Amber Tamblyn and the Women Calling Out Chauvinists in Hollywood
Amber Tamblyn airing out James Woods’ hypocrisy makes her the latest actress to call out sexist behavior—but Hollywood is still far from welcoming of women who speak out.
Want to see actresses calling out male chauvinist pigs on Twitter? Keep your eyes open bitch. While social media can increasingly feel like an inescapable corn maze of chaos and self-promotion, every so often a perfect piece of content breaks free. Whether it’s Ted Cruz liking a porn tweet on 9/11 or Louise Linton #verbally #abusing a #randomwoman, these virtual gems make the hours we spend endlessly refreshing almost worthwhile.
On Monday, one such blissful moment came courtesy of a very unlikely source: a Twitter exchange between James Woods, Armie Hammer, and Amber Tamblyn. It all started when film and IRL villain Woods decided to come for Hammer’s critically acclaimed new movie, Call Me by Your Name. The actor retweeted a post condemning the age difference between the romantic leads, writing, “As they quietly chip away the last barriers of decency. #NAMBLA.” Understandably irritated by a fellow actor invoking the abbreviation for the North American Man/Boy Love Association to critique his film, Hammer replied, “Didn't you date a 19 year old when you were 60…….?” Actress Amber Tamblyn then chimed in, tweeting, “James Woods tried to pick me and my friend up at a restaurant once. He wanted to take us to Vegas. ‘I'm 16’ I said. ‘Even better’ he said.”
Since, as Tamblyn said in a follow-up tweet on Tuesday, “people love to question the integrity and honesty of women when they come forward with stories like this,” the actress and writer provided receipts. In the form of a screenshot, Tamblyn confirmed the story with the friend from her icky anecdote. As for Hammer’s claims, multiple reports insist that Woods and his current girlfriend, Kristen Bauguess, began dating when she was 20 years old and he was 66. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Before Bauguess, he was in a relationship with a woman named Ashley Madison, whom he reportedly started dating when he was 60 and she was either 19 or 20 years old.”
While Tamblyn’s unexpected interjection was sure-to-go-viral content, striking in its absurdity and specificity, it was also illustrative of a number of disturbing trends. In the immediate aftermath, we saw a textbook example of what happens when a woman in Hollywood calls out a famous man—she is expected to bend over backwards to substantiate her allegations, and he calls her a liar. A Twitter user questioned Woods on the controversy, asking, “What makes a 24yo/17yo gay relationship inherently indecent but skeevy old guys trying to pick up a pair of 16 year old girls is okay?” Woods responded, "The first is illegal. The second is a lie."
When women call out a powerful man’s indecent or illegal behavior, they often seem to find themselves in far more precarious positions than the men they’re accusing. We see this in cases like Amber Heard and Johnny Depp’s recent divorce; the actress came forward with domestic abuse claims and was quickly cross-examined and condemned by both the media and her fellow industry insiders. In a world where male abusers are consistently forgiven, it seems that women have every incentive to stay quiet—after all, what would their accusations even accomplish? While Tamblyn’s efforts to break at least one cycle of silence are admirable, they illustrate just how rare and challenging it is for an actress to come forward.
Young women are understandably reticent to tell off or publicly condemn powerful men who could seriously help or hinder their careers. As actress Heather Matarazzo wrote on Twitter in 2015, “I wish more women would speak up and help in this industry…I'm just so fucking tired of having duct tape over my mouth, but I also have a family to support. It's the story for so many of us. We need to know that we will be supported and not blacklisted from this industry. Where are the supporters who will say that we are safe to speak out?” This disturbing practice of talent being subtly or overtly pressured into staying silent is well-documented. In 2016, Thandie Newton condemned an incident in which a co-star groped her, and also revealed that a former publicist warned her against publicly discussing sexual abuse. After alleged sexual harasser Casey Affleck was honored with a best actor Oscar nomination, actress Constance Wu tweeted, “Men who sexually harass women 4 OSCAR! Bc good acting performance matters more than humanity, human integrity! Bc poor kid rly needs the help!” adding, “I've been counseled not to talk about this for career's sake. F my career then, I'm a woman & human first. That's what my craft is built on.”
