Will Hollywood's sexual-misconduct reckoning result in lasting change?
Posted November 16, 2017 11:37 a.m. EST
(CNN) — Since the Harvey Weinstein allegations surfaced, Hollywood has been buffeted by waves of new sexual-misconduct allegations against people both in front of and behind the camera. The question now is whether and how the entertainment industry can transform that outpouring of outrage and disgust into action.
"I don't think any one organization will be equipped to do anything," SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris told CNN this week following a panel on sexual harassment held for the group's members. "If we do work together and really come together in all different aspects of our industry, then we have a really good chance to start to shift the culture. That's the only way."
The Guild, which represents about 160,000 actors and performers, held the first of what it said will be a series of conversations that seek to educate its membership on individuals' rights in cases of alleged sexual misconduct on Tuesday night.
Since October, sexual harassment complaints reported to the Guild are up 500%, according to Carteris.
Attorney Gloria Allred, who this week filed a suit against The Weinstein Company on behalf of one of Weinstein's accusers, said until recently, she'd been hesitant to use the term "tipping point." That's changed.
After speaking at the SAG-AFTRA panel, Allred told CNN the conversations and flood of accusers have not showed signs of slowing, and it's an overdue moment. As someone who has been privy to the closed-door settlements that have been made in the industry over the years, she said the scope of the problem is still not entirely in the open.
"It's actually even worse than it appears," Allred said.
The business of accountability
Industry organizations, from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to the Producers Guild of America, have stated their intent to seek solutions. Both organizations expelled Weinstein, and the Academy plans to explore the creation of a code of conduct for its members next month.
Meanwhile, Women in Film, a nonprofit that promotes gender parity in Hollywood, will on December 1 launch a help line and provide legal aid for those who have experienced sexual harassment in the entertainment industry.
While these groups are saying the right things and taking measured actions, some observers have noted that organizations set up to present awards and other honors aren't necessarily well equipped to serve as enforcement bureaus, which means the onus will ultimately fall on employers.
Allred drew cheers from the attendees at the SAG-AFTRA event when she emphasized the need for official action in cases where harassment can be proven.
"If they have to pay, then they remember it," she said of employers.
It's certainly true that the companies associated with the recently accused aren't likely to forget this moment any time soon.
After Kevin Spacey was accused of sexual harassment and assault, Netflix and "House of Cards" producer Media Rights Capital halted production to assess the future of the Emmy-nominated series.
Spacey was essentially fired as Netflix cut ties with the actor last month.
Writers for "House of Cards" are now racing to find a creative solution for Spacey's absence to salvage what was set to be the sixth and final season of the show.
His film, "All the Money in the World," is also undergoing expensive reshoots, with Spacey being replaced in the movie with Christopher Plummer. The reworked film is set to hit theaters next month.
Spacey is currently seeking unspecified treatment, according to his now former publicist.
Meanwhile at FX, the network and studio, FX Productions, terminated its overall deal with comedian Louis C.K. after he, too, faced allegations of sexual misconduct.
Louis C.K. had executive produced five series with the company over the last eight years and won critical acclaim for his auteur-driven comedy, "Louie."
He released a statement apologizing for his behavior.
The instinct of Hollywood studios and production companies is to dismiss claims against "very valued employees," Allred said, not specifically referring to any accused person. Ultimately, that's not a good policy because "it's going to come back at them in some way," she said.
"They'd be better advised to clean up their workplace and make it safe. They'll be likely less liable in the future," she said.
Creating lasting change
Given that new names keep surfacing, and that the history of such behavior goes back decades, questions about how to implement change won't be answered overnight.
Speaking to a group of SAG-AFTRA members, director Niki Caro ("Whale Rider"), acknowledged that "a big part of the problem here is that this industry is clinging desperately to an old paradigm, where men are powerful and women are beautiful."
"We are so far beyond that and yet we are held back by that," she said.
Carteris agreed, but sees it as a problem that's not exclusive to the entertainment industry.
What seems clear is that in the near future, there will be no avoiding these questions, even at promotional events like celebratory dinners and red-carpet premieres.
The tension will be how to carry on with the usual business of the town and still acknowledge the atmosphere. That's already happening, but sometimes awkwardly, such as a Variety headline that read, "How will Hollywood harassment scandals impact awards season?"
In a recent interview with Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, Meryl Streep said she thinks this awards season will be more "aware" and expressed hope that Hollywood's sexual-misconduct reckoning will lead to a culture shift.
"This moment is absolutely thrilling," Streep said. "This is a door that will not be closed. We got our foot in there now. It will be very difficult for people to conduct their lives the way they have in the past. 'Oh, that's just locker room talk. Oh, that's just the way men are.' No, it's not. We're civilized people, and we learn from our mistakes."
Changing culture is a long road, but more immediately, action can be taken by those who have or are currently being wronged, the panel of experts assembled by SAG-AFTRA said.
The sense is there is a great urgency to foster an environment in which those who have been harassed or abused feel empowered to speak up -- not an easy task when on-set power structures are laid out on a call sheet every day.
"Fear is a tool that has kept women ... and men subordinated," Allred said in the panel.
In this age of #metoo, there has been talk of seeking to clarify the response in the face of an incredible volume of allegations.
In an interview with the New Yorker's NPR radio program promoting her new memoir, veteran editor Tina Brown said she welcomes the overdue airing of these issues but cited a need to differentiate conduct, separating the serial predators from those who might have transgressed in less serious ways.
"I do think it's very important that we distinguish between the rapists and assaulters and the clueless fumblers and the tactless remarkers," she said.
"Mudbound" director Dee Rees thinks the biggest hurdle is sustaining a culture in which women are heard and believed.
"I hope this isn't a moment," she told CNN recently. "I hope it continues and becomes a practice."
CNN's Brian Lowry contributed to this report.