Too many of us tolerate inanity that perpetuates harmful myths and makes the whole world stupider and less safe for women in the workplace.
This past weekend, another article came out in The Los Angeles Times elucidating yet another barrage of awful and viscerally descriptive sexual abuse allegations against producer Brett Ratner. Claims of sexual assault, rape, harassment, offering background players promotions in exchange for sex, luring young women back to his party house or some other apartment and watching while his friends rape them — some pretty extreme stuff even in this climate. And, of course, along with the barrage of accusations came the inevitable denials. Carefully parsed legal/PR statements which the Times has to — I assume for legal reasons — include without comment.
And maybe this one was special because of how extreme the accusations against Ratner are, but the denials read as so absurd to me that they reminded me of that old Billy Madison quote, "Mr. Madison, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard … Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points and may God have mercy on your soul."
Here in Hollywood, many of us think this every day about, say, Trump and the Roy Moore situation, but too many of us sit silently sipping our lattes while this kind of inanity — inanity that perpetuates harmful myths and makes the whole world stupider and less safe for women in the workplace — gets spewed in our own industry. So to offer another perspective, here’s my point-by-point rebuttal of this latest round of defenses and denials.
For the record, I’ve never met Brett Ratner or his attorney Marty Singer. And this isn’t even about Singer or Ratner. It’s about all of the absurdities issued by the Singers in defense of the Ratners at the expense of women everywhere. Here are quotes from The Los Angeles Times article, annotated.
"'In Brett's defense, I am sure he is not the only heterosexual man hitting on women on that set.'"
He holds all the power on that set. Brett Ratner holds All. The. Power. And he's not accused of "hitting on women." He's accused of offering speaking roles to background actors in exchange for sexual favors. Totally different. A heterosexual man hitting on women at say, a bar, is healthy and natural behavior. A man who holds all the power on a set approaching women who have no power on the set and asking them to come to the bathroom and have sex with him or come back to his trailer and touch his penis or show him their breasts in exchange for a promotion is a cruel and sadistic abuse of power that actually has very little to do with sex. Conflating the two for the purposes of defending your client damages society. It damages the men and the women and particularly the young people who read The Los Angeles Times.
"'The movie was obviously already cast and shooting, so the notion that there would be a discussion of getting her a speaking role in the middle of a movie shoot is ridiculous,' Singer said."
Um … really?
Last month, at Grey's Anatomy, I was watching them rehearse a scene and I decided I needed someone other than my hero doctors to say, "I concur." I turned to the director, Debbie Allen, and said, "We need to upgrade one of the extras." I didn't say it quietly enough because a bunch of background players' hands shot into the air and all eyes turned to me. An upgrade is big money for a background player. It's the difference between making under 100 dollars for a day’s work versus several hundred dollars for a day's work. It's also one of the main ways aspiring actors get into the actor's union. A couple of upgrades and you become SAG eligible, which is everything to an aspiring actor. An upgrade is a big deal to a background artist — and upgrades happen every single day in Hollywood.
Now, imagine that as I studied those eager faces, I approached one of them and said that if she followed me into the bathroom and got naked or showed me her breasts or touched my genitals, she could have the upgrade. That's the accusation against Ratner by multiple women. I can't speak at all to whether or not he did it, but when his lawyer refutes it by calling it “Absurd” and “Nonsensical” and “Ridiculous” because “the movie was already cast and shooting” I cannot in good conscience let that go unanswered. Because that’s the nonsense. I know these lawyers and PR people have a job to do and all, but so did those background actresses. They went to work to do their job. Did anyone approach you at work today and ask you to touch his genitals in exchange for a promotion? No? Bully for you. Your workday is going better than theirs reportedly did!
"On the set of Rush Hour 3, Sarah Shahi, 37, said that on multiple occasions, Ratner approached her from behind, thrust his groin against her and made graphic sexual comments."
"Ratner, through his attorney Marty Singer, 'Vehemently denied' Shahi's claims, noting their ongoing contact and providing copies of emails referring to him as a 'Cutie pie' and signing off with hugs and kisses. 'These overwhelming contradictions make the claims inherently improbable.'"
Okay, let's talk about overwhelming contradictions. When my powerful male showrunner asked me in front of a room full of male colleagues whether or not I was good in bed, I went on to invite him to my wedding. We kept in touch. I signed emails to him with x's and o's. Why? Because when women are dealing with powerful men who they know to be abusive, the first instinct, often, is to keep them on our sides. The first instinct, often, is to play nice, and to get along. And too often our instinct is to minimize the abuse we've experienced and our trauma around it by focusing on the positive attributes of our abusers. And yes, abusers often have positive attributes too because humanity is full of contradictions. Rapists and serial predators often have great minds and are great artists. When a woman has been hurt, she often pulls her abuser close. This is basic psychology. And when a woman has been hurt by a man as powerful as someone like Brett Ratner is in this town, she has nothing to gain by making an enemy of him and a whole lot to lose. So she often stays quiet and she stays friendly and stays in touch and signs her notes with x's and o's.
