting director. “It’s not clear what you can do. Maybe there should always be someone standing outside a meeting greeting women when they go in and making sure they get out safely,” she said, acknowledging that such a system, even if it could be enacted, would hardly be foolproof in stopping harassment and so-called quid pro quos.
But activists say they hope their call for change will push offenders into the open andprevent assaults.
“We now have awareness among a core group,” Rafferty said as she assessed the movement’s progress to date. “Now we have to make sure we're not just reaching the choir but the congregation.”