Asia Argento: Italian Film Industry Letter on Sexual Harassment Is Too Little, Too Late

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Asia Argento

More than 120 women in Italian cinema signed a letter denouncing sexual harassment, but Argento believes much more is needed than a symbolic gesture.

Members of Italy's film and entertainment industry Thursday published an open letter titled "Dissenso commune" ("Common Dissent"), signed by 124 women speaking out against sexual harassment.

But to critics it was just the latest proof how late and slow Italy is to making societal changes. After all, the letter comes nearly four months after the New Yorker published an expose on Harvey Weinstein; the report included details of sexual assault against Italian actress and director Asia Argento and Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez.

So far, Argento and other women who have come forward have been routinely vilified by the local press. Public figures in Italy condemned the women, saying they are "opportunistic" or were “asking for it.” And while sexual harassment in Italy is widely considered to be rampant, the only high-profile entertainers publicly called out by women are directors Giuseppe Tornatore and Fausto Brizzi. 

“In Italy, until now,” Argento tells Hollywood Reporter, “the only women who spoke out did so [against] predators Tornatore and Brizzi!”

The “Dissenso commune” letter was meant to change that. Actress Jasmine Trinca organized a group of prominent film and entertainment industry figures, including Alba and Alice Rohrwacher, Cristina and Francesca Comencini, Valeria Golino and Laura Bispuri, to draft the statement.

“This document is not only an act of solidarity towards all the actresses who had the courage to speak in Italy,” reads the letter. “We thank you because we know that what each of you says is true and we know it because it happened to all of us in different ways and forms.” 

Missing from the letter are the names of the Italian women who they earlier thanked, the ones who have come forward publicly against their harassers.

“First of all, I would have liked to have been included in the conversation from the beginning,” Argento told The Hollywood Reporter, who said she was only asked as an afterthought if she wanted to include her name on the written letter.

The document puts the blame of sexual harassment on society as a whole, saying that calling out individual men just creates scapegoats and is ultimately not the solution.

“Naming sexual harassment as a system, and not as the pathology of an individual, means threatening the reputation of this culture,” the letter reads. “We do not just point the finger at a single molester. We challenge the entire system. This is the time when we have stopped being afraid.” 

Miriana Trevisan, who has accused director Tornatore of sexual misconduct, responded to the letter on Twitter: "It would be more honest to say: 'We are forced not to expose ourselves, because the system is so ingrained that we would lose our jobs.' So by not pointing the finger do you believe that the system is unmasked? In the USA, I do not think it happened that way."

Argento sees the letter as nothing more than a stunt. “It certainly doesn’t mean anything tangible to change the system they are pointing their fingers at,” she says. “By not denouncing the perpetrators, not having a concrete plan of action, not joining the women’s march, they seem to me like they are only washing their consciences of this after four months of deafening silence on the #MeToo movement.”

Argento believes that the failure to call out individuals stems from Italy’s deep patriarchal culture. “In Italy, there is an internalized misogyny ingrained in our DNA,” she says. “[Silvio] Berlusconi took it to the final extreme as far as the objectification of women’s bodies — through his TV shows, the films he produced and his press.”

“Actresses are afraid that by speaking out they would end up being outcast and shamed, just like what happened to me,” she says. “In that sense, the media helped build the fear of women in the business speaking out.”

In the entertainment world at least, #MeToo in Italy still looks like more of a solo journey than a movement. A Women’s March was held in Rome on Jan. 20, but Argento was the only star in attendance.

“I had invited them all. Nobody showed up,” she says. “The only ones who came were the feminist groups. They were the only ones who have been on my side since this vilification started in Italy after the New Yorker article.”

“By the way, I also asked these actresses to talk to these feminist groups to help redact the document,” says Argento. “But, again, no reply.”