A HuffPost investigation found that women across crew positions experience an onslaught of lewd comments, gendered discrimination and even physical assault — and in some cases, it’s driving them out of the industry.
By Claire Fallon and Emma Gray
When David offered Mary a job on the set of a major feature film in 2016, it seemed like a golden opportunity. She’d moved to Vancouver the previous year to start her dream career and, at 28, found herself working 100 hours a week on various gigs across production sites. Now, David, in his 40s, an assistant location manager with a great reputation, was offering her a job she couldn’t pass up: production assistant in the location department of a big-budget production.
The job offer came with some unwelcome flourishes, though. According to Mary, David had seen some recent photos of her and, during their initial conversation about the job, commented on how attractive he found her. Mary, still new to the industry and eager to advance, said she was thrilled about the opportunity and decided to overlook his remarks.
But a few weeks into the job, Mary said David invited her back to his office to call her a cab after a crew party at a nearby bar. Once there, instead of picking up the phone, he asked her to sit down and listen to music. She took a seat in one of his office chairs, and, as a Prince record played, she said he began massaging her shoulders before reaching under her shirt to fondle her bare breasts.
“I was completely frozen,” Mary ― not her real name ― told HuffPost in a phone conversation. (She asked that identifying details about her alleged harasser, her production team and her union be omitted for fear of professional repercussions. David is also a pseudonym.) “I had no voice. The best way I could describe it would be like a night terror, when you want to scream, but can’t. I wanted to shove his hands off. I wanted to slap him, but I was completely frozen in fear.”
After several minutes, Mary said she was able to push David away and tell him she was leaving. She rushed home, in shock. The next day, she reported what happened to two superiors, the key production assistants on set. Human resources soon reached out to Mary to address the incident, as did her union. HuffPost has reviewed emails between Mary and a human resources representative from the studio running the production, in which the representative encourages Mary to continue “business as usual” until the situation is resolved. Soon after, Mary received an apology letter from David. But several weeks later, after filming at the Vancouver location wrapped, Mary was unexpectedly let go from the production. David was not.
Two years later, the 31-year-old is haunted by the way she was treated.
What Mary experienced was not an isolated incident. Over the course of four months, HuffPost spoke to more than 25 people, including nearly 20 women who work behind the scenes in the film industry in Los Angeles, New York and Vancouver. These women spanned departments ― from production assistants to cinematographers, set dressers to makeup artists ― but together their stories painted a picture of an industry that is at best passively uninviting and at worst openly hostile to women, especially those who are just beginning to build their careers. These women are not Hollywood heavyweights, but they, too, are ready for a cultural reckoning in their workplaces.
These Are The Women Behind The Camera
Much attention has been paid to gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the entertainment industry since the Me Too movement kicked off in earnest in late October. High-profile actresses who’ve experienced mistreatment, like Rose McGowan, Lupita Nyong’o, Ashley Judd and Salma Hayek, have spoken to the media in droves, recalling disturbing incidents throughout their careers.
Yet despite the money and awareness raised by the Time’s Up legal defense fund created to support all women seeking justice for sexual misconduct in the workplace, and the handful of powerful Hollywood men who have been fired and disgraced after stories of their alleged abuse surfaced, women in entry- to mid-level positions behind the camera say they still don’t feel like their stories are being told.
A recent survey of women employed across the film industry, conducted by USA Today in conjunction with the Creative Coalition, Women in Film and Television and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, found that 94 percent of participants said they had experienced some form of sexual misconduct during their careers. The reported behavior ranged from “unwelcome sexual comments, jokes or gestures,” which 87 percent of respondents said they had experienced, to more severe behaviors like “being touched in a sexual way” (69 percent), “being propositioned for a sexual act/relationship” (64 percent), “being shown sexual pictures without consent” (39 percent) and “being forced to do a sexual act” (21 percent).
