The #MeToo movement, the outcry initially ignited by multiple allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, has gone global. From Toronto to Tel Aviv, women in the film industry have come forward to tell their own stories. And to demand change.
“Harassment is completely widespread and endemic in our industry, it isn’t just Hollywood,” says veteran British producer Rebecca Long of London-based Boudica Films.
Inspired by #MeToo, Long and her partner Ian Davies launched their own campaign, #NoPredators, that aims to change British film culture by introducing a new code of conduct for on-set behavior. Boudica has also teamed up with Equal Justice Solicitors, the U.K.’s leading employment law firm, to provide free legal advice, starting next month, for any film professional who has experienced sexual harassment, abuse or assault. As part of the campaign, Boudica is encouraging all crew on its films to sign their anti-harassment code of conduct and wear branded No Predator badges on set.
The move mirrors similar actions in Canada, where last week the Canadian film and TV industry jointly announced steps to introduce a new code of conduct governing behavior on and off set. It came after widespread complaints that the country’s professional guilds and unions did not adequately protect performers against sexual harassment. Canadian actress Mia Kirshner (The L Word) was among the most prominent figures condemning ACTRA, Canada’s actors union, saying it did not protect her against an “ordeal” with Harvey Weinstein, and that actors still fear speaking out against sexual predators to avoid putting their careers in jeopardy.
The Canadian industry also proposed “more effective reporting mechanisms and supports” so talent can report allegations, and “more effective enforcement of existing industry policies.”
In Sweden, nearly 600 actresses, including Oscar winner Alicia Vikander, called out widespread sexual abuse in the country’s film and theater industry. In an open letter, the group called out Swedish directors, producers and production companies for failing to protect women from sexual abuse and for profiting from the work of known abusers. The group demanded “zero tolerance against sexual exploitation and violence” and that employers, from film companies and theaters to book publishers and Swedish television networks, “stop protecting, hiring and making money on perpetrators” of sexual violence.
“We will no longer be silent,” the letter reads. “We will bring those responsible to account and let the justice system run its course when needed. We will put the shame where it belongs — with the perpetrator and those who protect him. We know who you are.”
The letter has already had an impact. The Swedish Film Institute has announced plans to introduce mandatory sexual conduct training for all production companies applying to the body for film subsidies.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, SFI head Anna Serner says the proposals “were already in the works” and will be presented to the SFI board in December. If accepted, which looks likely, the changes will be introduced next year.
Serner credits #MeToo with “igniting the explosion” to drive change in the film industry but points to another moment — Cate Blanchett’s Oscar acceptance speech in 2014 — as the real start of the movement. Accepting her best actress Oscar for Blue Jasmine, Blanchett took aim at those who claimed female films with women at their center were niche experiences. “They are not,” she said, “audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.”
“I had been talking about gender equality for 18 years and had been considered a bitch all the time,” says Serner. “Suddenly, things changed. It needed a red-carpet woman to tell the real story to start the change. The moment that is happening now wouldn’t have been possible without the progress — the very very slow progress — that we have been making over the last few years.”
Sweden’s #MeToo movement has spawned its own, local-lingo hashtag: #tystnadtagning (#silenceaction in Swedish). In French, Twitter is awash with #BalanceTonPorc, or “expose your pig” for women, and some men, coming forward with their own tales of abuse. Italy’s #MeToo is #quellavoltache (“the time that”). In Spain, Israel, and the Middle East, it’s #YoTambien, #Gam Ani and ????_????# (Me Too in Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic, respectively). But whatever the tag, the message is the same: an end to abuse and a change to the culture that produced it.
German producer Janine Jackowski (Toni Erdmann) is one of many in the European film industry who believes real change can only come if more women are let into the business. She supports a quota system, like the FiftyFifty program first launched in Sweden in 2012, which would push more state funding toward films written and directed by women. The U.K. launched a similar program last year.
“I think real change will only come when you have more female directors, more female cinematographers, more female heads of department,” Jackowski tells THR. “And sadly, I think that change will only come if new regulations are in place. Politicians have to act.”
Some have. Aside from moves in Sweden and Canada, in France, Marlene Schiappa, the country’s gender equality minister, has proposed a series of legislative changes, including a bill that would fine people for engaging in street harassment — including aggressive catcalls. She also wants to extend the statute of limitations on assault cases that involve minors (from 20 to 30 years after the victim turns 18).
Elsewhere, change has been slow in coming. In India, where a horrific gang rape in 2012 sparked a nationwide discussion over sexual assault — and led to changes in the laws protecting women — the #MeToo movement triggered widespread outrage on social media. But while several Bollywood actresses, including Konkona Sen Sharma, Kangana Ranaut and Radhika Apte, have added their voices and hashtags to the movement, the local industry has yet to change the way it does business. It’s a similar story in Nigeria’s booming film industry, Nollywood, where reports of abuse are also widespread.
But Long, for one, is optimistic.
“Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo was a turning point,” she says. “Reputation is everything in the film business and we’ve seen how reputations can be destroyed in an instant. That’s sent a message. It will be a lot harder for anyone to get away with anything going forward. It will take longer than we think and longer than we want but I think change now is inevitable.”