#MeToo Slowly Trickling Down to 'Below the Line' Community

Illustration by Riki Blanco

Female crewmembers who have been subject to the same harassment as talent say there's a long way to go, but attitudes are changing: "There's a tremendous number of guilty, fearful people."

While recent calls from unions and studios for a zero-tolerance approach to harassment have been relentless, not every crewmember on film and TV productions is getting the message. That’s according to numerous women contacted by THR in the so-called “below the line” community — which includes camera and sound crews and those in art and postproduction departments. These women say they still face harassment at work but lack the platform of stardom to combat it.

“[Harassment] has been cut back, but it’s absolutely still there,” says one camera crewmember. “There are still [crewmembers] that act as if nothing has happened. They still talk about tits and ass, they slap you on the ass and say, ‘Just joking.’ They just don’t get it.”

Others believe anti-harassment messages have begun to trickle down, with real (if limited) results. “People know when they are being inappropriate,” asserts a member of the sound community. “There are now a tremendous number of fearful people out there, because they know they are guilty. If they had an inappropriate moment [in the past], they are sweating it.” She says she recently heard from a producer who verbally harassed her for years, out of the blue, checking her availability. “It definitely felt like he was ‘taking my temperature,’” she says.

The good news is that women now feel a freedom to speak about these issues. “There’s been a huge change; women are finally being heard. That in itself is shaking the foundation of the industry,” says Margaret Dean, president of Women in Animation, a nonprofit aimed at empowerment that has stepped up its programs and resources in recent months. 

“The dialogue is happening, and people no longer think you are exaggerating,” says one director of photography. “The number of women sharing stories, this is all new. Now there’s a sense that you can be public and not be worried that you won’t get hired.”

Not everyone agrees. Last fall, many women told THR that they don’t report incidents for fear of losing work, and several who commented for this story say that hasn’t changed. “It’s still not safe to speak up,” says the camera crewmember. “It can get back to the [perpetrator]. That happened to several women I know — the person who harassed them tried to get a hold of them. So you still have to be very careful about how you handle it.”

To combat this, Women in Animation has started a dialogue with the studios, with the group acting as a “bridge” between them and women who have been harassed but feel vulnerable in coming forward.

The women all agree that there are some wonderfully supportive men on their crews, but even they sometimes don’t know how to navigate these new waters. “They are nervous,” says one. “They want to compliment you and feel like they can’t. They are afraid we’ll take offense.”

This story first appeared in the Feb. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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