More Work Needed to Tackle Racism, Sexual Harassment, Says Anita Hill-Led Hollywood Commission Report

Anita Hill
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for DVF Awards

Anita Hill

The final report found only 48 percent of Hollywood workers see "people welcoming and valuing diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives often or very often."

In releasing the final report of The Hollywood Survey, the Hollywood Commission — chaired by Anita Hill — warns that far more work by the entertainment industry is required to convince workers systemic racism can be tackled and that sexual harassers and other power-abusers can be held accountable.

Following its release Tuesday, the survey's final report found Hollywood, amid the #MeToo movement, has made headway tackling the "significant culture and climate issues of harassment and discrimination." But far more needs to be done after the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences launched new representation and inclusion standards for the Oscars, Netflix promised to deposit $100 million in Black-owned financial institutions, and WME and Endeavor Content took steps toward inclusion alongside Michael B. Jordan and Color of Change.

"Change is the sum of our collective efforts. We applaud, encourage and want to amplify these endeavors. But there is far more to do to enshrine diversity and inclusion in the industry’s value system and to bridge the divide between leadership’s intentions and the everyday experience of workers in Hollywood," Hill writes in the report.

The industry survey found just under half of Hollywood workers, or 48 percent, said they saw "people welcoming and valuing diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives often or very often." And only 39 percent of those polled agreed that Hollywood "acknowledges and respects the dignity, unique perspectives and experiences of every person."

Hill, a professor at Brandeis University who brought national exposure to the issue of sexual harassment during the 1991 Senate confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, also warns Hollywood against pulling back on efforts to reduce and even end racism and sexual harassment to pull through the novel coronavirus pandemic.

"The same intent, resolve, exigency and creativity that will soon deliver a safe, effective COVID vaccine can help eradicate the parallel plagues of racism and sexism. Hollywood was born of innovation. It can be rebuilt by it, too," Hill says. But that note of optimism contrasts with the report's findings, which point to sexual harassers and predators in Hollywood too often going unreported and unpunished.

"Despite awareness of unacceptable workplace behaviors, workers reported disappointingly high rates of bias, bullying and sexual harassment. Few reported these behaviors to their employer. Many experienced retaliation," The Hollywood Survey concluded.

While the commission does not investigate allegations and has no enforcement mechanisms, the survey's final report makes a number of key recommendations. That action plan includes making a commitment to "respect, human dignity and inclusion," and to put in place measures to hold offenders accountable.

The commission also urges the entertainment industry to back up its values with new in-house systems because most Hollywood workers reported more resources and options were required to blow the whistle on serious misconduct, including to human resources departments.

The industry is also asked to embrace diversity, not least because it makes good business sense. "The entertainment industry has every reason to do better. The business case for diversity and inclusion is well-established: Diverse companies consistently out-earn non-diverse companies. Diverse and inclusive companies are also more innovative and agile, and weather crisis more effectively. Unsurprisingly, cultures that are inclusive are less likely to experience sexual harassment," Hill wrote in the report.

"Now is the time to recommit to diversity and inclusion as a business imperative, a social mandate and a safeguard against future crisis. Put simply, it is the right thing to do," she added. The survey's findings also urge Hollywood to focus on prevention to avoid recourse to the courts and other legal channels that often do little to tackle sexual harassment and misconduct and can "backfire and often lead to retaliation."

And the survey calls on people in high places to be held to account to put right an industry beset by reports of sexual abuse. The commission found workers had less faith in justice being handed out to serial harassers the higher up the corporate ladder abuse was alleged.

That's after the first exposés on the disgraced former movie mogul and convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein launched a national dialogue on sexual abuse. Weinstein faces six new sex assault counts in Los Angeles, but that's barely moved the needle among workers fearing sexual harassment and misconduct in their own workplaces, the report concluded.

"Only 35 percent of our respondents thought it was 'very' or 'somewhat likely' that a powerful harasser would be held accountable for harassing someone with less authority or status, such as an assistant; only 7 percent thought it was 'very likely,'" the survey found. To mitigate against sexual predators acting with impunity, the report urges a limit to confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements, more bystander intervention training, creating an ombuds office and publishing reports after allegations are investigated and violators are found and punished.

Those measures were recommended alongside other industry action toward greater diversity and inclusion, like doing more job searches or promotions for people from underrepresented groups, supporting mentorship and career-coaching programs, and investing in more bias-training programs.

And besides prohibiting bullying, the report also calls on workplaces to stamp out minor offenses to avoid worse behavior like discrimination and harassment before they take root. "Respectful behavior is particularly important in preventing sexual harassment because such harassment — especially gender harassment — often takes place against a backdrop of incivility or an environment of generalized disrespect," the report urges.