Sexual harassment in Hollywood


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By Parker Dunn, Online Managing Editor


In a New York courtroom on Feb. 24, film producer Harvey Weinstein was convicted of third-degree rape and first-degree criminal sexual act, sentencing the Hollywood mogul to 23 years in prison. Weinstein has been subject to a lengthy list of allegations since 2017, when actresses Ashely Judd and Rose McGowan first came forward to tell their shocking stories. Helping to bring Weinstein to justice were movements like Me Too and Time’s Up, as well as the many brave women affected by Weinstein’s actions courageously speaking up.

Weinstein’s conviction is a positive thing — there’s no doubt about that. However, the negative effects of sexual assault and misconduct on the victims cannot be erased or remedied by any degree of justice. The changes that need to be made regarding sexual assault in the film industry lie not only in the penalization of offenders and support system for victims but also in the prevention of such horrendous acts altogether.

In an industry that paints women as objects on-screen, it should come as no surprise that the perpetrators of such portrayal view women just the same off-screen. Feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” discussed the ‘male gaze’ phenomenon, as coined by Mulvey.

Rachel Sampson of independent movie magazine Film Inquiry wrote, “The Male Gaze theory, in a nutshell, is where women in the media are viewed from the eyes of a heterosexual man and that these women are represented as passive objects of male desire.” Misogyny and movies often go hand in hand, and according to a survey conducted by USA Today, this issue isn’t just a product of profitability. 

A whopping 94% of women surveyed said they’ve experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault. According to Andrew Pulver of The Guardian, “The survey had nearly 850 respondents across many branches of the film industry, including directors, actors and editors.” Pulver goes on to cite that “one in four made a complaint, and that of those who did, only 28% said their situation improved as a result.” Not only are most victims afraid to come forward, but those that do muster up the courage usually find no help, which dissuades victims even further.

It also certainly doesn’t help that we’ve let even the most extreme cases drag on and on, the most notable being that of French-Polish film director Roman Polanski. Vanity Fair reflected on the case: “In 1977, Polanski… pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, having been arrested for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl, after accepting a plea bargain. When he heard the case’s judge planned to ignore the plea bargain, Polanski fled to Europe to avoid serving a longer sentence.” It’s been decades since Polanski was first indicted, and he’s still not locked up for his crimes.

Another thing holding victims back from coming forward is the way the industry is set up — it’s very network-heavy, ‘who knows who’ type of system. A publicist told USA Today, “Being in a line of work that obtains clients through word-of-mouth makes me reluctant to speak (about) these sexual harassment/assault experiences for fear of losing clients or collaborations with other firms/companies.” To go along with this, a lot of victims become so worried about the outcome of coming forward they begin to question if the abuse they’ve suffered is that serious. This creation of keep-quiet culture telling women to view the more ‘passive’ acts of sexual assault and misconduct as acceptable or ‘just the way things are’ is toxic and absolutely unacceptable.

As you can see, there are abundant reasons as to why victims of sexual abuse, specifically within the film industry, are hesitant to come forward. So, what can we do about this? Well, back in 2017, industry leaders came together on a panel to discuss possible solutions to the issue. One solution proposed was the creation of a hotline where victims can report cases of harassment and abuse confidentially. Director Paul Feig added, “Men just have to support women on this… They have to call out other men on this.” These are both great points, but they fail to target how we prevent sexual harassment from happening in the first place.

Producer Effie Brown gives my favorite piece of advice from the panel, “Hire qualified women, and then those women foster a culture of ‘this is acceptable and this is not.’” Putting out the fires that exist today is important — it’s crucial if we want to fix the issue. However, what also needs to happen is a change in culture — a change in the way our society depicts women on and off-screen and a change in how we internally think of and view women.


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