An actress named Sanchita Malik has alleged that during a casting callback session for a Will Wallace-directed film about international sex trafficking, she and others were pushed into an inappropriate scenario in an attempt to simulate being held captive in a brothel, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
The Hollywood Reporter frames the story by mentioning the film’s biggest known star, Ashley Judd, who has been outspoken about sexual assault and harassment, particularly since the downfall of Harvey Weinstein. But the person conducting the controversial callback for Trafficked was Wallace—in fact, it turns out that neither of the indie film’s two casting directors (one of whom is Wallace’s wife) were present at the session.
Malik says the actresses were led in an “exercise” where the men actors, including lead Jason London, performed as brothel customers forcing themselves upon the women. There was a prohibition on touching breasts or genitals, but it seemed like not much else was against the rules:
Still, Malik alleged, the scenario played out with her hair pulled, neck licked, body pushed against a wall and a fellow actor simulating rape by “pretending to force his penis in me.” She added, “He was making grunting sounds and I was just crying and laying there.” Malik tells THR she suffered from chronic panic attacks long afterward, which required therapy.
Malik says she contacted SAG-AFTRA following the alleged incident, and filed a letter of grievance with the union. Producers Conroy Kanter and Siddharth Kara say Malik only complained after she found she wouldn’t be cast as a primary role, but Malik countered that producers suggested she might be cast in exchange for her silence on the experience.
Other actresses at the casting, and eventually in the film, also spoke with THR under condition of anonymity. None seemed as affected as Malik, but most agree that the exercises instigated by Wallace were unlike anything they’d experienced in a professional setting:
“It’s to-date probably the craziest audition experience I’ve gone through — it was unnecessary and overkill,” said one. “You didn’t need to see that to know if these were the actors you wanted.”
They also corroborated Malik’s assertion that the session was at times unnecessarily physical, reporting dragging, grabbing and pinching in a free-flowing improvisation that went — to their minds — off the rails. “I think we all definitely had some bruises when we left,” said another. Added a third: “I think [the filmmakers] were super-clueless and didn’t know this was not normal. I remember being really scared out of my mind. I know they were trying to get us there emotionally, but that’s not how they should have been doing it.”
None of them repeated Malik’s allegation that she was subjected to a simulated rape, but all were paired with another acting partner and claim to have been absorbed in what was happening.
Wallace also told THR that he filmed the casting, though producers denied this in a follow-up request. Producers also shared “reflection letters” with THR from the women who participated, which included intimate details of their own sexual trauma. Performers were told this correspondence would be private, but producers offered them as proof that they were comfortable with what occurred. This sort of behavior struck one anonymous performer as emblematic of the production’s issues.
“As far as reckless professional behavior goes,” they said, “them sending that letter to you without my knowledge or consent seems to be par for the course.”
Read the full report here.