It’s been a year since the #MeToo movement began, and conversations around abuse and power in the entertainment industry are fundamentally different. But has anything actually improved in Hollywood? We asked a number of women to tell us how their experiences in the workplace have changed (or not) in the past year, from actors to cinematographers to writers and producers.
Reporting by: Zoe Haylock, Antonia Blyth, Gazelle Emami, Taylor Ferber, Rachel Handler, Scott Huver, E. Alex Jung, Kathryn VanArendonk, and Katja Vujić
Kerry Bishé, actress (The Romanoffs, Halt and Catch Fire)
I can’t believe what I used to take for granted. The way I was casually treated, having to try to convince people that things were their idea in order to be heard. I got an email from an old showrunner, Andy Bobrow, that I did a Fox pilot with, who said he’d been thinking about that time, and he was so ashamed to remember that in the audition he told me to smile more. Things like that — smile, all the time. How are we going to know that you’re friendly or nice so that we can root for you if you’re not smiling? And you work with it, you roll with it, and you fucking smile!
But to get an email from someone who really thought about that. You know, he had some stories about some other content in the show, and he was like, “I can’t believe I made you do that. I’m so embarrassed about it, and I’m learning.” I was so moved and excited to get that email and to hear from him. And executives at Fox approved all of it. There was nothing that he did that was inappropriate at all. And you know, I don’t know why I only got one [email].
Alyssa Milano, actress and producer (Insatiable)
I was in a very unique situation because I had done long-term television shows. So I wasn’t having to fight for jobs because my jobs lasted for so long. Who’s the Boss?, I was 11 to 19. And then Melrose Place I was 19 to 22. And Charmed I was 24 to, I think, 32, whatever it was. So I didn’t have to really invoke a certain aspect of what women have to go through in this business to get jobs because I was blessed to be on steady jobs. But I mean, yeah, we always had skimpy clothes. There was definitely a very specific need to project a certain sexuality in women’s, especially women’s programming, because how else would we possibly get the men to watch? And of course, that has shifted a lot, which is wonderful. I remember one guy came over to me and said, “Oh, I love Charmed. I just don’t watch it with the sound up.” And I thought, “Yeah, that’s probably right. Like, yeah. I get that.”
But different times. Different times. We’re just now starting to feel the shift. It’s only been a year. We [women] were always pitted against each other, right? This is the first time that I’ve ever felt a true sisterhood within the industry. Like a real sisterhood. So we have a network of women in the industry through Time’s Up that are very, very vocal about being careful of certain situations. Has anybody worked with so and so? What are your thoughts? Have you ever had an experience with this? That is definitely something that is happening right now. By the way, we’re all part of a union so that’s should really be a union job. The union is not protecting its union members, and that’s been a big issue anyway if we have to sort of come together and mobilize a group within. There was no code of conduct in SAG before this all happened.
Tyra Banks, producer, actress
On my own productions, we’ve always had certain talks. But now it’s like, “Everybody, sit down. Mandatory. I’m calling this room.” There are sessions that are actually being led and step-by-step like, “This is no, this is this, you shouldn’t do this, don’t block a woman’s path in the hallway,” all these things that people didn’t even know, they weren’t aware. I feel so empowered as an executive producer to be able to have that type of education on my productions.
Because I was a creator so early, I didn’t feel it like so many other people did. But as a model I would see things constantly. I would go on a casting and then I would leave and then another model would go and she’d be like, “Did he blah, blah, blah you?” And I’m like, “No …” You just heard it constantly and then you heard, “Stay away from that photographer, don’t go to castings at his apartment.” It just became the norm and everybody helped each other to stay away from certain people. We thought that’s how you had to survive. I’m so happy seeing so many things, like this talent act that’s protecting models. There’s a lot that we did not have.
Hilary Swank, actress
I’ve seen things get better. I also see moments where there’s steps back, too. But I do see change, and I certainly experience it firsthand by different questions being asked, even on the red carpet. I’m looking forward to seeing how it continues to proceed and to know that we’re paving a way for young girls and young boys in the future, that this isn’t gonna have to be a conversation anymore.
Carmen Cabana, cinematographer (Narcos, Vida)
I came to Hollywood in 2005 and to some degree I pretty much dealt with everything that is being spoken about openly nowadays — machismo, being stereotyped, sexual advances, you name it. I am fortunate to say that I built a name and a solid career and network without having to compromise. Like many of us, I did occasionally dislike the business because of some people in it, and I do recall writing a letter to myself back in 2007 in which I wrote in capital letters: I AM NOT DESPERATE, and I’ll never be too desperate to do something that would attempt against my soul because there is always another way and another opportunity around the corner. I have always [been] proud of being a woman, Afro-Latina, and who I am as a human being, so when I was looked down or made fun of because I was too short or didn’t fit the stereotype of a cinematographer, I didn’t let it affect me.
