The most noteworthy event in the film industry in the past year was not a film, a performance or a box-office record. It was the raft of claims against one of the most powerful moguls in Hollywood, Harvey Weinstein, who was accused by dozens of actresses and other women of raping them, groping them, masturbating in front of them and other appalling behavior.
The scandal shattered the Weinstein Co., which had been among the most distinguished studios. Headed toward bankruptcy, it was purchased by an investor group composed — not coincidentally — mostly of females. It spurred other women to come forward to accuse other Hollywood men of sexual assault and harassment. It generated two movements, MeToo and Time’s Up, aimed at combating such abuses, in the workplace and elsewhere.
The question now is: Will the glossy people wearing buttons and ribbons be up to the hard work of truly remaking the industry? Or is this a passing fad among people who are eager to claim enlightenment but will lose interest as soon as they’re asked to do something concrete?
After all, a lot of the support comes from actors, who are masters at pretending to be something they are not. Some now acknowledge they had some knowledge of Weinstein’s treatment of women but kept quiet. Skeptics are entitled to ask if many of the matinee idols are just preening for the cameras — and will lose interest when the lights go off.
Frances McDormand, accepting her Oscar for best actress, ended by saying, “I have two words to leave you with tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.” That term refers to contractual language requiring casts and other workers to meet certain representation goals, such as 50 percent women, 40 percent ethnic and racial minorities, and the like. Big-name actors negotiating deals can insist on this sort of provision. If you want Meryl Streep to star in your next movie and she insists on an inclusion rider, rest assured, she can get it.
But will she or other coveted actors actually insist? Contract negotiations being what they are, getting an inclusion rider may mean accepting less money. It may mean alienating studio executives who don’t want to change. It may even mean losing a plum role to another, more-compliant performer.
We’re glad to note the signs that many important people are willing to do more than just strike a flattering pose. Time’s Up has marshaled hundreds of actresses, agents, directors and other key players to fight the use of nondisclosure agreements in legal settlements, correct gender disparities in Hollywood and create a legal-defense fund to help women in assorted sectors combat harassment.
A number of industry heavyweights, male and female, formed and funded a commission to “lead the entertainment industry toward alignment in achieving safer, fairer, more equitable and accountable workplaces — particularly for women and marginalized people.”
We hope these steps are sincere and sustained. As TV producer Shonda Rhimes said recently, “It’s very hard to speak righteously about the rest of anything if we haven’t cleaned our own house.” Hollywood’s house, which has always glittered on the outside, turns out to have a lot of grime inside. The industry people decrying it should go on speaking, but the real test is in the scrubbing.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE