Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth
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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

Sarah Polley's Op-Ed On Men in Hollywood Is a Welcome Reflection

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It seems like the Weinstein scandal has produced nothing but pain and bile. Just now, James Corden is getting lambasted for cracking jokes at an amFAR gala on Saturday evening that were not “too soon,” but just blind to viewers’ fresh and old wounds–not just from Weinstein, but as many women know, from abusers in general. “[Tonight] is so beautiful that Harvey Weinstein has already asked tonight up to his hotel to give him a massage,” he joked to a roomful of groans and then threw in the classic, “if you don’t like that joke, you should probably leave now.” They weren’t going quietly. Asia Argento and Rose McGowan, who’ve alleged that Weinstein raped them, called Corden a pig. (He has apologized.) Weinstein’s former allies are publishing screeds. At this writing, Emmanuel Macron is announcing that he will revoke Weinstein’s Légion d’Honneur award. And now Woody Allen is jumping in. This list we made of sexual assault allegations is getting depressingly long. Donald Trump Jr won’t stop yelling. A thoughtful assessment is timely.

Actress and filmmaker Sarah Polley, who started her career in television as a child, has written that letter, titled “The Men You Meet Making Movies,” for the New York Times. She, too, says that she was invited to a “private meeting” with Harvey Weinstein at age 19. But she was fortunate enough to have her publicist stick around and the gumption to refuse his offer for a “very close relationship,” which, he implied, could lift her to stardom. The encounter made her look around.

On sets, I saw women constantly pressured to exploit their sexuality and then chastised as sluts for doing so. Women in technical jobs were almost nonexistent, and when they were there, they were constantly being tested to see if they really knew what they were doing. You felt alone, in a sea of men. I noticed my own tendency to want to be “one of the boys,” to distance myself from the humiliation of being a woman on a film set, where there were so few of us. Then came the photo shoots in which you were treated like a model with no other function than to sell your sexuality, regardless of the nature of the film you were promoting.

It wasn’t til directing her first film Away From Her that she realized what a healthy desexualized work environment looked like:

I had no idea, until then, how little respect I had been shown as an actor. Now there were no assistant directors trying to cajole me into sitting on their laps, no groups of men standing around to assess how I looked in a particular piece of clothing. I could decide what I felt was important to say, how to film a woman, without her sexuality being a central focus without context.

Kind and sensitive men are “the exception, not the rule,” she writes, recalling an incident where a producer told her that a rape scene was being handled appropriately because Dakota Fanning was “fine” after doing one at age 12.

Polley has many saddening examples in the piece, experienced, at some point, by most of her colleagues. She summarizes the feeling:

The only thing that shocked most people in the film industry about the Harvey Weinstein story was that suddenly, for some reason, people seemed to care.

It’s the takeaway of the week. On Friday night, Steven Colbert asked Tig Notaro–whose new show One Mississippi includes a sexual assault storyline–if she thought that we are “at a place right now where women might feel more comfortable coming forward.” Notaro says abusers are “everywhere,” but the scandal is “cracking the glass.”