Anita Hill is encouraging the film and television industry to adopt new protections in response to covid-19 furloughs and production halts.
Hill is chair of the Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment, a group formed after the Harvey Weinstein allegations opened the door for many others to talk about rampant harassment, abuse, and discrimination in Hollywood. In a Variety op-ed, Hill points out that in times of corporate upheaval—such as the 2008 recession and the recent coronavirus shutdowns—hard-won diversity and anti-harassment initiatives are often the first things to slip as industries rush to become profitable again. Hill writes that 350,000 entertainment industry jobs have disappeared in the last six weeks, due to coronavirus shutdowns and stay-at-home orders and worries that even as those jobs slowly start to return, strides in workplace diversity will be set back:
“During the Great Recession of 2008, industry diversity and inclusion lost ground. This will likely be repeated as a result of COVID-19, just as the efforts were rebounding. As hiring gets under way, practices must ensure fair representation behind the camera and on the screen.”
The op-ed also points out that, considering Hollywood’s ageist practice, covid-19 could mean even fewer jobs for those over 60 in the film and television industry, where those voices are already scarce:
“Only 11.8% of the 1,256 speaking characters in 25 best picture-nominated movies from 2014 to 2016 were 60 years of age or older, and the near-total absence of staff writers over 50 is clear evidence of systemic age discrimination. With eight out of 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. in adults 65 and older, this vulnerable population could not only be shut out of entertainment jobs but also disappear from storytelling entirely.”
Hill’s solutions include adopting transparent policies around work-from-home meetings, particularly one-on-one meetings, stressing the idea that discrimination and harassment policies still apply, along with updating those policies in anticipation of new challenges created by the increased prevalence of meetings taking place outside the office. She also advocates for the importance of continued adherence to diversity and anti-harassment policies adopted before coronavirus shutdowns and hopes that as productions restart, dedicated individuals on-set to monitor for compliance with policies will become the industry standard along with clear systems for reporting abuses and violations of those policies.
In 1991, Hill famously testified that she had been sexually harassed by her former boss, Clarance Thomas, at his Supreme Court confirmation hearings and has been the chair of the Hollywood Commission since 2017. In late 2019 and early 2020, over 10,000 people took the Hollywood Commission’s survey on workplace sexual harassment.