The 843 women who participated in this survey weren’t just actresses. They were also producers, directors, editors and writers who aren’t often the topic of Me Too-related coverage. Though HuffPost’s reporting focused largely on women who hold below-the-line crew positions ― camera assistants, production assistants, makeup artists ― the experiences they described were strikingly similar to the ones outlined in the USA Today report.
Nearly every woman HuffPost spoke to ― all of whom work behind the camera ― had a story about being called names on set (“bitch,” “pit bull,” “diva”), having their bodies commented on (“nice legs,” “you should wear makeup”), being ogled or catcalled, or having work-related comments responded to with sexual innuendo. Vanessa Wirth, 32, a second assistant camera in Vancouver, recalled asking a male grip — a crew member responsible for moving and setting up equipment — for help on a set earlier this year. According to Wirth, when he asked which of the two sizes of equipment she needed, she responded that a big one would work. “Oh, you like it big, don’t you?” he shot back.
“I just froze,” Wirth told HuffPost. “Those types of comments are the kind of comments that a lot of women have to deal with every day.”
Indeed, afters hours and hours of interviews, it appears as though this kind of behavior is not only common, but it’s contributed to a dearth of female leadership and inclusion in the industry ― driving younger, greener women out of the non-acting field before they’re given the opportunity to succeed.
Working In A Boys Club Industry
Annie, a 34-year-old producer and cinematographer in New York who preferred not to use her real name in this story for fear it would impact her ability to get future work, told HuffPost that although she’s seen more women step into leadership positions over the past decade, the entertainment industry still largely “feels like a boys club with a lot of locker room talk.”
And often that “locker room talk” happens in women’s ears ― literally. Multiple women described being on walkie-talkie channels with eight to 10 men, listening to them talk about the bodies and appearances of women on set. Jordan, 28, was working as a PA on a feature film set in 2012 in New York when she said she overheard the director speaking to another male crew member about an impending location change.
“When we go shoot [abroad], we should make sure that the PAs are hotter,” she heard him say. Jordan ― not her real name ― told HuffPost that the comment left her feeling “crushed.”
“I was spending 80 hours a week working on this job and doing everything I could to stand out and show that I was really good at my job,” she said. “To hear that people were diminishing the production assistants into pure eye candy made me feel extremely small and like I was wasting my time and effort. It really took away my motivation and also made me feel extremely self-conscious for the rest of the job.”
Lea de Witt, a 33-year-old assistant director in Vancouver, said male co-workers have, on multiple occasions, shown her porn or asked her to pick things up on the ground so that she’ll bend over in front of them. On the set of a TV show filmed in Vancouver, she said, a male stand-in (a crewmember who takes the place of an actor while lighting is adjusted) nicknamed her “Lady DP,” for “double penetration.” On one occasion, she said, he came up behind her while she was bending over and put his hands on her back while simulating intercourse. De Witt said she eventually complained to higher-ups on the production about the overall climate of sexual harassment ― and shared the related email correspondence with HuffPost ― but she did not receive a response.
According to many interview subjects, behavior like this is simply treated as an inherent part of set culture. You either learn to deal with it, or you self-select out. As Annie put it, “you just have to shut up and put up and persevere.”
“There’s no job I’ve ever had that compares to the level of boys club mentality that most film sets have,” said Mary, who had previously worked in an office setting, as well as in food service and retail. “Before I worked in film, I’ve never, ever, in my life encountered anybody at work coming up to me making inappropriate sexual innuendo or jokes or slaps on the ass or anything like that. I’m not sure why it’s so different.”
Perhaps because the entertainment industry, at least behind the camera, is by all demographic measures still a “boys club.” According to a 2014 report by The Guardian, women made up just 22 percent of the crews of the 2,000 highest-grossing films of the previous 20 years. Gender is “something I’m constantly thinking about,” said Michelle, a 26-year-old camera assistant based in New York who asked HuffPost to withhold her last name.
For men, on the other hand, gender seems to be more of an afterthought, something they are only forced to consider when they witness inappropriate behavior directed toward women. HuffPost spoke to five men who work or have worked in the industry in LA, New York and Vancouver. All said they were aware of the casual sexual harassment women face in the film industry, and four of these men said they had personally observed behavior that crossed a line on sets.