When actresses do come out against Hollywood abusers or sexist practices, they’re generally already well-established; fame gives these women a buffer against blacklisting or being labeled difficult or un-hirable. This isn’t to say that these A-lister’s statements aren’t brave and important, but rather to point out that it seems nearly impossible for a young actress to call out misogyny or harassment while it’s happening and remain professionally unscathed. This summer, Alison Brie shared a sketchy incident from her past, recalling, “Early in my career, I auditioned for three lines on an episode of ‘Entourage’ that I had to go on in a bikini!” she said. “Or, like, shorts and the tiniest shorts. And they were like, ‘OK, can you take your top off now?’” While Brie ultimately never appeared on Entourage, her anecdote invokes all of the lesser-known actresses who were likely subjected to the same treatment, enduring blatant sexism in the hopes of landing an HBO gig.
Katrina Day, the actress behind Lady Parts, a website she created to showcase the worst in sexist casting calls, told Hello Giggles in 2014 that she was initially scared to post. “Misogyny and sexism in the entertainment industry certainly aren’t new developments.” Day explained. “They’re so deeply ingrained and accepted that even calling them out can feel like a huge risk. As an early-career, no-name actress, I was extremely nervous to start this blog, imagining that the rest of the world was going to tell me I was being too sensitive and that I should probably shut up and deal with it.”
Even household names can face serious repercussions from this brand of outspoken activism (in contrast to the male household names who seamlessly jump from accusations to accolades). In 2015, Rose McGowan shared a different casting horror story, publishing a casting note “that came w/script I got today. For real. name of male star rhymes with Madam Panhandler.” The note requested that actresses don “form-fitting” tank tops and leggings or jeans, “push up bras encouraged.” McGowan subsequently tweeted, “I just got fired by my wussy acting agent because I spoke up about the bullshit in Hollywood.” The message couldn’t be clearer: taking on Hollywood misogyny might earn you retweets and feminist admiration, but it’s still seen as a faux pas in the entertainment industry. The actress, who told The Hollywood Reporter that “I could care less” about the effect her statements may have on future career opportunities, has clearly chosen her path. But other actresses may not have the means to sacrifice their careers to call out sexism and famous male abusers; more importantly, they shouldn’t have to.
It’s great that more famous women are speaking out about past and present injustices, and that more media outlets are listening to their stories. This wasn’t always the case. Last year, a 2013 interview of director Bernardo Bertolucci resurfaced, in which he explained how he failed to inform Maria Schneider about some crucial aspects of her infamous Last Tango in Paris rape scene because he “wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress.” Actors like Chris Evans and Jessica Chastain immediately condemned the revelation, with Chastain tweeting, “To all the people that love this film- you're watching a 19yr old get raped by a 48yr old man. The director planned her attack. I feel sick.” Others were quick to point out that this offense was actually multi-layered; not only was Schneider abused on-set, she was also largely ignored when she decided to come out with her story.
Back in 2007, the actress told The Daily Mail the unsavory details of that controversial scene: “They only told me about it before we had to film the scene and I was so angry. I should have called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can’t force someone to do something that isn’t in the script but at the time, I didn’t know that…During the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears. I felt humiliated and, to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and Bertolucci.” The fact that it took footage of Bertolucci himself addressing the controversy for the accusation to go mainstream is doubly damning. As Anna Kendrick wrote in response to the 2016 controversy, “Ms Schneider stated this several years ago. I used to get eye-rolls when I brought it up to people (aka dudes) …It wasn't treated like a big story then (shocker). Glad at least it will be taken seriously now.”
At the end of the day, the lack of women speaking out against gendered abuses in real time is as unfortunate as it is unsurprising. In an industry that’s predominately run by men, every actress, no matter how A-list, has something to fear from pissing off the wrong dude.