Many of us deeply love our industry and we want it to be a better place. Truth is, there is no rational reason why people have to tolerate abuse or discrimination. It simply is not okay, and I am glad history is changing, even in baby steps. The key to this change truly is in the hiring process. When we hire someone, we give something more profound than a simple job — we give an opportunity to show what we are made of, what we can do, to prove that old social archetypes are wrong, that there is a huge blessing in diversity, not just in the human interactions, but in the content itself. It is time to deliver the unexpected.
Patricia Clarkson, actress (Sharp Objects)
I absolutely think things are different. The timbre has changed, the tone. I would say the way certain male directors have spoken to me is different. They’re just quieter. I feel it, and I maybe I want to believe it, but I feel a difference. I feel a tectonic shift has taken place in Hollywood for the first time.
Mireille Enos, actress (The Killing, The Catch)
The thing that is different is that it’s no longer new, it’s just part of the dialogue. There’s something in the conversation that it’s been out there long enough that we’re all just getting used to it. And once something becomes part of conversation, it can have power. It’s like a touchstone — we don’t have to work so hard when there is the need to bring something up.
Elisabeth Moss, actress (The Handmaid’s Tale, Mad Men)
I remember years ago pitching a project and it had a female lead, and it was a sort of question about whether or not you could have an entire project led by a woman and about a woman. Five years later, it’s a really dumb question to ask in a meeting. It doesn’t mean that people don’t still ask the question in their heads, unfortunately, which is what we’re still trying to change. But we’re getting past the point where you can ask that out loud without shame. And embarrassment.
Sarah Jones, playwright and actress (Sell/Buy/Date)
Working in TV recently, I’ve had meetings where there are two or three other women in the room, and one straight, red-faced white guy who basically starts apologizing for the #MeToo scandal du jour before the meeting even starts. He’ll be like, “So, uh, the (fill-in-the-blank-disgraced comic/exec/actor) thing is crazy, feels like at this point every guy is guilty — hope this [meaning, his being there] is okay.” And I always think, “Well, were you planning on assaulting anyone? Otherwise it’ll probably just be a meeting, as usual.” The other thing is, doing my current solo show, Sell/Buy/Date, has gotten seriously eerie. I started writing it back in 2013, and an early draft had Trump as a mentor to one of the pimp characters. This was long before I knew he had any political aspirations — to me he was just a misogynist blowhard on reality TV, and I eventually removed him because just having his name in the script cheapened it. But since #MeToo, it’s felt more urgent to reference him directly again, so I just do it without saying his actual name.
Elizabeth Reaser, actress (The Haunting of Hill House)
Personally, I don’t think it’s changed at all. I love that it’s changed in the only sense, for me, in that people are speaking up. That’s different. But I haven’t seen any difference in terms of how a set works. There’s usually not that many women at work with me. On [Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House], there were several female actresses, which I had never even experienced before — being in scenes with three actresses. That was maybe the first time I’ve ever had that. Usually, there’s like one woman. I’m really grateful that I got to do it, but I’m not overly optimistic.
Meredith Averill, TV writer and producer (Jane the Virgin, The Haunting of Hill House)
There’s a lot more listening happening. There’s much more awareness of what people are saying in rooms. Men are paying more attention to what they say. I appreciate that, but the flip side of that is, I also don’t necessarily want to be treated with kid gloves. So I think it’s a balance. But I feel like I’ve been very fortunate to work with men who have been respectful from day one and didn’t need the #MeToo movement necessarily to change their thinking.
When I was doing a series a few years ago, I was working with two male producers who were my partners on the show and they had many more credits than I did and were much more lauded. I was kind of a newcomer. When we would meet with writers, the writer would speak to the men, and my male producers would constantly be turning to me and saying, “No, she’s actually the showrunner, she’s the creator.” Right away, that was something where I was like, “They’re never going to respect me in the room if they did that.” This was actually a tip that I learned from Michelle King on The Good Wife when I was asking her advice on staffing up a room: She told me her experience of staffing up for The Good Wife, and she’d have Robert King, her husband and co-creator, on one side and David Zucker, her producing partner, on the other side, and if the writers would only be speaking to Robert and David it would tell her something very clear. So that’s something I thought about a lot when I was staffing that room and staffing future rooms, too. I vet everyone, men or women. But with the writers room that I put together for Locke & Key, which I’m working on right now — it’s a Netflix horror series — the men in the room I went out of my way to vet.
Gayle Rankin, actress (GLOW)
I work on a really female-heavy show — GLOW — and I found that there are way more conversations about the #MeToo movement and making sure everyone is comfortable and being aware that there’s an open-door policy for any kind of conversation to be had. I’m doing a bunch of films right now, too, where that is also the case. I feel very supported, so I do feel like we’re making progress, but there is much, much, much more progress to happen.