“It’s a very male-dominated industry, which is always a big risk factor for harassment,” Emily Martin, general counsel and vice president for Education and Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center, told HuffPost.
And in the boys club, it’s not just that women are the target of jokes and comments. They’re also at risk for being the targets of more egregious boundary-crossing behavior. Sophie, a 25-year-old makeup artist in Vancouver, was working her first assistant gig in 2012 when one of the actors on set began to make her feel uncomfortable. She said he gave out hugs freely, and every time he hugged her his hand seemed to slip further down her back.
“I remember thinking, next time he comes in, he’s going to touch my bum,” Sophie, who preferred not to use her real name, told HuffPost.
The next time he arrived for makeup, she said, she set up her station carefully to make sure she’d never have her back to him. It wasn’t enough. “He took my makeup box from me and it totally threw me off, he’d never done that. I said, ‘You don’t have to do that,’ and I turned my back in that moment to grab something, and he said, ‘I don’t have to do this either,’ and sort of grabbed or pinched my bum,” she recalled. “I was mortified.”
Sophie reported the incident to her supervisor, the head of the makeup department. The supervisor responded sympathetically, Sophie said, but told her not to bother making an official report to production, since the shoot would be wrapping in just a few days.
Ultimately, several women told HuffPost they were expected to engage in this type of behavior and risked losing opportunities if they didn’t give out their numbers, respond to flirtatious texts or welcome advances.
Several years ago, de Witt was working on a TV series in Alberta. When filming ended, she told HuffPost, a senior member of the production team alerted her that the wrap party would be at his house. However, she later learned from another crew member that the wrap party would, in fact, be at a bar. When she called the manager to say she’d be going to the bar instead, she said he became incensed, threatening her professionally and telling her, “If [you] don’t come over then [you’re] not going to be hired for next season … I know a lot of people; you’re never going to get work again.”
Despite the threats, she said, she didn’t go to his house. It’s not the only time, de Witt told HuffPost, she has refused to go to male co-workers’ or bosses’ homes or give them rides ― a task that falls well outside of her job description ― and she believes she’s lost out on work as a result.
According to de Witt, the Alberta TV series did not hire her back after filming for the season ended. “That obviously stunted my career a lot,” she said. (De Witt did not report the incident on the Alberta set.)
Learning To Navigate Minefields
For women who work in the entertainment industry, sets often turn into minefields. Because of this, many of the women we spoke to felt as though they were forced to pick their way around predatory and bullying male colleagues while still trying to somehow advance in their careers. Nearly every person still in the industry whom HuffPost talked to for this story expressed some nervousness about backlash they might receive for speaking up.
“Until recently, until Weinstein, I didn’t realize how, as a female, I used to pride myself on my deflector skills,” said de Witt. “People would do something awkward or inappropriate, and I wouldn’t want to make them feel bad … so I would deflect.”
Deflecting unwelcome advances or crude comments can be treacherous, as several women’s experiences proved. Jess Dunn, a 28-year-old camera operator and filmmaker based in New York, recalled meeting a male Digital Imaging Technician (DIT) on the set of a TV show in 2015 who offered to take her under his wing. During weekly trainings, Dunn said, he would occasionally make sexualized comments and often asked her personal questions. According to her, he also began calling her just to inquire where she was and what she was doing. Dunn said she saw these behaviors as warning signs, but tried to ignore them.
Even when she seemed to have mastered the trainings, Dunn said the DIT kept coming up with excuses to continue their meetings and was resistant when she suggested creating a checklist of tasks so that she could eventually strike out on her own. Eventually, he cut off contact with her altogether. Though Dunn never felt unsafe, she did feel that she had wasted her time and lost a professional development opportunity because of this man’s suspect intentions.
“It was vexing and annoying … and it made me question, ‘Why am I here?’” Dunn said.
