5 Years after the #MeToo movement shook the entertainment industry, Katie Larkin investigates whether real change has been made and how consent has since been redefined.
October 5th 2022 marked the five year anniversary of the release of The New York Times article detailing Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse allegations and the birth of the #MeToo movement. The movement shook the film and media industries, and revealed how gendered violence is often instigated by men in positions of power. Through the #MeToo hashtag victims of sexual misconduct and violence were encouraged to speak out about their abuses and reject the culture of silence that is still prevalent in our society.
The American Women in Film Association has recently revealed a survey about the working conditions for women in the entertainment industry. They found that over two-thirds (70.7%) of respondents noted that the culture around abuse in Hollywood has “improved somewhat”. While this is a positive trend it hides underlying issues such as the fact that 69% of respondents admitted to experiencing abuse or misconduct in the five years since the movement began, and 30.9% said it has happened to someone they know. These figures are disheartening and deeply infuriating to read. Today, the outreach and the benefits of the MeToo movement are being reflected upon. Measuring the benefit of this widespread movement becoming mainstream is difficult, especially when it feels as though every day, new allegations are made about yet another man in the film industry. While the voice of victims is considerably louder than it was 5 years ago, the discourse on misconduct fails to address the systemic actions that need to protect people in the industry. Re-traumatizing victims to get them to tell their story can be exploitative if it does not spur change.
Measuring the benefit of this widespread movement becoming mainstream is difficult, especially when it feels as though everyday new allegations are made about yet another man in the film industry.
Since 2017, we have seen Hollywood heavyweights be exposed for sexual misconduct, such as Morgan Freeman and James Franco according to Glamour Magazine and more recently, Bill Muray was found to be engaging in inappropriate behaviour on set according to an article by the Washington Post. On October 21st, the jury of New York claimed that Rapp’s lawyers had failed to prove that Spacey had in fact inappropriately touched Anthony Rapp when he was fourteen. And since that verdict, it has been announced that Kevin Spacey is set to receive a lifetime achievement award for his contribution in cinema at the National Museum of Cinema in the northern city of Turin, Italy. Mainstream cases of misconduct where the victim is not given justice such as this one are a blow to the large community of victims of misconduct; silent and outspoken. These instances where justice has failed to be given, forces victims to remain silent and enables abusers to continue their behaviour.
Frankly, If I were to sit down to write a comprehensive list of every man in the film industry who has behaved inappropriately, it would simply take hours to read through.
Mainstream cases of misconduct where the victim is not given justice such as this one are a blow to the large community of victims of misconduct; silent and outspoken.
The United States is unfortunately not the only country where change is stagnant. During the 44th Edition of the Césars, Franco-Polish director Roman Polanski was awarded “Best Director” for his movie J’Accuse. A fugitive from the United States of America criminal justice system, Polanski lives in Europe, and somehow continues to direct and produce films despite having been accused and found guilty of assault charges against Samantha Gailey who was a minor at the time of the crime. His 12 nominations and his subsequent win prompted a walkout by actresses Adéle Haenel and Noémie Merlant and director Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire). The French film academy was accused of acclaiming “an abuser and rapist on the run” by French feminist collective “Nous-Toutes”.
The last five years have definitely seen an increase in the discourse on the topic of sexual misconduct, and this has been reflected in new productions in film and television. A notable film being Emerald Fennell’s debut Promising Young Woman (2020) which explores the detrimental and lifelong effect of rape on women while dismantling the idea that there is such thing as a “good guy.” It is seen through the lens of protagonist Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan) who seeks revenge for her best friend who committed suicide after being raped by classmates who suffered no consequences at all. The movie highlights how common gendered violence is towards women, with Cassie often posing as a drunk woman alone, who reveals sobriety when men try to take advantage of her inebriated state. While Cassie’s quest for revenge is belligerent, the message of the film is powerful and relevant: sexual violence is systemic and must be treated as such.
Although it gave visibility and power to the movement, it also distanced itself from its original project, which was to highlight how all women, especially marginalized women in America, were at risk of sexual violence due to systemic oppression.
The #MeToo movement has shed light on the atrocities that were swept under the rug for so long in not just the film industry but in society itself over the past five years. But just as society has changed, so has the movement. Indeed, the co-opting of the MeToo movement is a blessing and a curse. Although it gave visibility and power to the movement, it also distanced itself from its original project which was to highlight how all women, especially marginalized women in America, were at risk of sexual violence due to systemic oppression. The movement was created by a survivor, Tarana Burke, who is an African-American woman, in 2006, but the face of MeToo is undeniably white and famous as of 2017. This allows us to question whose voice is actually being heard in the long-term.
So, has the industry changed? No. Do instances of misconduct still happen? Definitely.
But hopefully, there will be more conversations about abuse and consent which will not only allow victims to speak out but demand more accountability from institutions and individuals, who use their power to dominate and belittle others.