When abuse is ongoing, and a woman has a job to do, she also often "goes along to get along." By way of example, I was bent over tying my boot at a work party once and a very married studio head — who would ultimately help decide whether or not the pilot I was making got a pick-up — grabbed my hips, pulled me into his crotch and whispered, “Would it be wrong to tell you I’ve had dreams of you in this position?” I stood up, laughed awkwardly and said, “Um, as a friendly reminder, I don’t drink so I’m gonna remember this in the morning.” He grinned. I laughed. It was a one-time thing, it was a work party, everyone was drunk, it didn’t feel threatening, it just felt gross. But imagine that these kinds of things continued and that eventually I did need to report it? That guy would definitely have emails from me signed with x’s and o’s.
Taking it a step further, a friend of mine recently told me that after she lost her virginity to date rape as a teenager, she went on to have consensual sex with her attacker (just like Asia Argento says she did with Harvey). Why? She says her logic at the time was, "If I can make him my boyfriend, maybe I'll feel better about this whole thing." Of course, men don’t hear these stories often. We women mostly save them for each other. But I think it's time we all hear them and hear them free of any accusation or conflicting interest so that we can stop and think the next time someone tries to discredit and dismiss abused women by pointing out “contradictions.”
In response to accusations that Ratner and his buddy James Toback invited models back to his party house and sexually assaulted them: "Singer said the claim that Hilhaven Lodge was a venue for alleged inappropriate behavior … 'does not square with the fact that there are regularly many other people around to whom someone could voice a complaint if something objectionable was allegedly taking place.'"
LOL. No, seriously. LOLOLOL. This one is just too absurd. If I didn’t laugh and choke on my coffee, I might have to scream.
When I was in my 20s I was walking through a Hollywood party. This was not one of those Eyes Wide Shut types of parties. This was a party at a bar on the Sunset Strip. No one was even dancing. People were just talking and drinking and flirting. Y'know, like you do at a party. Except this one very powerful and recognizable director. That guy was getting a blowjob out in the open and leering aggressively at all the women as they walked past. The act itself and the look on his face was aggressive and demeaning to every person in that room. I turned to my friend and said, "Is that who I think it is?” And he said, "Yeah, he likes to do that kind of thing. Everyone just looks away."
Everyone just looks away.
If a big, money-making director can be so powerful that everyone just looks away at a bar on the Sunset Strip, imagine what he might be allowed to get away with at a "party house" he owned. Now imagine these very young models trying to "voice a complaint" about the owner of the house, or the best friend of the owner of the house, who maybe just assaulted them in his bedroom.
And before any lawyers or PR people reading this can form the question, “What were they doing at his house, in his bedroom to begin with?” Please allow me to lay it out for you once and for all:
We live and work in a town where business and socializing regularly conflate and one often depends upon the other.
I remember being in my twenties with big screenwriting dreams and making friends with heterosexual male working screenwriters who would say things like, "We're all gonna go back to my house and watch this documentary my friend made." And you know what would happen next? We would go back to his house and ... watch the documentary! Y'know why? Because this town is full of good men who are artists and thinkers and who are not rapists, and we were young and life was fun and we would take the party back to someone's house and talk about art.
I remember doing the same thing when I was in my early 20's in New York. I remember going with a group of young artists back to Ethan Hawke's apartment. Ethan Hawke was famous and by extension powerful even back then, and so the invitation was thrilling. Did I pause and worry that this invitation might be loaded? No, I didn’t. Was I “naïve” to jump at this invitation? I don’t think I was. Because you know what happened when I got there? People drank wine and whiskey and sat around and talked about art and theater and poetry and music and life and possibility. And many of those young artists went on to work with each other on many fine projects. For many of us, those "social" gatherings were career building blocks. I remember meeting the playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman at one of those parties and realizing that people my age really did make a living writing. It was huge for me. Those moments, those revelations, those parties arguably changed the course of my career.
Young women do not and should not expect to be raped when we accept an invitation back to a fellow artist's house — even if that artist is a powerful man. It is not naive to believe that good men exist and to accept an invitation based on that belief, or even based on our admiration of that man. It should go without saying that we should not expect that by accepting an invitation to a social gathering in this town or any other, we should also expect to have genitalia thrust into our mouths against our will.
I understand that for as long as there are accused rapists continuing to do business in this town, there will be PR people and attorneys spinning words, and that they are just doing their jobs — and so am I. When I’m handed a bad script full of old tropes, falsehoods and stereotypes, it’s my job to take it away, note it and when it’s really bad, rewrite it.
Krista Vernoff is the showrunner of ABC's Grey's Anatomy.