New Zealand Launches Innovative Program to Prevent Sexual Harassment in Screen Industry

Courtesy of the New Zealand Film Commission
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was among the keynote speakers at the Power of Inclusion Summit, where the program was announced.

"The course, in a very practical way, introduces ways to think about unconscious assumptions and behaviors and how to make incremental but significant change in a work environment to make it safer for everyone," says producer Emma Slade, co-founder of the Screen Women's Action Group.

A landmark educational initiative designed to prevent sexual harassment and ensure mutual respect in the screen industry is one of the practical initiatives to emerge from New Zealand's inaugural Power of Inclusion Summit, which wrapped up in the country's city of Auckland last week.

The program will hold a free, one-day "Professional Respect Training Courses" tailored for film and television industry heads of department but open to anyone from the nation's screen sector. Offered from early 2020, the course will address prevention, definitions, disclosures and respectful behaviors in the industry workplace.

The initiative was spearheaded by the Screen Women's Action Group (SWAG), an organization established in New Zealand in response to the global #MeToo movement. SWAG partnered on the program with ScreenSafe, which was set up in 2015 to enhance New Zealand's screen industry health and safety standards.

The ambitious rollout of the program is a response to feedback from successful pilot training courses and forums held last year.

"The overwhelming feedback from the industry forums convened early in 2018 which focused on initiatives for change was the need for both policy and education," says SWAG co-founder Emma Slade, a New Zealand-based producer. "Policy on its own can be filed, unread, but these workshops mean that the culture change required is explored in a practical and constructive way."

"Our key message is that there is no hierarchy to respect," she added. 

The courses will be financially supported by NZ On Air (NZOA) and the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC). The program is being launched in tandem with the recently wrapped Power of Inclusion Summit, where Slade was among the many panelists and figures to address a broad range of urgent issues related to screen industry representation. Other figures to speak at the event included New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Lord of the Rings producer Philippa Boyens and Blacklist founder Franklin Leonard.

"The course, in a very practical way, introduces ways to think about unconscious assumptions and behaviors and how to make incremental but significant change in a work environment to make it safer for everyone," Slade explains. "One section of the day, for example, outlines the benefits of intimacy coordinators; another workshop practical strategies to avoid sexual harassment; and another, ways of a bystander intervening early. While the focus is sexual harassment, for both women and men, the impact on the problems of bullying and racism become immediately apparent."

The program, and the New Zealand Film Commission's involvement, also furthers the country's current reputation as an international thought leader on issues of inclusion in the screen sector, and society at large.

Says Annabelle Sheehan, CEO of the NZFC during one of the Power of Inclusion Summit's keynotes: "Speaking truth to power has had such huge risks and consequences for those not enjoying privilege — many have walked on eggshells for centuries, I consider conservative correctness to be the most corrosive force against freedom, creativity and equity. If so called political correctness creates a space to question words, then let it flourish."