Hollywood’s TV, movie, and streaming producers have been making space for diversity in lead roles and seeking to close the gender gap following years of sexual harassment complaints. But it seems there is still space for those with checkered histories too. Sex abusers are finding new work, and some advocates say the change hasn’t been enough.
Over the past two and a half years, the #MeToo movement has been calling out sex abusers within the entertainment industry. The most famous of these was producer Harvey Weinstein, co-owner of the Weinstein Company, who was convicted of two counts of criminal sexual conduct earlier this year in New York state court. Similar allegations have been raised against Hollywood A-List actor Cuba Gooding Jr., and John Lasseter, chief creative officer and co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios. The streaming video industry has faced its own problems with sex abuse. In 2018, Roy Price stepped down as head of Amazon Studios after being accused of sexual harassment. He was replaced by Jennifer Sallke, formerly of NBC Entertainment.
Advocates for women and minorities know that it isn’t enough to remove a few bad actors. That’s why they have been pressuring Hollywood to close the gender gap and introduce more diversity into its programming, both on screen and behind the camera. And it’s been working.
The New York Times reports that the Hollywood entertainment industry is becoming more inclusive, thanks in part to streaming services demanding new and more varied content. Women and people of color have been stepping into more leading roles and director positions, finding their own place in an industry that has historically been male and white. Melissa Rosenberg, creator of the Netflix show “Jessica Jones” and executive producer for “Dexter” said she has begun to notice a change in corporate culture.
“‘There were very specific intentions from the studio and the network to have diverse voices in the room,’ … She added that she had been told, ‘You will not have a room without people of color and diversity of gender and sexual orientation.’
“‘That was a big change,’” Ms. Rosenberg said. “‘When I was coming up it would be sufficient to have one woman in the room — to represent the female voice — and she was often the lowest-paid writer, too.’”
While more women and people of color have been coming into positions of power, their right to consent is also coming into sharper focus. Entertainment industry heavyweights like HBO have begun requiring intimacy coordinators (also called intimacy directors in theater) for scenes involving nudity intimacy. These intimacy coordinators explain their jobs as “fight choreography for sex scenes.” However, they are also responsible for making certain the actors involved are comfortable with role they are playing.
In the past, intimate scenes were essentially improvised until the director was satisfied. Actress Humberly González explained that sometimes that resulted in actors doing more than they bargained for:
“She and her scene partner, whom she met earlier that day, were going to be filmed kissing from outside a camping tent, outlined in silhouette. There was no rehearsal and no specific choreography. When it was time to shoot, the two actors clambered inside the tent and were instructed to ‘just go for it,’ González recalled, while the director watched from outside, shouting evaluations.
In González’s situation, she and her scene partner were touching the whole time, and he became unintentionally aroused. ‘It was so awkward,’ González said.
However, speaking up about their emotional needs often came with a price. González explained that if she had raised her feelings of discomfort, she may have been perceived as a problem or even “lose the job.”
“There’s always this very scary feeling of: If I share my true feelings, am I going to be hired again?”
That’s where the intimacy coordinators come in. They serve as a go-between, helping to choreograph intimate scenes in a way that respects the actors’ feelings and consent, while still allowing directors to get the shot.
At the same time, many men accused of sexual harassment and abuse have been able to find new work. Lasseter, for example, is now working in a high position at Skydance Animation. David Glasser and Bob Weinstein, former partners at the Weinstein Company, have each opened their own production companies. Mr. Glasser has already raised $300 million in financing to once again become a major player in the industry.
Those women who stepped up to fill the vacuum of power at the top, are also finding themselves pushed back down the ladder. Earlier this year, Amazon brought in former Sony executive Mike Hopkins to oversee Amazon’s video entertainment business, placing him between Ms. Salke and Jeff Bezos, the company founder. Nina Jacobson, a veteran producer and the former president of Disney’s Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group told the New York Times:
“No matter how much things are shifting in the right direction, when you get to the top of these media companies, you will usually find a white dude. . . . The power behind the power is still white and male, and in terms of truly passing the torch in corporate life, the torch has not yet been passed.”
Even in light of Hollywood’s push to close the gender gap and improve diversity in lead roles, it is clear that sexual harassment and abuse are not going away anytime soon. At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our experienced sexual abuse attorneys and sexual harassment attorneys know how to respond when sex abuse rears its head on the job. We can meet with you at our headquarters in the heart of New York City, or conference with you remotely, to help navigate the criminal, civil, and regulatory processes needed to help you find justice. Contact Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, today to talk to a sexual abuse attorney.