Others have faced overt backlash after rejecting male co-workers’ advances. Three years ago, makeup artist Sophie told HuffPost, an actor touched her earlobes while she was applying products to him on set. She said she repeatedly shrugged him off, to which he responded, “What’s wrong? Are you shy?” “I’m not shy,” she told him, “I just don’t like that. It’s quite personal.” The next day, he pulled her into a dark room and chastised her for her response, calling it “inappropriate.”
Other female crew members told HuffPost that they not only verbally deflected advances, but sought to avoid intrusive male attention by dressing in baggy clothes, eschewing makeup or even wearing rings to send the message that they’re off the market.
Being pretty and well-groomed might seem like an advantage at first, noted de Witt, as crews might be happy to bring one or two attractive women on. “Sometimes for the job, you [would think], ‘I know they’re hiring me because they think I’m pretty, so maybe I should put on makeup and look pretty so I can make sure I don’t get replaced by some other girl,’” she said. “That makes me really disappointed in myself.”
Now, she said, she wears her boyfriend’s clothes to work to minimize sexual attention.
The attempts to deflect negative male attention at work can guide women’s career paths within the industry. While some departments, like makeup and costume, are female-dominated, others are heavily male-dominated and can be unwelcoming to women. Jenn Lazo, a 46-year-old production coordinator in Los Angeles, initially thought of becoming a grip, but chose another path after being told that female grips often suffered particularly brutal harassment.
“People in production that told me to be prepared for sexism in [grip] and electric departments,” said Lazo. “It made sense, since I never even saw any women in those departments. I had already put up with gross stuff when I tried to get into acting, so didn’t even bother.”
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Several women we spoke to said they’d avoided specific sets entirely because of men they didn’t feel comfortable working with. “There’s definitely people that I won’t work with either because they’re overtly hostile … or they create a really sexual environment,” said Wirth.
Mikenna Stevens, a 22-year-old production assistant in Vancouver, said she avoids working on shows where most of the department leads are men ― and there are certain men she specifically steers clear of. “There are shows, in particular, that have individuals on them that I know I never want to work with again,” Stevens told HuffPost. “Either by reputation or my personal experiences with them, I know they’re not good shows, especially for a female PA, to be on.”
Deciding Enough Is Enough
For women faced with ongoing disrespect, harassment and even assault on set, leaving the field altogether may seem like the best choice.
After she informed the key PAs on set about her alleged assault and discussed it with several coworkers, Mary told HuffPost that both her union and an HR representative from the studio got in touch with her. According to Mary, the studio representative encouraged her to continue her work, and told her that David would write her an apology letter. In the letter, which HuffPost has reviewed, David apologized for “acting in a manner which made you uncomfortable.” Both the union and the studio, Mary told HuffPost, informed her that any further consequences for David would be confidential. She says she still doesn’t know if any other measures were taken to address the behavior she reported.
Not long after she received the apology letter, and shooting had wrapped on the Vancouver location where she’d been assigned, Mary was let go from the production. “When I was hired, they made it very clear that they wanted me for the whole duration of the shoot [beyond the initial location],” she said. According to Mary, the production team did not offer her a specific reason for her termination. “People don’t usually get let go like that unless they’re being really difficult, or if they don’t show up on time, if they don’t do their job,” she said. “I did my job, and then some. There was no reason, professionally, for me to be let go.”
Meanwhile, David kept his job.
“I was definitely shocked when they decided they weren’t going to have me back, and that he was going to be allowed to continue with his job,” she said.
Mary believes her interaction with David affected her ability to take certain jobs after the incident. More than once, she says, colleagues suggested she work on productions for which David would be the assistant location manager. Uncomfortable with working with him again, she made excuses and turned the work down.
Mary continued working in the industry for another year, but her mental health was deteriorating. Always prone to clinical depression, Mary said she experienced a surge in panic attacks and dizzy spells thereafter. Finally, a year after the incident, she went to a doctor, who urged her to take a break from working. One year later, she’s still not working in the industry.
Yet Mary still hopes her break from the industry will be temporary. “I want to go back. Film is my passion, but I’m definitely wary of the whole environment right now,” she told HuffPost.
