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“Is the media the new HR?” This is the sentiment we’ve seen posed on social media by co-workers and friends in light of the Scott Rudin fallout from The Hollywood Reporter’s cover story, the Los Angeles Times’ story on ICM and, most recently, Gal Gadot’s public reveal that Joss Whedon threatened her career.
It’s a fair question; the open secret of Hollywood is that human resources exists to protect not the employees but the corporations. Studios have kept employing powerful showrunners with complaints against them until they get wind that a press exposé is on the horizon. It’s only then that these employers suddenly condemn abuse in the workplace. Certainly not before.
But to answer the question, “Is the press the new HR?” — we cannot let it be. By definition, media coverage comes after the fact: after years of bullying and harassment that in turn leave years of damage and perpetuate a culture of abuse enabled by the flimsy excuse of a hard-charging creative process and relentless effort in search of the next award, profile or deal.
For every Rudin, there are 50 lesser-known but equally monstrous bullies hiding in the shadows of anonymity. They are everywhere, in every rank, section and department of Hollywood. For studios and Hollywood companies to condemn the abusive, bullying behavior of Rudin is to admit what we all know: They created Rudin and every monster like him.
This is Hollywood culture we’ve only started talking about — the culture that glorifies abusers who dehumanize everyone around them. Having “thick skin” is as much of a job requirement as having a high school diploma, and for decades the industry seems to have been proud of that. This myth of the volatile visionary has informed Hollywood culture to the point that we raise abusers to godlike status and ignore the stark, unsexy truth: Hollywood is a business. Our jobs are not privileges, they are jobs.
No one should have to suffer dehumanizing mental, emotional or physical abuse and bullying for a job. We are all employees who should be protected by our employers. We are all employees who should be protected by our employers and, if the last few weeks prove anything, it’s that we aren’t. Scott Rudin and everyone who behaves like him are not gods, they are insecure assholes who push the limits because nobody stops them.
What would’ve happened if, at some point during Rudin’s career, or Whedon’s, or any alleged bullies and abusers who have been outed, human resources had done their job? If at the first sign of bad behavior, the studios had stepped in and made it clear there would be consequences if changes weren’t made? What if the companies had chosen to interrupt the cycle of exploitation and misconduct, chosen to install proactive, preventive measures like third-party reporting, instead of wasting millions on damage control and losing more on boycotted projects?
We think of Kevin Graham-Caso, Rudin’s assistant who was said to be traumatized by Rudin’s abuse, and who took his own life last year. We think of David, Kevin’s twin, who maybe would still have his brother if the toxic workplace culture we’ve normalized in this town had been addressed sooner. We think of the support staff community, 77 percent of whom reported having increased anxiety because of work conditions, while 49 percent reported an increase in depression, a survey conducted by #PayUpHollywood found in February. We know those percentages would be far lower if companies treated them as valuable employees instead of target practice.
We think about how it’s never too late to change. That we wish Hollywood companies would see that it’s more profitable to embrace the changing landscape, one that calls for accountability and preventive action, rather than run from it. That instead of spending millions to fix the fallout of bad behavior from the Rudins and Weinsteins, it’d be cheaper to nip it in the bud when it first shows up. We wish they’d realize the brilliant, talented voices of support staffers — the future moneymakers and box office draws — are worth protecting and investing in.
Most importantly, we hope they realize that the people in Hollywood are changing. Even the support staffers who have the most to lose are choosing to speak out and fight back against the Rudins of the world. Those assistants are choosing to rework the fabric of this industry to be more inclusive, more accountable and more proactive in addressing injustices.
Companies of Hollywood have a choice — take accountability and invest in overhauling HR, enable third-party reporting and other proactive protective measures, or continue looking the other way as outrage and hunger for workplace reform grows. We truly hope they make the right choice — failing to do so is a costly mistake for all of us.
Liz Alper and Deirdre Mangan are television writers and co-founders of grassroots group #PayUpHollywood.
This story first appeared in the May 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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