Rashida Jones on Black Women's Role in #MeToo, Time's Up Movements: "Our Lives Would Be Different If People Listened"

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Rashida Jones

"The good news is that everybody in Hollywood is so scared, they're so scared, and we have employed the very, very powerful device of shame," the actress, writer and producer said of making change for black women with the Time's Up movement.

Rashida Jones is opening up about the early days of the Time's Up movement and how the entertainment industry has changed in the last two years, particularly for black women. 

Jones, who on Tuesday spoke as part of a "Black Women and the #MeToo Movement" panel in Los Angeles, is a founding member of Time's Up and is heavily involved in its Women of Color division. The actress, writer and producer said that early on in founding the organization in late 2017, there was a clear decision that it couldn't just be a white women's movement and special attention was needed for the issues of black women, including representation and stereotyping.

"For these movements, there's always an inflection point, and so many inflection points that are started by black women are missed," Jones said. "I do believe there is some version of this country and our lives that would be different if people listened to black women." 

Remembering the first time the women of color got together for a Time's Up meeting, the former Parks and Recreation star said, "It was so crazy because we had all been siphoned off for so long because everybody was competing for [the same role of] 'the wife,' so none of us knew each other, we all felt competitive with each other. Just to sit in a room, the power of sitting in a room and to not have other people dictate why we are somewhere was one of the most powerful experiences I've ever had." 

Since that initial meeting, Jones said, the group has put up a united front on fighting for better representation, better pay and better treatment in the industry. 

"Nothing can get by us, we're a barrier like 'Hey, did you hear about that thing?' and 'How much did they offer you on that?,' so we can check in with each other and look out for each other first," she said. "We're hoping to expand that, create more access, create more opportunity, so that if there are black women in the room making decisions, this is less possible. There will be less silence that is expected from black women, especially around black men, any men, so that black women feel like their voices are valid." 

Jones also gave some insight into how Time's Up is pushing for diversity inside typically white male-led studios, networks and agencies, looking to shake up the system in the process. 

"The good news is that everybody in Hollywood is so scared, they're so scared, and we have employed the very, very powerful device of shame," she explained. "We walk into rooms and show them their numbers and say, 'Is this really what your studio looks like, this is what your network looks like? You know that doesn't represent the demography of this country, right? You know you're going to lose viewers because you're not representing the people who want to watch your shows. You have an audience out there, and back to money, there's money in the community.' If we're being mercenary about it, sometimes we'll say, 'You're missing an opportunity,' and if we're being emotional about it, we'll say, 'Shame on you for not having opportunities.'"

The tactic has been successful, Jones said, and has started to pick up momentum and see increased numbers of black women in positions of power and creative influence. 

The panel, which was held at the Hammer Museum, also featured Beverly Johnson, Dee Barnes, Kenyette Tisha Barnes, Jamilah Lemieux and Stephanie Jones-Rogers and was moderated by Kimberlé Crenshaw. At one point, the conversation turned to the backlash several of the women had faced after they accused beloved male stars of inappropriate behavior — Johnson is one of Bill Cosby's accusers, Dee Barnes says she was attacked by Dr. Dre and Kenyette Tisha Barnes is co-founder of the #MuteRKelly movement. 

Johnson said that when she went public about being drugged by Cosby, "there were crickets" from her friends, and, most notably, from her friends in the public eye. 

"I tried to warn them — I said, 'Don't do this interview because it's true because he did it to me, I don't want you to end up with egg on your face.' And they ended up with egg on their face," the former supermodel said. 

Barnes said she thinks so many people, and especially women, don't believe claims against these powerful men because of the money involved and the enabling community that protects many of them. In her own experience, when she sued Dr. Dre for the alleged attack, she said his team "hired a black woman lawyer to tear me apart so that they can show 'Look, this woman is supporting him, he can't be that bad.'" Barnes also admitted that she was once one of the doubters and thought nothing like that would ever happen to her because she thought, "I'm not like that" or "they put themselves in that position." 

Since the 1991 assault, Barnes said she was forced out of working in the music industry, where she was a rapper, music journalist and TV host, and has held a string of inconsistent jobs; she also revealed she's currently homeless. Eight years after the incident, Dr. Dre released the song "Guilty Conscience" with Eminem, in which she's referenced by name and is still haunted by to this day. 

"This was some kind of punishment for me," she said. "As a reminder, 'Look what I did to you, I got away with it.'"