When looking for a decent film to watch that has been produced in the last 30 years you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that doesn’t have Harvey Weinstein’s name attached to it in some capacity. Look back even further and you’ll find the systematic abuse of female talent in Hollywood’s ‘Golden Era’ of the 1930s and 40s. Studio organised abortions, shocking diets, and drug abuse often started from the pressure placed on these young girls by studio executives, were all commonplace in Hollywood. But with the #MeToo movement now in its second year and showing no signs of slowing down, we need to address the way we are watching these films that have been vehicles of abuse. We must also look at the content of the films Hollywood has and is producing, and demand more from the industry.
It isn’t just the atrocious sexual assault scandals and shocking abuse of power in the film industry that are cause for concern. This behaviour, which is a direct result of the patriarchal system within Hollywood, is filtered down onto our screens. Cult noughties films such as Superbad (2007), The Hangover (2009), and Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010) all include numerous sexist and homophobic jokes that make for uncomfortable viewing in 2019. Whilst a young Jonah Hill making an inappropriate sexual comment about Emma Stone in Superbad may not feel as harmful as the Weinstein scandal, the two acts may enable each other. If real-life sexual harassment is not taken seriously then how can we expect it to be any different in films?
Even now, we still have films being cast with Johnny Depp, a known abuser, while his ex-wife and alleged victim is labelled by the press as a lying gold digger. Mel Gibson is having a rather surprising career comeback after a run of racist and anti-Semitic outbursts throughout his career. Then there is Roman Polanski who has been a fugitive from the United States since 1977 when he was charged with statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. How can we expect better from our films when these are the people making them?
If a film director thinks it is acceptable for James Bond to act in the way he has done in films such as Goldfinger (1964) and as recent as Skyfall (2012), then we as the audience must question if this is acceptable in a post #MeToo world. I’m not suggesting that we hold directors accountable for every action we see on screen, but simply start questioning whether the treatment of women and other minority groups in these situations progresses the film in a healthy and productive way. And if it doesn’t, should scenes like these, that include sexual assault and rape that is presented in a trivial way, be included in our films?
Powerful actors also have a duty to ensure the films that are produced are acceptable for a post #MeToo world. At the 2018 Academy Awards Frances McDormand led by example and urged actors to use their sway to demand an inclusion rider to ensure more women, people of colour, and LGBTQ+ actors and crew are included in projects they are attached to. This is a simple way to ensure there is more representation of minority groups on screen and behind the scenes, which will hopefully in turn eradicate a lot of issues film sets face by having more voices added to important discussions.
We must ask ourselves, how do we watch these films in a post #MeToo world? Morally, are we allowed to enjoy these films knowing the abuse that was going on behind the scenes? If we shun these films, are we punishing those who are innocent of any wrongdoing, and is this fair? These are the questions that the film industry and society are still trying to answer as we navigate this new world and hope hold those who are guilty for wrongdoing in Hollywood accountable for their crimes. To see a real change on our screens we need to see a change going on behind them. A more diverse cast and crew on every film, and the removal of the people who have held Hollywood captive as a result of their abusive ways are a start, but first a new standard for the film industry needs to be set.
Words, Madelene Aldridge
Image, Ivy Doxtader