Emily Meade, actress (The Deuce)
I’ve been in this industry since I was 18. When I was 16, I started modeling, and through that, I did one film. And right off the bat from that film, I was in a sex scene. I was playing these really sexualized roles throughout my career, and I’ve always been really picky and attempted to be as protective and discerning about how I am sexualized in film. I have, sadly, seen opportunities lost due to me not wanting to play certain characters that I felt were sexualized for no reason. Sometimes I’ve sort of cynically said, “If only I didn’t have the boundaries I have, maybe would get further in this industry.” And then also, “if only I was a man,” and seeing that men who are my peers and who I’ve come up with and were the same age as me and doing the same amount of work as me very quickly progressed to a point of having far more power and voice in this industry than I did. Then, the frustration of feeling sometimes, because I have wanted to be treated the same as a man, I have gone into meetings and auditions trying to be genderless and not lean on sexuality as much as possible. I bitterly worry that that has gotten in the way of certain opportunities.
It wasn’t until people started talking about it that it ever occurred to me that it was even possible to do anything. The first moment it occurred to me that I could possibly offer a solution was in talking to HBO and the creators of The Deuce about the fact that I feel like there should be somebody there to protect people, women and men, during the filming of sex scenes. It seems insane to me that there is not a person on set whose sole job is to facilitate and choreograph and protect the actors while filming sexual scenes. I didn’t know it was already a profession that even existed, that there was such thing as an intimacy coordinator. HBO was incredibly receptive and basically said immediately that they would hire someone. By the time we went back to production, we had Alicia Rodis, who’s now our intimacy coordinator, and we had her for the whole second season. It completely transformed it in that way. By no means was that the resolution to all the problems, but I think it can be a big resolution to that problem. It’s like having a parent or a protector, somebody that you can say, “Hey, I’m worried about this one thing we’re supposed to do, but I don’t want the director to be upset. How much do you think the director wants that? Do you think you can talk to him about it?” And for her to be the one to talk to them. She’s ultimately not the one who has to be naked and she doesn’t have to work with the director in that same way, so she’s not as worried about disappointing or upsetting them. To have that communication on top of her being there physically to see things and help protect in the moment has been so helpful and made me able to relax and focus on my performance.
Hopefully, now in this next year, we’re gonna find more of a balance and a way of not just citing and bringing attention to the problem but finding a solution. Obviously, the first year [of #MeToo], everything was so shocking and so new and a lot of people haven’t known how to react and haven’t known the proper protocol of how to handle these things especially because they’re so nuanced and so varied.
Amy Ryan, actress (Beautiful Boy, Birdman)
I’d like to believe change is coming. The last two films I worked on were female directors. That’s a total of seven in 31 years [with female directors], so, you know … but maybe it is a sign of change that the last two are back to back.
Diane Lane, actress
Whatever relationship I feel I have to that Zeitgeist of this moment — and I don’t think it’s a moment, it is a movement — it’s not industry-related. There is the Anita Hill trigger that I still have in my body. And having seen that as a young person, and witnessing the terrible treatment of her being re-triggered recently in that way, it was never about harassment in the workplace. And I never experienced the couch as a verb. So I kind of am a very lucky individual, to have missed out on that, but, you know, I’m not immune. I’m female, and as we know, the statistics are much higher the less you get precious about how you slice the demographics down.
Carey Mulligan, actress (Wildlife, Collateral)
I think it feels different. There’s so far to go, but there are people making concrete steps within our industry, and probably more importantly, the world. People in London say that our attitudes are different. If I walk past a [construction] site now and someone commented, I’d go and tell them to fuck themselves, whereas before I probably would have just gone red and walked along. A year later I feel like I’d be like, “Get fucked.” So I think that’s changed. But then, I can say that from a position of privilege and being in a city like this. We’re a long way away from that being widespread change.
Candice Patton, actress (The Flash, The Game)
I definitely feel less scared, which is instantly empowering. I feel less scared to have conversations about story lines. I feel less scared to have conversations about my pay. I feel less scared to have conversations about bullying or intimidation, or whatever it is. Because I know there is a community of women, and men, who are no longer willing to let these things slide. Just having that support system is a game-changer. It’s changed everything for so many women and men to say, “You know what, I’m going to speak my truth.”
The pay thing, for me, was one of those things where it wasn’t as big of a fight as I was expecting it to be. Just given the times and where we are, I think everyone’s just like, “All right, this is what you deserve, and we’re not going to fight you on that.” That’s something I’m really appreciative of. And I can’t really say if that was the movement, or not, that encouraged that. But I have a suspicion it helped.