When Our Heroes Fall: Our Responsibility to #MeToo Jun11

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When Our Heroes Fall: Our Responsibility to #MeToo

Photo by Elvira / Adobe Stock.

For me, the saddest news of the #metoo movement was when Scott R Brunton accused George Takei of sexually assaulting him back in the late eighties. Part of Star Trek: The Original Series’ cast, I’ve followed Takei for his snappy memes and articles, as well as his widespread LGBTQ activism. Sadly, his name joins a long list of outed celebrities, including Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, and Morgan Freeman.

It’s hard to imagine the distinguished narrator of March of the Penguins as a sexual predator, but as women continue to accuse him, he’s falling into the same category as Takei.

Even Joss Whedon isn’t left out. His ex-wife published an essay back in 2017, accusing him of multiple affairs, including some with unnamed young actresses on his classic shows. I’m mindful of his admission that he identified the most with Xander, whose extended and misguided possessiveness of Buffy and his infidelity while dating Cordy stands as possible examples of Whedon’s moral code.

The revelations of these men’s characters may come as a shock to me, but many people already knew. Let me rephrase that: many women already knew. The film industry is plagued with sexism; you could read it in the commodification of women’s bodies on screen long before the #metoo movement started. Women talk about these things, spread the word along “whisper networks” of who to play nice with, who to keep at arm’s length, and who to avoid entirely. Whispering truth may have been the only way to stay safe without endangering a precarious career. Living from gig to gig means that no matter what unions do, they can’t force people to hire you.

What do I do when a celebrity I love and admire is outed for sexual assault?

Speaking out against sexual harassment or assault can label you as whiny or just too sensitive to work with. Ashley Judd alleges that because she refused Harvey Weinstein’s advances, she was largely shut out of roles. After meeting with Peter Jackson in 1998 about a role in The Lord of the Rings movie franchise, she says that Weinstein told the director that he had a “bad experience” working with Judd.

Women walk a fine line in this industry, whether above the line (actors, producers, directors, cinematographers) or below the line (most crewmembers). The tight deadlines and high cost of salaries and equipment can encourage even supposed allies to overlook the mistreatment of their female or gender variant coworkers.

I can tell you this firsthand because #metoo.

When I was 21, I worked as a production assistant on a film in Waterloo, Ontario. I was constantly asked what it felt like to be the only woman on the crew. I did not tell those asking it was a constant feeling of degradation and dismissal, which was influenced not only by my inexperience, but also by my tenuous relationship with another crewmember. I was in bad standing, and my gender made it worse.

It got to the point where I was sitting in a car with four other guys on the crew, including a friend and the crewmember—a boorish sound technician. This technician had a history of making lewd jokes on set when I was the only woman around (which no one corrected him on) and making women feel uncomfortable when setting them up with a lavalier mic taped under their shirts. He was rude, unreliable, and the only one getting paid (the rest of us were going to wait on deferred payment—a percentage of profits that never came).

While we were sitting in the car, he loudly advised my friend to take me back to the dorms and have sex with me. The camera operator, the first Assistant Camera Operator, and my friend sat there silently while I was humiliated. I waited for what felt like ten minutes before I turned around and told him to shut up, because no one else would.

This film focused on poverty and social issues; it was produced by three Mennonite friends from Elmira. What’s more, this project was funded by MCC. I hadn’t expected sexism to be an issue on this set.

I complained to one of the producers, an ineffective move, and finished the movie without mentioning it again. The sound technician, while drunk at 9 am, later called me a “trooper,” saying he did not expect me to last as long as I did.

If this happened to me in a supposedly safe setting, how much more often does it happen elsewhere? And yet, a highly experienced American cinematographer I know said that none of his female filmmaker friends had ever experienced sexual harassment on set. He assumed if he didn’t see it, it wasn’t happening.

This is a regular thing that is largely ignored, even by men who make the most conscientious of films. Women and gender variant actors and filmmakers spread the word among their communities to help keep each other safe. When speaking out can have grave consequences, these poetically named “whisper networks” can keep people safe from sexual harassment and assault. While the number of outed abusers will rise, some will continue to be protected, and therefore enabled. It is the nature of the industry to shield these men.

For me, the question remains of what to do when a celebrity I love and admire is outed for sexual assault.

Whispering truth may have been the only way to stay safe without endangering a precarious career.

I do not necessarily have to throw out all the work of abusers, but can recognize problematic behaviour in life and on screen. I can spot problematic behaviour in media and make a point of discussing it, although sometimes the treatment of underprivileged characters (mostly women, people of colour, and LGBTQ) can turn me off the work entirely. I stopped watching Doctor Who and Sherlock because I could not stomach how Stephen Moffat handled female characters.

I am responsible for the media I consume. I am responsible for letting it affect my views or behaviour and I am responsible for funding abusers, but I am also responsible to communicate my frustration and anger. I am likely not alone, and the internet has allowed audience members to express delight or disappointment on a broad scale. Hollywood will always follow the money.

On May 3, 2018, seven months after the #metoo movement took off,  the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revoked Roman Polanski’s membership, citing the men’s failure to “uphold the Academy’s standards for human dignity.” Roman Polanski was charged with the sexual assault of a minor in 1977. It took four decades for the “standards for human dignity” to kick in. No one grew a conscience overnight. The members of the Academy recognized the way audiences were feeling and adjusted accordingly.

If we are conscientious and mourn our heroes loudly, our frustrations may be heard. Bill Cosby’s behaviour did not just affect the women he raped, but he also hurt the wider black community by failing to be the example of gentle masculinity he portrayed on screen and on stage. If we mark their betrayal and use our rage, our voices may be louder than we think.

Hannah Foulger

Hannah Foulger

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Hannah Foulger is a British Canadian writer and theatre artist from Cambridge Ontario. A former MK and a disabled activist, she views her fantasy and sci-fi (largely film and lit-based) through a post-colonial and disability lens. She lives in Winnipeg, where she creates theatre and works as a disability service worker. In her spare time, Hannah consults for both Stargate Command and the Watcher's Council.
Hannah Foulger