I felt like I couldn’t possibly make a difference in my own career. I couldn’t possibly work hard enough to ever get anywhere. If you’re a male, all you have to do really is show up. -Willow Heaton, 45, former set dresser
Other women, faced with harassment as well as endless microaggressions, double standards and standard-issue sexism, decide to leave for good. Willow Heaton, 45, a former set dresser in Vancouver, decided to pursue another career path last year.
“I felt like I couldn’t possibly make a difference in my own career. I couldn’t possibly work hard enough to ever get anywhere,” she said. “If you’re a male, all you have to do really is show up.” Now she works as a real estate appraiser.
For Michelle, the “toxic” work culture was simply exhausting. She took nine months off last year and is now planning to go back to school to study a subject unrelated to film. “The industry and the trajectory of my career just isn’t really what I want it to be,” Michelle said. “And people used to be like, ‘Oh, but you can change that, Michelle. You can change the status quo.’ But I just don’t feel like I can.”
Even the women we spoke to who have not left film have given serious thought to it.
“I want to stay in this industry so badly,” said production assistant Stevens. “It’s been my dream since I was 14 years old. I just want to stay in it so badly. And it can be really discouraging.”
Recognizing A Broken System
For women working in a boys club, reporting sexist behavior in the workplace can seem futile. The USA Today survey found that just one in four women who said they had experienced misconduct reported the incident, and of those who did report, just 28 percent said that their workplace situation improved as a result. Little wonder, then, that most women we spoke to chose not to report instances of harassment or even assault. Even those whose concerns were reported to production or their unions were mostly disheartened by the results.
Ultimately, working in the film industry as a woman is like death by a thousand cuts ― “little things on a daily basis constantly that wear you down,” as Mary put it. There’s not necessarily one horrific, traumatizing incident that drives a woman permanently out of the field (though that happens, too), but rather a steady acclimation to an environment that normalizes the casual disrespect and disempowerment of its woman inhabitants.
Unfortunately, efforts to alleviate the gender gap in film have primarily focused on getting young women into the industry but not on making sure the environment is welcoming.
“A large amount of the focus in terms of advocacy in our industry is around getting more young women in,” Rose Fadem-Johnston, a cinematographer and the co-founder of the International Collective of Female Cinematographers, told HuffPost. “So you get young women in, as camera trainees, or second ACs, and they’re getting everything from passive verbal harassment to active butt-pinching to active closet rape … and they drop out.”
Combating this climate, however, is a daunting task, especially considering how many women in the industry don’t report harassment they face.
Reporting harassment in even the most clearly defined and well-regulated workplace environments can be risky and disappointing for harassment victims. But in the film world, a gig-based industry that is overseen by a nebulous multitude of studios, production companies, independent financiers, unions and guilds, the risk is even higher.
“The current structure of the industry, which values flexibility, competition and the ability to seek newer and cheaper partners and employees works against any kind of clear reporting structure,” Kate Fortmueller, assistant professor of entertainment and media studies at the University of Georgia, told HuffPost. “How can you prove retaliation in an industry where collaborations and partnerships change all the time?”
Unions and guilds, whose prerogative is to advocate for fit working conditions for members, seem to be the logical place to begin. Of course, not all film workers belong to guilds or unions, but these organizations dominate much of the filmmaking industry and carry significant clout. While film industry workers hop from project to project, their union memberships remain more steady.
The question is whether they’re doing all they could to push for safe workplaces.
The current structure of the industry, which values flexibility, competition and the ability to seek newer and cheaper partners and employees works against any kind of clear reporting structure. Kate Fortmueller, assistant professor of entertainment and media studies at the University of Georgia
Martin of the National Women’s Law Center told HuffPost that unions can absolutely be helpful to members who experience sexual misconduct on a set, but only if union leadership is committed to the issue. “If your union has bargained for a process by which you could raise and address any harassment complaints, that’s an additional level of protection with the union as your advocate,” Martin said. “Assuming your union is behaving the way it should, [it] can definitely make the rights much more real and enforceable.”
