Hollywood's Female Crewmembers Suffer Harassment Without the Platform of Stardom

Female Crew Members Illustration - H 2017
Illustration by Hanna Barczyk

The problem is endemic below the line too, where women are working in crafts long dominated by men only to face abuse: "We don't have the power that Rose McGowan or Angelina Jolie has."

The accounts of Harvey Weinstein's predatory moves on A-list actresses have generated headlines. But for the growing number of women who work on film and TV shows in a so-called "below-the-line" capacity — on camera and sound crews, in editorial and music departments — such harassment is all too familiar and widespread. And little is being done to stop it.

At a time when women finally are making strides in crafts areas that traditionally have been dominated by men, there is fear that to report an incident is to risk not only losing a job, but also to be branded a troublemaker and lose a foothold in the close-knit industry. "We don't have the power that Rose McGowan or Angelina Jolie has," says one female below-the-liner, and others agree that it is a lot easier for a production to replace a woman on the crew than it is to lose a bankable actor or director. Says filmmaker Rosa Costanza, "Successful women are taking the same jobs as men, and the idea we are competing for [what were traditionally] men's jobs is very real still. Some guys want to knock us off of our game."

Of the more than two dozen crafts women surveyed by THR, virtually all reported verbal and/or sexual harassment in the workplace. More than half said they have been harassed by a director. Nearly half said they were harassed by an actor. And most also described widespread harassment by department heads and/or fellow crewmembers. But almost all of them declined to be named, since, several said, the system doesn't support that.

To protect themselves, multiple women confessed that they attempt to cover up and look unattractive on set. "A lot of women try to be androgynous. No makeup, jeans, a baseball cap," admits one. Why do incidents go unreported? Says one woman who experienced harassment, "I was told, 'Don't report it. It will ruin your career.' Any male producer will think, 'She is a liability and we can't hire her.' It's the reason no one below the line is coming forward."

Another woman offers, "I've been on a couple of shows where the entire crew was required to sit through a one-hour course on harassment with a quiz at the end. On one of those shows, I had a supervisor physically assault me on the very same day and within hours after having attended the course. I decided not to complain to HR because of my previous negative experiences."

The inability of HR departments to provide protection is a common theme. One woman says that during an encounter, the man taunted her by saying, " 'What are you going to do, call HR?' Human resources is not there for us; it's there for the company. To protect it from a liability."

Others said they have had some success in reporting, particularly to their union business representatives. But one woman adds, "I would love the [Directors Guild] to feel some pressure, because whether they think so or not, the director sets the tone on the set. It is incumbent on them to set behavior that's acceptable." Another says that the DGA seems "bogged down in its own old-school boys-club mentality."

But a few women have successfully fought back. Sound mixer Carrie Sheldon recalls when one crewmember got "handsy" with her during lunch: "I tried to be nice," but when it didn't stop, "I stabbed the guy with a fork."

This story first appeared in the Oct. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.