'Glacial change': film industry is slow to reform despite #MeToo

Lanre Bakare
Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Two years ago, the entertainment industry became the primary focus of discussions over abuse, harassment and decades of ingrained sexism after allegations against Harvey Weinstein rocked Hollywood and kickstarted the wider #MeToo movement.

While a raft of initiatives have been introduced, including Time’s Up, a group that provides legal support to victims, and 50/50 x 2020, a gender parity pledge that all major film festivals have signed up to, industry experts said change has been glacial.

Anna Smith, broadcaster, film critic and host of the Girls on Film podcast, said the key question was how awareness translated to actual numbers. “I think there is a bigger support network now. I hope the casting couch culture isn’t tolerated any more,” she said.

According to Melissa Silverstein, the founder of Women and Hollywood, the #MeToo movement has been “nothing short of revolutionary” and “reshaped the film industry’s DNA”. But film festivals as institutions are still lagging behind, she said.

This year the London film festival said 65% of its films were directed by women, at Toronto it was 36%, while Berlin had eight and Cannes had four films in competition by women. However, the Venice film festival’s decision to include only two films by women in its 21-film competition was called an “intentional provocation” before the event in September. Venice also premiered films by Roman Polanski – convicted in 1978, of raping a 13-year-old girl – and Nate Parker, who was acquitted of an allegation of rape at university.

Both issues overshadowed the festival and Silverstein called the decision “completely tone-deaf”. “These festivals have not done enough,” she said. “Sometimes it feels as if they are just sighing and doing what they need to do because they think this will pass. But it won’t.”

Smith said the initiatives that have been introduced at Cannes – such as a creche and a sexual assault hotline – do little to counter the “predatory vibe” of some of the parties held during the festival. The lack of women on judging panels is another way progression has been halted, according to Smith. “The Palme d’Or jury is so often dominated by older men with the odd glamorous young actress,” she said. “That perpetrates a very out-of-date message – the kind of world that Weinstein lived in.”

Dame Heather Rabbatts, UK chair of Time’s Up, said that the BFI and Bafta’s decision to introduce guidance on preventing bullying and harassment was a sign of improvement, but that the key for the future would be ensuring that organisations “do what they say they will” and that any initiatives are sustainable.

In music, the past 24 months has seen a procession of big name stars coming forward with their own experiences of sexism, harassment and assault. Taylor Swift won a court case against a radio DJ who groped her while taking a photograph with her. Lily Allen gave a detailed account of a record industry executive sexually assaulting her as she slept, warning that similar abuse is “rife” in the music business.

Hookworms and also The Orwells broke up after accusations of sexual and psychological abuse surfaced – though all accused deny the allegations. In February, the New York Times levelled a series of accusations of manipulative behaviour at Ryan Adams, who allegedly “dangled career opportunities while simultaneously pursuing female artists for sex”. Adams apologised to anyone hurt but denied all allegations.

The Brit awards’ organising body, the British Phonographic Industry, encouraged attendees at the 2018 ceremony to wear a white rose pin “as a symbol of solidarity”, without specifically mentioning a cause in a move that was widely criticised. Vick Bain, a former chief executive of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, said the industry should “be focused on creating meaningful change”, while Paul Pacifico, chief executive of the Association of Independent Music, said he appreciated the gesture “but we already know there is a problem”.

There has been progress on gender parity at some music festivals, with Primavera Sounds in Barcelona achieving a 50/50 split. “It’s not difficult once your mind is set,” said Primavera’s Marta Pallares Olivares. After research revealed that 80% of festival lineups were male, 45 events pledged to have gender parity on their lineups by 2022. Last weekend saw the Hear Her festival take place in Poole, which featured an all-female line-up of artists from across a spectrum of folk, pop and indie rock.

Several TV shows including Glow, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Fleabag, The Good Fight, Catastrophe and Silicon Valley have all dedicated storylines to the subject of #MeToo. Dan Reed’s Leaving Neverland made new allegations about Michael Jackson abusing two young boys in the 1990s, while the documentary Surviving R Kelly detailed decades of alleged abuse by the R’n’B singer who is currently awaiting trial and denies the allegations. In Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon’s forthcoming Apple TV project, The Morning Show, the host of a popular chat show is sacked after sexual misconduct.

HBO, meanwhile, introduced intimacy co-ordinators, such as Alicia Rodis who joined David Simon’s 1970s porn and prostitution show The Deuce. These are employed to ensure actors aren’t “left fumbling in the dark” when trying not to cross boundaries during sex scenes. The practice has now become widespread, with immersive theatre shows such as The Wolf of Wall Street also employing intimacy co-ordinators to protect actors.

“This is a long-term project and is something that people will have to keep working on all the time,” said Silverstein. “Social change is not linear.”