The inherent structure of unions may make them less than ideal for handling assault allegations.
“One of the tricky issues for unions is that they represent all workers. So, if the harassment is worker-to-worker harassment, both people involved… are members of the union,” said Ileen DeVault, professor of labor history at Cornell University. Labor leaders, she said, have grappled ― especially recently ― with balancing the needs of women and members of color while catering to the white male contingencies that dominate many unions’ ranks. “I think that we would all be better off if unions stepped up and said, ‘We are going to do the right thing, and the right thing is to defend women who are being harassed.’ But that’s a tricky thing to do, and it’s especially tricky in unions that are predominantly male.”
Although federal law does provide protections against discrimination and harassment by unions the same way it does for employers, if union leadership is not committed to advocating for all of its members, those members may be out of luck.
But the Me Too movement has pushed leaders across the industry, and within unions specifically, to take the issue of sexual misconduct more seriously. Shortly after the Harvey Weinstein revelations that shook Hollywood, several major entertainment unions ― including the Teamsters and IATSE, which represent various below-the-line film workers, and the Directors Guild of America ― released statements strongly condemning sexual harassment in the film industry. Late in 2017, the Directors Guild of Canada announced it would commence an internal audit of its anti-harassment policies. Union leaders have also been involved in industrywide efforts to seek solutions, like the Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace chaired by Anita Hill.
Several women who spoke to HuffPost suggested measures unions and guilds could take to cut down on sexual harassment. Multiple women proposed that unions institute more rigorous, mandatory anti-harassment training, and open up a new reporting channel, like an anonymous app, to encourage workers to come forward without fear of backlash.
Holding The Industry Accountable
But, as the dissatisfaction of most who have reported makes clear, it’s not enough to have a reporting line. Consequences are crucial. “I think there is a value in anonymous reporting apps assuming that there is some commitment by the leadership who is receiving the reports to really try to improve culture,” said Martin. “Leadership is really key for making changes. And ideally you have some legal hammers to incentivize leadership to take this seriously.”
Consequences for harassment, several women who spoke to HuffPost said, need to be more consistent and severe to serve as a true deterrent. “Until these people actually lose their jobs and stop being protected by their respective unions and guilds and studios, I have a really hard time believing that anything is going to change,” Mary told HuffPost.
What would that mean, exactly? Fortmueller pointed out that enforcement in this piecemeal, diffuse system would be tricky, but there are some options. Unions could work in solidarity to avoid productions with harassment problems, for example. “Some people have suggested that if you have someone who’s repeatedly harassing people, SAG could have, or [another guild] could have, a do-not-work order on a producer,” Fortmueller told HuffPost. “Like if it’s a contract violation, you just say, we’re going to strike against this person for their behavior.”
Martin told HuffPost that legislation protecting contractors, whether at the local or federal level, can also be key.
“California does have a statute that extends protections against harassment to independent contractors specifically, so goes beyond the traditional employer-employee relationship.” Martin said. “Coming up with legal structures that explicitly reach the contracting relationship is really important …This really shouldn’t turn on your ZIP code. And while this is a big issue in the entertainment industry, it’s not only the entertainment industry where this is an issue.”
But policy change must be bolstered by culture change in order for it to be effective. One crucial change, many women we spoke to suggested, might simply be having more women on set. Having female bosses on one set, Heaton told HuffPost, “made a huge difference.”
“The sets that I’ve personally been the most comfortable on were the ones where the majority of my team were women,” Mary said. “My personal experience is that for the most part, 85 to 90 percent of the time, when I’ve worked with men on sets, at some point or another, there are inappropriate comments made, or actions.”
Gabrielle Gorman, a 19-year-old filmmaker and current UCLA student, told HuffPost that having more diversity in general changes the dynamics of how a project is run. “When you have women, people of color, queer people people on a set, things change,” she said. “People aren’t afraid to ask questions and get help.”
