Last year, The New York Times broke the story on how top Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein coerced, harassed, abused, assaulted and even raped scores of women and silenced them by using his power and money. This case became the tipping point, paving way for campaigns and marches emphasising on the need to stop workplace sexual harassment and more accountability.
The Pulitzer Prize was announced on Monday, honouring all those who worked on bringing out the stories of survivors of sexual misconduct at the hands of Weinstein. The New York Times, The New Yorker, writers Ronan Farrow, Jodi Kantor, and Megan Twohey were instrumental in reporting on a powerful man whose reputation and behaviour was an open secret in Hollywood.
— The Pulitzer Prizes (@PulitzerPrizes) April 16, 2018
Harvey Weinstein was the same man whom no one could compete with, considering the Oscars he had brought in over the years and the fact that he had been rubbing shoulders with bigwigs like the Obamas and Clintons. He donated, he spoke on women’s rights, and yet, behind the closed doors of his hotel room, demanded back massages, sexual favours, and worst of all, silence from women.
Soon after the news broke, it created a domino effect with survivors opening up about what they had faced not just under his hands, but others too.
Star Trek: Discovery actor Anthony Rapp went on record to recount the time actor Kevin Spacey made sexual advances towards him. Spacey was 26 and Rapp was 14 years old at the time. While acknowledging the allegations, Spacey, however, chose to use his apology as a coming-out story for him. This didn’t end well as the actor got fired from his popular show House of Cards and was even booted out of the film All The Money In The World despite having finished shooting.
Brooklyn Nine Nine actor Terry Crews spoke about being molested by a top Hollywood honcho at a party in 2016. Inspired by the women who have been opening about the abuse they faced from top producer Harvey Weinstein, Crews took to Twitter to talk about his own experience and how he couldn’t seek help.
Amidst all this, actresses like Rose McGowan, Salma Hayek, Uma Thurman, and hundreds of other women spoke about their sordid experiences with Weinstein. Before anybody knew it, #MeToo came into existence. The campaign used the hashtag on social media to bring out the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace. This was followed by the #TimesUp initiative, with over 300 women in Hollywood supporting a campaign that sought equal representation and opportunities, pay parity, and fight sexual harassment. Hollywood A-listers like Gal Gadot, Kerry Washington, Ashley Judd, Reese Witherspoon, Brie Larson, Jennifer Lawrence, Natalie Portman and many more joined the campaign.
This activism did not stay limited to social media alone, with it trickling down to award ceremonies such as SAGs, BAFTAs, and Oscars. The award ceremonies in particular had several other actors, including James Franco, Aziz Ansari, Casey Affleck, and others skipping the event to avoid any questioning on the sexual harassment allegations against them. Franco, who won a Golden Globe for his performance in The Disaster Artist, was an Oscar contender. He, however, was dropped from the nominations soon after sexual harassment allegations were levelled against him.
Things have progressed soon after the story was first published. In India though, it started a dialogue but women’s rights and safety still remain a major concern. While in the academic field, law student Raya Sarkar asked fellow students to send over their experiences with “academics who have sexually harassed or were sexually predatory” towards them which eventually culminated into ‘the list‘ that had over 50 well-known professors’ name on it, the cinema field is yet to delve deep into this subject.
In Bollywood, everyone has acknowledged the infamous ‘casting couch’ but nobody dared speak about it. Sri Reddy, a small-time actress from Hyderabad, recently brought attention to this, something that’s widely practiced in the industry. She stripped in front of the cinema chambers so as to get their attention but was soon enough barred from the industry. While her licence has since been brought back, with a good backing from various women artists and activists, the Telugu industry is finally looking into this sort of exploitation, with a committee in the works.
We never know if it will result in a worldwide campaign the way stories of Weinstein’s sexual exploitation did, but it’s never too late to start somewhere.
Read Part 4: The Life Of A Dance Assistant In The South
Read Part 7: In Bollywood, Activism Is A Matter Of Convenience