While post-Weinstein reckonings have brought the issue of sexual harassment to the forefront of the entertainment industry, the fight for gender parity in Hollywood is infinitely larger than the last few months.
2017 may have been the ordained year of the silence breakers, but women in the industry have been trying to call attention to issues of discrimination, wage gaps, and representation for decades. Unlike most of the industries that have found themselves under the #MeToo microscope, the world of mainstream entertainment is populated by ostensibly powerful women. While Hollywood celebrities have privileges that many other women could only dream of, the Weinstein story reiterated that even the most influential, glamorous, world-renowned star can be the victim of emotionally-scarring, career-threatening harassment.
Despite the outward appearance of female empowerment—the top three highest-grossing films in 2017 featured female leads—Hollywood is rotten with male abusers and the sexist systems that protect them. Thanks to valuable reporting, we are starting to understand the webs of complicity that allow sexual harassment to flourish both on and off movie sets. These systemic issues call for a dramatic overhaul, but it’s hard to say, at this point, exactly what practical form the reckoning will take.
So far, we’ve seen division between female leaders, like in the strange case of Rose McGowan and Meryl Streep, two women who appear to share the same goals but have struggled to find common ground. We’ve also seen gestures toward progress that feel more like empty performance: an oversized Glad bag’s worth of shitty male apologies, less than perfect allies, and the highly mockable notion of Hollywood actors wearing black tuxedos in solidarity. But there’s still hope for action that goes beyond black tie.
On New Year’s Day, the Time’s Up coalition went public with an open letter, published as a full page ad in The New York Times and La Opinion. In an accompanying article, “Powerful Hollywood Women Unveil Anti-Harassment Action Plan,” the Times further detailed the founding and goals of this emergent initiative.
According to their website, “Powered by women, TIME’S UP addresses the systemic inequality and injustice in the workplace that have kept underrepresented groups from reaching their full potential. We partner with leading advocates for equality and safety to improve laws, employment agreements, and corporate policies; help change the face of corporate boardrooms and the C-suite; and enable more women and men to access our legal system to hold wrongdoers accountable.”
More specifically, Time’s Up’s legal fund, which already boasts over $13 million in donations, will be housed at the National Women’s Law Center and “will provide subsidized legal support to women and men who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in the workplace and while in pursuit of their careers.” The legal defense fund’s GoFundMe features mammoth contributions from the Hollywood elite; Katie McGrath and J.J. Abrams donated a million dollars, as did William Morris Endeavor and United Talent Agency. Reese Witherspoon, Shonda Rhimes, Jennifer Aniston and Meryl Streep each donated $500,000 to the cause, while Taylor Swift and Oprah Winfrey pitched in $100,000 apiece. Other celebrity contributors include Cate Blanchett, Jessica Chastain, America Ferrera, Scarlett Johansson and Jessica and Justin Timberlake.
The Times reported that the leaderless initiative, which began meeting in October, now includes “300 prominent actresses and female agents, writers, directors, producers and entertainment executives.” Some of Time’s Up’s numerous “working groups” have already been making waves prior to Monday’s open letter. In December, one group of entertainment executives formed the Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace. Chaired by Anita Hill, the Commission was reportedly first proposed by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy in mid-October. Funded by Hollywood heavyweights, the commission “will be focusing on issues ranging from power disparity, equity and fairness, safety, sexual harassment guidelines, education and training, reporting and enforcement, ongoing research and data collection,” according to Anita Hill.
The New York Times has also reported a victory for the working group 50/50 by 2020, which aims for “Equity in Hollywood. By the year 2020.” “In early December,” the Times reported, “after Ms. Rhimes pressed him, Chris Silbermann, a managing director at ICM Partners, pledged that his talent agency would meet that goal.” According to 50/50 by 2020’s website, CAA has similarity pledged gender parity on their board and management committee by 2020.
Time’s Up has centered an intersectional approach, attempting to ensure that the conversation around sexual harassment extends beyond the affluent white women whose stories are too often prioritized. The initiative’s open letter is a response to a November open letter sent by 700,000 female farmworkers in solidarity with the women of Hollywood.
Time’s Up’s letter addresses these women, writing, “To the members of Alianza and farmworker women across the country, we see you, we thank you, and we acknowledge the heavy weight of our common experience of being preyed upon, harassed, and exploited by those who abuser their power and threaten our physical and economic security. We have similarly suppressed the violence and demeaning harassment for fear that we will be attacked and ruined in the process of speaking out…We also recognize our privilege and the fact that we have access to enormous platforms to amplify our voices. Both of which have drawn and driven widespread attention to the existence of this problem in our industry that farmworker women and countless individuals employed in other industries have not been afforded.”
The letter continues, “We particularly want to lift up the voices, power, and strength of women working in low-wage industries where the lack of financial stability makes them vulnerable to high rates of gender-based violence and exploitation…We call for a significant increase of women in positions of leadership and power across industries. In addition, we seek equal representation, opportunities, benefits and pay for all women workers, not to mention greater representation of women of color, immigrant women, and lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women, whose experiences in the workforce are often significantly worse than their white, cisgender, straight peers. The struggle for women to break in, to rise up in the ranks and to simply be heard and acknowledged in male-dominated workplaces must end; time’s up on this impenetrable monopoly.”
As Shonda Rhimes told The New York Times, “If this group of women can’t fight for a model for other women who don’t have as much power and privilege, then who can?” To this end, there is a working group that focuses on amplifying the voices of minorities and LGBTQ folks. Another group “is devising legislation to tackle abuses and address how nondisclosure agreements silence victims of sexual harassment.” Additionally, Time’s Up is supporting the push for women to wear all black on the upcoming Golden Globes red carpet. Member Eva Longoria told the Times that, “This is a moment of solidarity, not a fashion moment.”
While it is obviously early days, watching these powerful women across the industry—some of whom have been vocal about their own experiences with sexual misconduct—come together in solidarity feels momentous. Already, A-list members have flooded social media with their own rallying cries; Shonda Rhimes tweeted, “Time’s up on silence. Time’s up on waiting. Time’s up on tolerating discrimination, harassment and abuse.” Reese Witherspoon emphasized the invigorating effect of organizing in numbers, telling The New York Times that, “We have been siloed off from each other…We’re finally hearing each other, and seeing each other, and now locking arms in solidarity with each other, and in solidarity for every woman who doesn’t feel seen, to be finally heard.”