#MeToo, Five Years Later: Why Time’s Up Imploded

Hollywood’s most famous advocacy group is now a leaderless ghost organization, undone by conflicts of interest (and straight-up conflicts). Why it collapsed and what might emerge to supplant it.

When it was founded in the months after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in 2017, Time’s Up was supposed to put Hollywood’s considerable power and money — and its sudden outrage — to work fighting sexual harassment. Instead, today Time’s Up is a ghost organization, technically still operating, but with no CEO or programming offered in nearly a year, and with a skeletal board.

For many victims who had hoped the nonprofit would become a vital advocate for their rights, the devolution of Time’s Up from its attention-grabbing launch at the 2018 Golden Globes to its near-defunct status today has been one of the gravest disappointments of the #MeToo era. Instead of providing a voice for the voiceless, the organization ended up crumpling amid conflict-of-interest allegations and internal disagreements over its focus.

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“Outside of pins being adorned to very fancy dresses on the red carpet, what came out of that organization?” asks Alison Turkos, an activist and sexual assault survivor. Turkos organized an open letter of 151 victims and former Time’s Up staffers to the gender rights organization’s board in 2021 accusing the group of prioritizing “proximity to power over mission” in regard to its relationship with then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “When you do survivor-based work in the entertainment world, you’re going to be talking about harm and trauma that your friends caused,” Turkos says. “You have to be able to look someone in the eye who maybe wrote you a check and say, ‘We have to have a hard conversation.’ Instead, money and power took over everything, and their mission drifted into seeing how many powerful people they could get at a lunch table.”

Of Time’s Up’s three remaining board members, actress Ashley Judd declined to comment about the organization, and attorney Nina Shaw and financial executive Gabrielle Sulzberger did not respond to requests for comment. For months, the Time’s Up press email address has bounced senders back a message stating, “Time’s Up is now in the process of an organizational rebuild. During this transition phase, we will not be making press statements or conducting interviews.”

The group has filed no financial documentation with the IRS since its 2020 990 form, according to the nonprofit watchdog organization CharityWatch, which “currently has concerns about this organization and/or is unable to provide complete rating information due to the organization’s nondisclosure of financial information,” according to the watchdog’s site.

That’s a precipitous drop for a group that raised more than $22 million in its first 10 months from prominent industry backers like Oprah Winfrey, Meryl Streep, Shonda Rhimes, Katie McGrath and CAA. The $22 million went to create the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which remains the movement’s most concrete achievement, even as the nonprofit that spawned it sits idle.

The TULDF, which is housed and administered separately by the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C., has connected more than 6,000 sexual harassment victims with lawyers, paid the legal fees in 330 cases, provided publicity support for 130 cases and continues to take new cases.

“Since Time’s Up was a separate 501(c)(3) institution, their board’s dissolution had no impact on the fund,” says Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. “We continue to operate independently of them, as we always have.”

The Cuomo scandal, in which it was revealed that Time’s Up leaders advised the governor after he was accused of sexual harassment, was the immediate cause of the group’s downfall, leading to the resignations of CEO Tina Tchen and board chair Roberta Kaplan in August 2021, followed by the resignation of all but three board members and the laying off of most of the Time’s Up staff.

In many ways, a collision of interests like this had seemed baked into the organization from its very founding, when early meetings and funding came from CAA, an agency that had sent multiple actresses to auditions with Weinstein in which he behaved predatorily. Before the Cuomo incident, there were years of accusations about the group’s perceived conflicts. In the spring of 2021, 18 members of Time’s Up’s health care arm resigned over the group’s handling of allegations that co-founder and board member Esther Choo failed to report complaints of sexual harassment made by a co-worker at Oregon Health & Science University during her tenure at Time’s Up. In 2020, activists raised questions about Time’s Up’s lack of support for victims in the documentary On the Record, about Russell Simmons’ accusers, after Winfrey, one of the organization’s major donors, sought to distance herself from the project she had been executive producing.

Over the three years that Time’s Up was active, the organization was also often divided by competing visions about its mission — some wanted Time’s Up to focus on entertainment industry abuses, while others wanted to tackle harassment in industries like health care, agriculture and tech. Even within the entertainment industry, there was a sense that the problems of name actresses took precedence over concerns that lesser-known women in industry crafts were facing. Some wanted Time’s Up to stay devoted to workplace problems, while others wanted it to tackle broader gender-based issues like abortion rights. As internal debates raged, the group cycled through three CEOs in three years, its last, Monifa Bandele, exiting in November.

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“This is a needed reset, not a retreat,” Sulzberger said in a statement in November when Bandele departed and some two dozen Time’s Up staffers were laid off.

“I don’t want them to fail,” says one former staffer, of Time’s Up. “I just want to see some demonstrated learning from last time. Which is, when you only talk to yourselves, you’re not getting a diversity of views.”

While Time’s Up was the showiest organization to emerge from the #MeToo era, it is just one of many groups devoted to the issues of sexual harassment and assault, including “me too. International,” the organization founded by Tarana Burke, who originated the slogan #MeToo in 2006 as a way for victims of sexual violence to share their stories. In Hollywood, there are also the groups Voices in Action, a sexual assault and harassment reporting clearinghouse created by actress and Weinstein victim Jessica Barth, and the Female Composer Safety League, founded by composer Nomi Abadi.

“The women’s movement in Hollywood is now much larger than Time’s Up,” Abadi says. “We’re appreciative of the work they’ve done, but our ability to carve a safer path in this industry doesn’t hinge on their existence. I want to see a lot more women create organizations.”

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, several of the women who had been key leaders at Time’s Up emerged in an ad hoc group holding weekly Zoom calls around the issue of abortion rights, including McGrath, Shaw and Rebecca Goldman, the former Time’s Up COO, who is now a co-founder of the impact firm Acora Partners.

When the women introduced themselves, they never mentioned Time’s Up, according to two sources who were on the calls. Says one, “It’s like Time’s Up never happened.”

This story first appeared in the Sept. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.