#MeToo Update: Hollywood Workers Demand Accountability for Sexual Abuse

This article was updated Jan. 6 at 10:30 a.m. PT.

#MeToo Update: Hollywood Workers Demand Accountability for Sexual Abuse
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Hollywood Commission for Eliminating Harassment and Advancing Equality, led by Anita Hill and founded by Kathleen Kennedy and Nina Shaw, has released findings from a new industry-wide survey of entertainment workers about their experiences of sexual harassment and bias on the job.

“For too long in Hollywood, there have been ‘open secrets’ about the harassment perpetrated on workers by powerful people who are able to successfully evade accountability for their actions,” said Hill. “With this survey, we have identified the most vulnerable workers in Hollywood and the resources and systems that will provide support and a safety net for them.”

The national, anonymous surveay was conducted online last November to February with nearly 10,000 people responding. Several themes emerged from the survey.

There is Little Accountability for Harassment in Hollywood

Only 28 percent of women in the industry believe that people in power are held accountable for harassment (versus 45 percent of men).

Voices of Respondents:

“The industry tolerates bad behavior by powerful people. Producers, actors, and above the line individuals are rarely held accountable for tyrannical behavior.”

“Many times high level folks get huge paydays to leave – seems like they’re rewarded for bad behavior.  #MeToo seems to have stalled while offenders are still at it.”

“Just because a few famous offenders are being held accountable when reported by the most famous victims does not mean anything has changed for the rest of us.”

“Any perceived progress that has been made in Hollywood has been a smokescreen. If someone is powerful enough, they are untouchable, no matter the abuse. Nothing about this has changed.”

Abuse of Power Continues

Less than half (48 percent) of workers saw progress in addressing power abuse since the MeToo resurgence in October 2017.

The primary offenders in Hollywood are powerful people who can influence who gets hired (55 percent) and fired (59 percent), and can damage the reputations of those who complain about abuse (59 percent).

Voices of Respondents:

“Stop allowing for a caste system on set.”

“Our industry is hierarchical by its very nature, and those on the bottom get abused by those higher up the food chain. This has always been the way.”

“Power dynamics at talent agencies are extremely imbalanced. There is one person with all the power and one person with none at all. The dynamic naturally leads to abuse of power no matter what. Assistants live in fear, are perpetually stressed, overworked and are the backbone of the entire industry.”

“I know so many assistants who are in therapy and have diagnosed PTSD and anxiety disorders because of the abuse they endure on a daily basis. The power dynamics are horrible and it is accepted ‘Hollywood’ behavior to manipulate and abuse assistants.”

“The culture of entitlement and power that exists for producers, directors, production managers and other above the line people trickles down. Sexual harassment is part of the bullying, lack of consideration and general bad behavior that these people believe is their due to dole out because they believe they can and that they are masters of the universe.”

“Problems around harassment and bullying remain systemic and institutional.”

“Even people who have done horrible things still get considered for jobs.”

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Reporting Rare for Fear of Retaliation

Few victims of sexually harassing behaviors shared their experiences with a supervisor (23 percent), human resources (9 percent), or legal department (4 percent). 

Sixty-nine percent of workers who experience sexual coercion don’t report because they do not believe anything will be done. Two-fifths (41 percent) of survey respondents reported that they experienced some type of retaliatory behavior. 

Voices of Respondents:

“If I ever reported anything about someone I worked for I would be blacklisted.  You can pretend otherwise BUT That’s just how it is.”

“There are still too many victims that will be blackballed if they report.”

“The power structure in this industry makes it impossible for victims to come forward. More harassment, bad reputation, and eventual firing is guaranteed after filing a complaint.”

“I’m not sure that there is a ‘safe’ way to report experiences.”

“All I can say is that in our industry if you rock the boat you get silenced and you don’t get hired anymore.”

Resources for Survivors

Based on the survey data and participants’ narrative responses, the Hollywood Commission is launching new resources for survivors, including a platform to identify repeat offenders and bystander intervention training. 

Multiple complaints about the same person are frequent. The repeat offender platform—which will launch at the start of next year—gives workers a way to anonymously share experiences of sexual misconduct, discrimination, harassment, bullying or microaggressions. Workers may choose to report immediately or to file a conditional report, in which case they will be notified if other people in the organization also file complaints about the same aggressor. They can then decide whether to release their identity and participate in an investigation.

The platform will also provide an anonymous messaging system to allow survivors to ask questions about the process of reporting and learn how to create a time-stamped record

The Hollywood Commission is also piloting bystander intervention training with 450 entertainment workers to teach them how to respond when incidents of harassment and abuse occur.

 “Our expectation is that these tools will be the foundation to build a new era of transparency and accountability for all workers in the entertainment industry,” says Hill.

How Can the Entertainment Industry Break the Cycle of Harassment and Abuse?

The Hollywood Commission has released its final report and recommendation based on a survey of 9,630 entertainment workers. Their key findings, previously issued in four summary reports on accountability, bias, sexual harassment and assault, and bullying, revealed that workers experience high rates of bias, bullying and sexual harassment, which few report for fear of retaliation. Most workers don’t think the industry values diversity, inclusion or respect.

Based on these finding, the Commission recommends that entertainment organizations take the following measures:

  1. Affirm a commitment to respect, human dignity, and inclusion.
  2. Embrace diversity.
  3. Align systems to values.
  4. Anchor efforts to prevention.
  5. Ensure accountability for policy violations, regardless of seniority or performance.

According to Hill, “We are launching a reporting system that helps to identify repeat offenders across the industry; have created a bystander training program to engage the entire workforce in addressing workplace abuses; and will publish a best-practices conduct policy, a production field guide, and an online workers’ guide to harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.”

In response, Hollywood has announced:

  • The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has rolled out representation and inclusion standards for the Oscars.
  • ViacomCBS established the First Time Directors program, aimed at increasing BIPOC and female representation in films; CBS committed a minimum 25 percent of the network’s annual development budget to projects from BIPOC creators and established a target for its writers’ rooms to be staffed with a minimum of 50 percent BIPOC representation by 2022-2023 broadcast season.
  • WME and Endeavor Content are implementing a series of more than thirty actions based on the launch of a new initiative led by Michael B. Jordan and Color of Change.
  • Netflix promised to deposit $100 million in Black-owned financial institutions.

“Research clearly shows that diversity and inclusion is not only the right thing to do, it is good for creativity, productivity and the bottom line,” said Hill, who chairs the Hollywood Commission.

“The entertainment industry has the unique potential to tell the stories of today’s richly diverse world. But to get there, the barriers to underrepresented people being valued and in ‘the room where it happens’ must be eliminated. And once they do get into ‘the room where it happens,’ they must not be the only one.”

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Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor of American Studies and the chair of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.