By Inès Rodier
Sunday the 12th of November in Los Angeles, women and men marched to support the victims of harassment from the now infamous figures of the entertainment industry. At the heart of where it started, Hollywood, people asked for the end of the unpunished sexual harassment in the show business.
Indeed, these crimes have not just started happening now as in the 1950s Marilyn Monroe (American actress) was suffering sexual abuses from her MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) supervisors while Darryl F. Zanuck (American film producer) was having ‘afternoon breaks’ where he invited actresses in his office (named at that time ‘casting couch’). This was the usual treatment for actresses at this time, as the obtention of their roles generally depended on their potential to meet the producer/ film director’s sexual desire. Marigold Russell (English actress in the 1950s) actually put out a set of rules to prevent sexual harassment “One: When you have to talk business, stick to offices — and office hours. Two: Refer invitations and offers to your agent. Three: Don’t give your home phone number, give your agent’s,” she said. So the situation was known, but mainly in this circle and only by women.
Nowadays, far from having improved, these situations are still happening– the sole difference is that the whole world is aware of it. According to the CNN, Twitter reports that more than 1.7 million women and men have used the hashtag in 85 countries. But why sexual crimes that sometimes happened more than 50 years ago are only coming out now?
The main cause finds its roots within the lack of labour relations laws. Film producers such as Harvey Weinstein (accused of harassment or/and sexual proposition by 80 women according to Tylt) have made their employees sign contracts promising not to make statements that could harm the reputation of the firm or its top executives. Those confidential clauses are forbidden since the Wagner Act of 1935, which prohibits employers from restraining employees in the exercise of their right to engage in « concerted activities » for the purpose of « mutual aid or protection » . Still this Act is ignored by most of the employers; and to add to its inefficiency, it does not apply to domestic workers, independent contractors, or individuals employed as supervisors, so if you are part of these exceptions, you are not allowed to have the right to officially speak to the other employees you are working with.
Only the sudden impetus of solidarity happening these days among victims of the ‘Hollywood syndrome’ have been able to destroy this widespread silence. And the surprised presume the perpetrators of sexual crimes have been reacting homogeneously. For the most part, they denied the allegations. Their other option has been to downplay their acts, as Michael Winner did about the declaration of Oscar-winner Dame Helen Mirren, accusing him to having treated her « like a piece of meat ». He replied that he didn’t remember acting like that -but “if I did, I wasn’t being serious.” He even discredited her as a person « her memory of that moment is a little flawed. ».
Anyway, the result has been the ending of the career of a few: Harvey Weinstein was removed from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and fired from his own production company while Kevin Spacey has been fired from the TV series “House of Cards” and replaced by Christopher Plummer in the once completed film « All the Money in the World ». The question is now, what will the entertainment industry look like in the future? Will this scandal stay for a while and then disappear to let the disaster happen again? Not if the improvement of the labour law combines with people’s way of thinking.
For the first element, California already passed a law in 2016 that prohibited « the use of confidentiality clauses in civil settlements if the factual foundation for the allegations involves acts that could be prosecuted as felony sexual offenses ». But the second element needs deeper work, as still nowadays, making light of harassment is current and rape victims are for the most part silenced both institutionally and societally.
The improvement has already started thanks to the courageous women and men who took the risk to reveal a part of their lives, and also the ones who followed them. Yet there is a need to encourage and to foster that new established practice of not keeping to oneself any harassment and sexual misconduct lived.