Mira Sorvino was honored Friday for her activism against human trafficking, as well as leading the Time’s Up movement in Hollywood.
The actress received the inaugural Promise Institute Award For Contribution to Human Rights Through the Arts as part of the “Lights. Camera. Reaction.: The Art of Impact Through Entertainment” summit at the Hammer Museum. The event was hosted by Creative Armenia, The Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA’s School of Law and the Skoll Center for Social Impact Entertainment at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.
Last fall, Sorvino came forward for The New Yorker’s exposé on Harvey Weinstein that accused him of sexual harassment. The actress has said he massaged her shoulders and tried to get more intimate during a trip to the Toronto International Film Festival in 1995, after she starred in his film Mighty Aphrodite, for which she won the best supporting actress Oscar. Another time, Weinstein invited himself over to her apartment, she told The New Yorker.
At the summit, Sorvino talked about growing up with an awareness of injustice. “Service was a big part of our family’s ethics,” she said, giving a shout-out to her father, actor Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas), in the audience, who stood to applause.
“Everything that’s good about me is in her,” he said in an impromptu speech. “When you talk about being proud as a father, some of you probably saw that Oscar night when I wept … I was raised in the John Wayne era where you don’t cry, but I wept like a little baby.”
Her involvement in what would become the Time’s Up movement began when the actress received a Twitter direct message from journalist Ronan Farrow asking her for a phone call. She thought it was about Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen. But then he called, Sorvino said, “and he said, ‘I hear that you might have a story to tell about Harvey Weinstein.’ And when he did that, I burst into tears. It was something I had held inside me for so long.”
Farrow told her she would be the most prominent of the nine women who had already spoken to him, and sharing her story and name “would give it all validity.”
“I was so frightened. I literally was afraid for my children’s safety,” Sorvino said.
She only knew of one other person who experienced an encounter with Weinstein.
“I shared it with everybody I was close to, when it happened,” Sorvino said. “No one said, ‘Oh, this is sexual harassment.’ And I didn’t know it was sexual harassment. I didn’t know until this fall after I spoke to him that it was sexual harassment,” she said, exacerbated. “I just thought of it as a very negative, frightening experience with a person who I had a lot of daily interaction with in my career, who held the keys to the kingdom of me working or not working. And I just thought of it as me turning down a man that liked me and I didn’t like back, and that I wanted to protect his feelings.”
Sorvino did not realize the potential long-term consequences of her rejection, she said, attributing the attrition of her career to her pregnancies instead of blackballing.
However, when deciding whether or not to tell her story, she was worried. She thought whistleblowers were not treated kindly in Hollywood, and that she may not work again. After the story came out in the fall, Sorvino had insomnia from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. each night, she told the crowd.
“None of us knew this would spark this crazy movement,” she said. “Something happened in our hearts where we said, ‘We have to tell the truth.'”
It also wasn’t the first time Sorvino experienced uncomfortable requests in her pursuit of acting. At the summit, the actress recalled an audition for a horror film, during which she was tied to a chair with a condom in her mouth to gag her.
“I was 16, and I was so gung-ho and I wanted to do well, and afterwards the casting director said, ‘Sorry about the prophylactic.’”
“You realize you’ve never told me that!” her father shouted from the audience.
“No, I didn’t! Of course, I didn’t tell you these things,” she said. “I just didn’t want to make problems for people.”
Not only is she a leader in Hollywood’s revelations about sexual harassment, but Sorvino is also an advocate against human trafficking, calling survivors her “personal heroes.” She serves as a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations and made the television miniseries Human Trafficking in 2005.
“But I didn’t understand their bravery — I didn’t truly understand it until this year,” Sorvino said of her own speaking out.
The summit also included three panels with veteran social impact filmmakers, including Terry George (The Promise, Hotel Rwanda), Amy Ziering (The Hunting Ground), Reginald Hudlin (Marshall, Django Unchained), Eric Esrailian (The Promise), Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Til It Happens to You) and Ed Zwick (Blood Diamond).
Ziering said she feels responsible to tell people’s stories after she’s heard them. She was surprised by the pushback The Hunting Ground received, including a “white noise campaign against it” that “blindsided” the team. “It has been grueling,” Ziering said of her documentary on sexual assault on college campuses.
But the filmmaker believes one positive impact of The Hunting Ground is helping Hollywood wake up to assault within its own industry.
“I do think that moment at the Oscars, when [Lady] Gaga was onstage with 50 student survivors, and I remember being at the Oscars and you know, standing ovation, and Kate Winslet crying,” Ziering said. “I think that was sort of an aha moment. A subtle one, but for the industry, and sort of helped to usher in and catalyze the whole activation of the entertainment industry in the wake of those articles. … That really gave everybody a sense of, ‘Oh, my God, these kids are doing it, why aren’t we here in this industry?'”
In fact, she had been working on a documentary about sexual assault in Hollywood, but stopped over fear for their careers. After the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements started, Ziering received texts and decided her documentary is back on.
“Everybody has suffered alone, thinking they had to deal with it. And the most beautiful part of this is the solidarity that I felt from so many people who come up to me and they hug me,” Sorvino said at the end of her speech. “So, it’s not stopping now. … We found a voice.”