A leaderless group "became a brand overnight," say insiders, but the anti-harassment crusade now seeks structure and a real leader amid skepticism about CAA's role and "movie star cliquey" meetings.
On March 1, members of the Time's Up anti-harassment organization met the media to deliver a 60-day progress report on its campaign for "basic fairness in the workplace," as Bad Robot co-CEO Katie McGrath put it.
The timing was right. Hollywood being what it is, and people being what they are, there has been speculation and some suspicion about where Time's Up came from, who gets to participate in the group and what its priorities are. At the meeting with the press, A Wrinkle in Time director Ava DuVernay assured that even though Time's Up "started so splashy on the red carpet, there's real work being done."
At this point — about two months since its Jan. 1 unveiling as Hollywood's most high-profile effort toward gender equality — Time's Up is a work in progress, but it has some tangible results to report. Its legal defense fund has raised $21 million. (Jennifer Aniston, Selena Gomez and Sandra Bullock are said to be among major donors; CAA has donated $2 million while WME donated $1.5 million and ICM and UTA each donated $1 million.)
The fund, which is to be run by the National Women's Law Center, already has fielded more than 1,700 requests for assistance from individuals working in more than 60 different industries. (The emphasis is not on women in entertainment but on wage workers.) Time's Up also has struck a partnership with the nonprofit StoryCorps to record tales of working women and preserve them in the Library of Congress. Meetings have covered a panoply of issues, from nudity clauses to job parity. Various subcommittees have been formed.
But some women who have attended Time's Up gatherings, the biggest of which attract more than 200 members or prospective members, say key questions remain unanswered. The group garnered a lot of media attention with buttons and black gowns at the Golden Globes, one talent rep says, but "the nuts and bolts should have come first." A central player in the group acknowledges: "It became a brand overnight. No one anticipated that." (While some Time's Up members spoke to THR on background, none would agree to comment on the record.) Several important Time's Up members say that it has become clear that there will have to be more structure, and the group is seeking a professional manager as well as funding to pay that person's salary. So far, all donations have gone to the legal fund.
Some of the distrust around Time's Up can be traced to its beginnings in late 2017 in the crisis atmosphere that prevailed after accusations against Harvey Weinstein became public. Early meetings took place at CAA, with the agency's chief innovation officer Michelle Kydd Lee and agents Maha Dakhil, Hylda Queally and Christy Haubegger among the founders. When certain A-list actresses (such as Kristen Stewart and Emma Stone) and major players repped at other agencies (such as Shonda Rhimes, handled by ICM Partners) were invited to meetings while their agents were not, some suspected that CAA might use the gatherings to try to poach clients. "There are people cynical enough to say it's about getting Shonda," says a producer who is a member of the organization.
Some reps from other agencies have now joined Time's Up, and several participants in the earliest meetings who are not CAA clients tell THR that they never perceived the group as serving a CAA agenda. Instead, they say they were happy to take advantage when CAA offered free meeting space and food and even paid for an airline ticket change so that Gloria Steinem could speak at the first meeting in early December.
In a statement, CAA said, "The work we have done for Time's Up has not only been heartfelt and deeply meaningful, but it is also consistent with our decades-long commitment to social action and community involvement. Our employees have volunteered hundreds of hours, working in partnership with so many like-minded artists and business colleagues to support the movement, which has raised $21 million from 20,000 donors across 80 countries in just 60 days to help survivors. We remain committed to the important work ahead."
But still, there was more suspicion about CAA's intentions: Some thought the agency was aligning with Time's Up to inoculate itself against questions about its longtime ties to Weinstein as well as its in-house culture. The New York Times reported in early December — just when Time's Up was having its inaugural meeting — that at least eight CAA agents had known about Weinstein's alleged behavior. (In its response to the Times, CAA apologized "to any person the agency let down.")
In a March 3 column, the Times' Maureen Dowd took direct aim at the perceived linkage, writing, "Time's Up … was born at CAA, the agency dominated by white men who, their despoiled clients charge, served as a conveyor belt to the Weinstein hotel suites."
Another question that has dogged Time's Up in the early going revolves around who was included in the early meetings and who wasn't. "Why is it a club?" asks one producer. "Why do you have to be invited?" Some say it seemed to them that at the core of Time's Up was a clique that included such A-list stars as Reese Witherspoon. "At first it felt self-promotional," says a talent rep who has attended the meetings. A television executive thinks that early Time's Up inadvertently felt "feature film, actress, movie star cliquey."
At the March 1 news briefing, members said no one was intentionally left out. "Hollywood breeds a feeling of exclusion for people," Rhimes said. "There's this feeling that this must be something that you're invited to, because everything else in this town is built on that idea, but this just doesn't work that way."
"If you want to join, you can make it happen wherever you are," said Laura Dern, who said that meetings formed while she was on location in Atlanta because a crewmember suggested it. Other Time's Up members say those who want to participate should simply ask to be put on the mailing list and come to meetings.
But at first, at least, it wasn't quite so simple, says one exec who says she made several calls hoping to attend the inaugural meeting, to no avail. "I talked to a lot of women who were high-level and couldn't get invited and were very upset," she says. "It was like, 'We're inclusive but unless you're a movie star or a farmworker, you're not invited. If you're an EVP, we don't want you.' I talked to a bunch of showrunners who said, 'Aren’t we the people who are giving people jobs? Shouldn’t we be included?’ It became everybody’s topic at lunch for the next two weeks.” Nonetheless, she says, "I think we were sort of judging them for being exclusionary when it was just growing pains."
Some women who are involved are still unclear or uneasy about how the group is setting its agenda. Members aren't supposed to discuss what goes on at meetings, but sources say that at the gathering at Paramount in February, Kerry Washington introduced women from Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (the National Farmworkers Women's Alliance). Speakers included a mural artist who discussed the role of art in bringing about change. Seth Godin, author of books including Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, talked about how to start a movement.
“By the end of the first hour, people were on their phones,” says one who attended. Another says the gathering felt like “a lecture series,” adding, “I think there’s still a frustration about action steps.” At a gathering after the meeting in Transparent creator Jill Soloway’s offices, this person says, one of the women present said, “A lot of us here are producers. Give us something to produce!” Overall, this person says, “I feel there’s a lack of awareness on how to best manage it. There’s some sort of disconnect there. I don’t think it’s intentional.”
"When you start a movement, the first thing people do is try to peel you away, to distract you from the mission," says one member. "We have devoted our lives to this industry. Is this what we want our legacy to be — that we were victims of harassment? I want my legacy to be that I was part of a group who saw a problem and was part of the solution."
This story first appeared in the March 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.