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My experience with sexual harassment in the film industry

Nov. 18, 2017
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I was 15 years old when I first developed an interest in the film industry. That interest was tested when another teen producer got in my face and told me I wasn’t strong enough to handle working in the field. Now, after completing several internships, being featured in the Atlanta Film Festival, producing content for several online platforms, and working as a PA on many different sets, I’m proud to say that I can “handle it."

However, getting into the industry didn’t always prove easy for me. In fact, being an inexperienced teenage girl who had no professional equipment or connections to use, I resorted to the Atlanta Film Community group on Facebook. In this forum, people post job listings for positions in the field and offer advice. I was desperate to make connections with anyone who was interested in helping a young, eager teenager. I ended up connecting with one particular person who was looking for an assistant writer for his personal film. I direct messaged him, explaining that I was an inexperienced 15-year-old who wanted to assist in any project I could get my hands on.

For privacy reasons, we will call this man Alex. Alex had just moved to Atlanta and wanted to make connections in the industry. He had recently worked on a movie for Lifetime Movie Network, and for me, it was a huge deal that I was getting help from someone who had actual work in the industry.  We communicated back and forth; I would send him my current scripts that I was working on, and he critiqued them for me. We even met up once to discuss possible production plans for a script that I was proud of. It seemed like a gift that I had someone who liked my work enough to want to help me make my vision a reality—or so I thought.

After we met, things got weird. Up until that point, things had remained strictly professional between us. He was my mentor, and I thought we both respected that. It started when he followed my Instagram account and then my private account. I had dedicated the latter to body-positive posts. None of my body-positive posts were anything I’d be ashamed of if they got out. I had come a long way in terms of appreciating my body—even now I still have days when I feel insecure, but by that point, publicly posting untouched photos of my natural body made me feel confident. In response to these posts, I was shamed, called out, asked for nudes—you name it, they said it. But I didn’t mind: these body-positive posts not only helped me but also allowed my peers to feel more confident in their own skin. I took pride in sparking this wave of confidence in my community.

When I accepted Alex’s request to follow my private account, I didn’t think twice about it. If I was comfortable enough to let my mom see what was on that account, I wouldn’t have a problem with anyone else seeing it—especially a mentor figure in my life. Never in a million years would I think that the decision I made to allow a 27-year-old man follow my personal account would lead to my being sexualized by a colleague and authority figure.

It was a simple photo. I was making “duck lips” and joking around about how outdated the trend was. He privately messaged me about the photo. I have decided to include screenshots of the conversation, but his name and profile photo are cropped out to protect his identity.

I know that men have now taken to using the term “witch hunt” to describe the increase in women calling men out on their actions. Despite these efforts at disparagement, I see no reason why I should have to suffer in silence for someone else’s actions. If I wasn’t so scared that something might happen to me if I made Alex’s identity public, I would do it. The fact of the matter is that you should only post, text, tweet, and speak about things that you are comfortable with being shown to the whole world. If you are doing something you wouldn’t want your grandma seeing, then rethink your actions.

There are several things wrong with this screenshot:

  1. This is an industry professional who claimed to have an interest in my work. A week before this happened, he had told me that he was working on a set for a music video and asked if I would be interested in coming to the two-day shoot. He raved about how it would be a great experience for me and that I would get to network. He insisted that I would sleep over at his house since the shoot was about an hour away from where I lived and that “it was an early morning type deal, so it only makes sense that I sleep over." I didn’t take that as a warning sign then—I was flattered that he thought I was skilled enough to assist him on set. Luckily my mom wasn’t comfortable with this and I didn’t go. Looking back at it now, I’m less convinced that it was my “talent” he wanted on set.

  2. He is sexualizing something that shouldn’t be sexualized. I don’t understand why I have to apologize for my body time and time again. It doesn’t matter whether I am posed one way or another—I post pictures for myself. I felt confident in that photo, and I posted it so others could feel confident enough to post theirs. The fact that I had both men and women telling me that I was “asking for it” by posting these photos is revolting. It makes me feel as though my confidence is seen as being sleazy and egotistical. You shouldn’t get a say in whether or not a woman is sexualizing her body. That’s for her to decide. Since I’ve gotten so many of these comments regarding what I have posted, I no longer make body-positive posts.

  3. This is a 27-year-old man saying this to a 15-year-old girl. A minor. A non-consenting individual. At this point, I didn’t even meet Georgia’s lowered age of consent. A man in a higher power manipulated my trust to try to get some kind of sexual reaction out of me. Calling an underage girl “hot", asking for the conversation to be “kept off the record", and asking a minor to confess something “with no consequences” are not appropriate things for an adult to say to a minor, and especially not for a mentor to say to the person they are mentoring.

A few weeks passed after that conversation, and after not hearing from me, he proceeded to give me a half-hearted apology and followed up by asking me to work for free on set for his personal film. I disregarded the message and tried to forget that the situation had happened.

Fast forward a few months, and I am on top of my game. I got involved with a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing teens into the film industry. I was currently in production for a personal film I had written, produced, and directed. My friend (we'll call her Emma) was helping me operate the camera, and she ended up bringing another friend (we'll call her Madison) who works in the film industry as well. The three of us sat in the room, waiting for the rest of the crew to arrive. Somehow, Alex came up in conversation, and Emma showed Madison Alex’s reel. Even though Emma knew that I had been sexually harassed by him, she did not find anything wrong with showing his reel to Madison. Madison then asked for his contact information so that she could work with him. Seeing Alex’s reel had already made me anxious, but hearing Madison ask for his contact information threw me into a full-blown panic attack. I tried to calmly explain that he sexually harassed me, and I wasn’t comfortable giving her the number of a child predator. Her response was that she didn’t care; this was a common thing in the industry. She acted as though it was no big deal that she wanted to interact with my monster. And I had to continue working alongside her for the rest of the day.

As I gained more experience in the industry, I found that Madison wasn’t the only person who had no problem working with men who harass and assault women. While I filled the role as a PA on the set of a commercial, I sat down with a woman who was working the camera. The conversation shifted into talk of sexual harassment on set. She explained to me that it happens a lot, and if it happened to me, I should “use it to my advantage because being attractive can boost someone’s chances of getting a better position.” She also told me, “If you press charges against the assaulter, you will never work another day in the field again. Directors don’t want to deal with someone who’s dramatic.”

In light of these experiences and others accrued over the course of a year working in film, you can understand that I was not surprised when Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual assault. I wanted to write this article in the wake of the Weinstein claims in order to demonstrate that, yes, harassment is widespread, but so too is the culture that enables it. Yes, men who assault women are the central problem, but the women who excuse that behavior are not much better. When I see grown women in the news victim-blaming survivors of assault and claiming that plastic surgery and makeup contribute to women being raped, I am offended. A woman should empathize with other women because the chances are high that both women have faced some form of sexual harassment. When you support or work with people who have been accused of sexual assault, you are siding with the assaulter. You are saying that you do not care about the victim.

Every day, the list of men in the film industry who have been accused of sexual assault seems to grow. (I have included a shortlist below; while it is not by any means meant to be a complete list of culpable men, it does include names omitted in the linked New York Times list.) You’d be surprised at how many cases the media briefly mentions and covers up. Maybe when the next Woody Allen movie comes out, you will think before you invest money into seeing the work of a child rapist.

Roger Ailes
Woody Allen
Casey Affleck
Hadrian Belove
Eric Bolling
Dustin Hoffman
Harry Knowles
Danny Masterson
Roman Polanski
Roy Price
Steven Seagal
Kevin Spacey
George Takei
Bob Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein