Published on: 02 November 2017 in Industry

Why directors need to speak out

Reading time: 5 minutes and 7 seconds

A director speaks out about harassment and abuse in the TV and film industry, and how directors can identify their part of the problem — and become part of the solution: 

One of the things that’s come up with the outing of high profile sexual predators is the discussion about a culture of silence surrounding both the abused and abusers. There seems to be a perception that those at the receiving end of harassment and abuse do not speak out.

They have. They do. Women, men, children have historically always spoken out. 

However, as a society we’ve been very poor at both listening to or acting upon it: Savile, Polanski, Rolf Harris, Strauss–Kahn, children’s homes, football clubs, swim coaches, religious figures, and of course the infamous orange man, Mr ‘Pussy Grabbing’ Trump – the list is endless.

Who endorses that behaviour? No one I know. In our own industry the names of sexual predators are coming thick and fast. We’ve listened to the tapes, read the papers, heard the whispers…this has never been a culture of silence, but a culture of silencing. The silencing culture is fuelled by inaction, fear, non-disclosure agreements and a common acceptance that it’s just ‘part of the job’.  

Here’s the thing, directors do know about it. Directors, as much as everyone else in the industry, must recognise the responsibility that comes with the job. It’s easy to condemn the appalling abuses of Polanski, the new allegations against James Toback, and express outrage at Bertolluci’s part in colluding with on-screen abuse. It’s a lot trickier to look into the mirror and take a good hard look at our part of the problem, and on the upside our part in the solution.

Let’s take the director’s role in the depiction of sex on screen. There is a casual and often unwitting misogyny in many sex scenes on TV and film. It has been the norm for the female to reveal all, whilst the male is allowed to hold on to his ‘dignity’. I can think of numerous films about metaphorically slapping cocks on the table, which have acres of female flesh and only a split-second hint of a (prosthetic) penis. Late scripts can be a real problem, but whether justified or not, sex scenes put actors in a vulnerable position. As directors we have a responsibility to protect them — not least because we are putting them in that position. For more, take a look at these articles by Kate Hardie for the actor’s perspective and Brit Marling about the economics of consent.

When it comes to harassment and inappropriate behaviour, the industry has mostly moved on from the slap-on-the-bum culture — or has it? Part of the problem is the transient nature of the industry. Who do you complain to? If you do make a complaint, you are more than likely to be marginalised, and the fall out can be truly awful. Many of us don’t need reminding about what harassment is, having experienced it sometime in our lives, but David Schwimmer’s sexual harassment videos (above), and the accompanying Facebook page are well worth a look. Yes an uncomfortable watch, but a must-see for everyone on a set – crew, cast, and directors alike. 

Let’s have  sexual harassment guidelines. Follow the example of CBBC who are exemplary in their child protection practises. Every director on a CBBC show has to do an on-line child protection course for every job. Every single production has a mandatory child protection session that the whole cast and crew have to attend. It’s excellent, it’s thought-provoking and boundaries are very clearly set. It takes an hour, time well spent. The DGA does something similar for sexual harassment.

Likewise, let’s have guidelines for how to handle a complaint, how to act if you witness or hear of harassment, abuse, or inappropriate behaviour. Let’s have an independent body with whom we can actually raise a complaint. Whether the complaint is about on-screen talent, off-screen personnel, and no matter the degree of severity, what we need more than anything is see it being acted upon. Finally, reflect for a moment on how this tipping point has been reached. Look at how many, many people have had to come forward to speak up against an individual for their complaints to be heard, and anything to happen. They are not breaking the silence, but the culture of silencing. 

Let’s be part of the solution.

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