Well, gentlemen, are you entirely finished? Or are there more of you out there, telling aspiring stars your bedroom is a boardroom, overpowering young interns in hallways or unzipping your pants in view of the whole office?
Since movie producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of assaulting multiple women by The New York Times and The New Yorker last month, the allegations of showbiz sex abuse by directors, actors, producers and TV hosts have poured forth – as have the mumbling, foot-shuffling apologies and excuses. With the notable exception of the President of the United States, most of the men thus accused have not denied some bad behaviour but rather issued generic mea culpas for causing embarrassment and pain, before quickly exiting their big jobs. (It's obligatory to note at this point that while Weinstein has apologized, he has also stated that he never engaged in non-consensual sex.)
Reading these statements, you can almost hear the publicists and lawyers weighing their clients' responses. Prior to 2000; only one allegation? Plead no memory of the event but issue a generic apology just in case. More recent and multiple allegations? Say you're very sorry, buddy, but we'll be needing your letter of resignation, too.
Accused this week by a former intern of repeatedly making sexual comments and grabbing her bum during a film shoot in 1985, actor Dustin Hoffman apologized for anything he might have done to put her in an uncomfortable situation.
Meanwhile, accusations and responses snowballed in the cases of actor Kevin Spacey and director Brett Ratner. Accused last week of placing a 14-year-old boy on a bed and climbing on top of him during a party in 1986, Spacey said he couldn't recall the incident but the behaviour described was reprehensible.
Producers on his hit Netflix series House of Cards had suspended production temporarily when more men came forward to accuse Spacey this week. The actor has now issued a statement saying he is seeking treatment.
Director Brett Ratner, on the other hand, has admitted to nothing but has been cut loose by Warner Bros. because six women have told the Los Angeles Times about episodes of aggressive pursuit and sexual harassment including masturbating in front of an actress in his trailer. Ratner's lawyer has denied all the charges, disputing many details and defending some other behaviours, but Ratner also issued a statement saying he has decided to step away from his various Warner Bros. projects until the situation is cleared up. Even Playboy magazine decided to distance itself from the director, cutting him from a long-planned Hugh Hefner biopic.
You know that treating professional women like inanimate sex toys has finally become socially toxic when even Playboy can't stomach the idea of it. But zero public tolerance is not the same as zero private abuse. As it becomes increasingly apparent that grotesque sexual harassment has been the order of the day, the entertainment industries have to figure out how to make their workplaces safe for young women and young men. Would a better gender balance in a sector that is notoriously male-dominated make a difference? Female underrepresentation in leadership roles in Hollywood and in the Canadian and European film industries has been identified as a problem for several years, but now the more pressing issue of sexual harassment threatens to eclipse it. The two, however, are linked.
This week, as the abuse allegations flooded in, Telefilm Canada made a rather surprising announcement about its numbers. Hounded by activists angered by various alarming statistics including the fact that a mere 4 per cent of big-budget projects supported by the federal film-funding agency were directed by women, Telefilm had set itself a goal of achieving gender equity by 2020. On Wednesday, it released numbers that suggest that goal is within easy reach. For 2016-17, on projects with budgets under $2.5-million, the agency is now funding a portfolio where 44 per cent of the directors are women and 46 per cent of the screenwriters are women. Outside estimates had placed those percentages at half that level as recently as 2015.
There is a big but here … Telefilm has yet to release the numbers for projects with budgets more than $2.5-million, the area where the 2015 estimates were 4-per-cent female directors and 22-per-cent female writers. The agency is already flagging that as the real challenge, and industry observers suggest those numbers should also show some improvement, but have so far to go they will still fall well short of balance.
Still, Telefilm CEO Carolle Brabant says she's surprised and excited by how fast the agency is moving toward its 2020 target. "I thought it was a challenging goal when we set it up but now I am confident we can meet it," she said in an interview this week.
Telefilm had identified a serious pipeline problem – it was approving projects led by women at equal or even better rates than those of men, but women weren't submitting applications at the same rate. Many women are going to think twice before getting involved in an industry that promotes a sexist culture or where they have to continually battle harassment just to get work.
There's a chicken-and-egg scenario here and it needs to change: Women will be more eager to join the industry if the harassment stops. And harassment will be harder to get away with once the boys club is finally busted open.