Hollywood Workplaces Face Thorny Questions Amid Harassment Claims

Harrassment Illustration - H 2017
Illustration by Skip Sterling

With industry men being scrutinized like never before, some women are wondering if the pendulum has swung so far that a constructive dialogue is no longer possible.

In the wake of the avalanche of sexual harassment and assault claims that have rocked Hollywood, a culture shift is inevitable. Or as HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins notes, “I think there are new rules for behavior.”

But what exactly those new rules are is anyone’s guess. For years, the studios and major agencies have subjected their employees to mandatory harassment training. And it would be unfathomable to think a powerhouse like CAA would attempt to throw a Sundance bash with female dancers performing simulated sex acts in the open like the agency did in 2013.

Or that a major studio would allow a director to put auditioning extras through the humiliation of dropping their pants and being cast based on their rear ends (like Brett Ratner is alleged to have done on the Rush Hour movies). Less certain is what kind of change can be expected in the more mundane interactions — from after-hour drinks to discussing suggestive storylines (think the upcoming Fifty Shades Freed) — which quickly can become sexually charged.

Take, for example, evening office functions, where men and women mingle in settings with alcohol flowing and spouses absent. One veteran male producer who came of age in the ’70s asks, “Are you going to have to keep your hands in your pockets at the Christmas party?”

With industry men being scrutinized like never before, some women are wondering if the pendulum has swung so far that a constructive dialogue is no longer possible.

“I feel like every man I know is afraid to talk to me. And that’s not an answer because we can’t do this alone,” says A+E Television Networks President and CEO Nancy Dubuc. “I’m a little perplexed, actually, I haven’t gotten any phone calls from powerful men or the agencies or peers with ‘Got any ideas for me?’ Or ‘Got a point of view on this that I should listen to?’ There should be a conversation. I think so much fear has been created. You can’t have a conversation in an environment of fear.”

With every unsolicited hug and unwanted kiss playing out equally in headlines alongside accusations of rape and sexual advances on minors, there’s little differentiation between the subtle abuses of power and far more egregious behavior. And that is leading to uncertainty about what is appropriate in the new dawn.

Even more troubling is that the onslaught of well-reported sexual transgressions ignores the longstanding Hollywood tradition of nonsexual alpha male conduct.

“I don’t think every single male-female relationship has that kind of confusing sexual tension to it,” says producer Amy Pascal of the dozens of claims leveled at Harvey Weinstein. “But there are different kinds of gender tensions. This will make people understand what power dynamics are. I don’t know that it is always sexual, but it is always about power.”

Nevins, for one, thinks the news cycle may even have created an unintended self-censorship, where women, too, will feel the effects.

“I applaud the women [who have come forward], but I think we’ve got to move on,” she says of an opinion that might not be popular in the current climate. “I have had many women say to me, ‘I can’t say what I think because I’ll lose my advertisers or I’ll lose my women’s following,’ and I say, ‘I understand.’”