Fadem-Johnston, whose organization publishes a list of female cinematographers as a hiring resource, believes an increase in the number of women and people of color on set will stem from changing attitudes, not new regulations. “It’s more of an internal consciousness. Moving people of color up. Moving women up,” she said. “And then not isolating people on your set. Hire women, but hire more than one woman. Don’t hire one black guy and feel like you’ve checked that box.”
Productions could take a simple but effective step to increase diversity on their sets, she said, by making sure to interview multiple women, and multiple people of color, for open positions, so that the nonwhite, non-male candidates don’t seem like outliers. “A huge thing for us, for producers, is just interview two. You have a significantly better chance of getting hired as a woman if there’s another woman also getting interviewed.”
During Frances McDormand’s Best Actress Academy Award acceptance speech, the “Three Billboards” star put a spotlight on one tangible step toward representation on sets: inclusion riders. These contract provisions, she explained in a post-show interview, allow actors and other high-profile film workers to “ask for and/or demand at least 50 percent diversity in not only the casting, but also the crew.” Though little-known, inclusion riders are more than a pipe dream ― heavyweights like Ava DuVernay and Shonda Rhimes have already made use of them to battle ingrained bias against women and people of color on their sets. Since McDormand’s speech, several Hollywood A-listers, both men and women, have committed to using the riders, including “Black Panther” star Michael B. Jordan.
Though increasing women’s representation on sets is a worthy goal in itself, and could serve to make the culture on sets more welcoming to women, it’s not a silver bullet.
Several women we spoke to said they didn’t notice a substantial difference in harassment on sets with a different gender makeup.
Julia Swain, a 28-year-old LA-based cinematographer, is currently at work on “Women of Light,” a documentary about about female cinematographers. She recalled working on just one predominantly female set, saying, “I don’t think it necessarily changed the environment. There were some nasty women, too!”
Even if female-heavy sets tend to be healthier environments for women, said Mary, “It’s not really a solution, because we need to be able to learn to work with men and women.”
Michelle and two other friends, Nara DeMuro and Julianne Augustine, took matters into their own hands in October 2017, creating a Tumblr called Crew Call-Out, where crew members could reveal harassment and abuse they’d suffered at work. Many women suggested that continued transparency like this could make a real difference.
“One thing which I think we’ve seen over the last few months that’s really powerful is women and men who have experienced harassment sharing their stories with each other,” Martin said. “We have seen the power that comes from that shared experience and the realization that it didn’t just happen to me, it wasn’t something that I did wrong. This is a bigger, systemic issue.”
Several women noted that since the Weinstein allegations became public, their male colleagues were more receptive to these kinds of conversations. The women said that they felt increased hope for the future of the industry and their own futures within it.
Perhaps a generational shift alone will make a meaningful difference; younger male co-workers, several women observed, have generally been more willing to listen and change. “The old-school dudes who are gonna be leaving in five to 10 years, they are not very receptive. I find the younger generation are receptive, and they back us up,” said de Witt.
Several of the men HuffPost interviewed, all of whom were under 40, said they were concerned by inappropriate comments and behavior faced by their female colleagues, and have thought about how to address specific incidents as well as how to change the overall culture.
Yet real change requires a combination of these solutions, along with a concerted effort by people in positions of power to hold accountable those who make the industry a more hostile place for women; to recognize that sexual harassment is so pervasive that it’s driving some women out of the field in the first few years of their career, perpetuating a boys club that sees no incentive to course correct. Creating an industry that will allow women (and anyone who is a member of a marginalized group) to flourish requires a sustained commitment to doing so without a simple blueprint.
“Inclusion and equality isn’t something you just snap your finger and do,” filmmaker Lexi Alexander told HuffPost. “To really achieve true inclusion you have to really comprehend how systemic oppression and bias … works, how to spot it and combat it. It’s not enough to hire people from different cultural backgrounds or marginalized groups, you must provide them with an environment they can succeed in.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article cited Arina Bleiman as a co-creator for the Tumblr Crew Call-Out. She was an early contributor.