into it

Time’s Up Began in a Stirring Oprah Speech and Wound Up in a Disreputable Heap. How?

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

The Me Too movement, society’s reckoning with sexual violence and impropriety, began five years ago — and right now, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Danny Masterson and Paul Haggis are all in court for cases of alleged sexual assault. But Time’s Up, which for a minute was the most high-powered Me Too organization in Hollywood, is nowhere to be found.

By some measures, all those men facing punishment for their crimes or alleged crimes are signs Me Too worked. At the same time, parts of the Me Too movement turned out to be a big failure. On the latest episode of Into It, host Sam Sanders spoke with The Hollywood Reporter’s Rebecca Keegan, who recently wrote a story titled “#MeToo, Five Years Later: Why Time’s Up Imploded,” about how Time’s Up fell apart and what, if anything, it says about the Me Too movement. You can read an excerpt of their conversation below and check out the full episode wherever you get your podcasts.

Into It

Let’s go back about four and a half years, when some very powerful women in the industry decided to introduce a new advocacy group called Time’s Up at the 2018 Golden Globes.
It was about three months since the Harvey Weinstein stories broke from the New York Times and The New Yorker, and that had set off this kind of flurry of upset and anger in Hollywood just as it had everywhere else in the world. The first indication this was not going to be your average Golden Globes was when the actresses, the A-list actresses, started showing up all in black gowns.

I remember that.
And their plus-ones were not their partners but were activists. Tarana Burke was there as someone’s plus-one. Dolores Huerta was there, and it was, I think, a very sincere attempt to realize that the Me Too movement was about more than actresses — a lot more.

But it was an A-list star who first showed off Time’s Up to the world.
Oprah was accepting an award at the Golden Globes, which is why she was making a speech to begin with. And she used the opportunity of that speech to declare that “time was up.” Lots of things happen at the Golden Globes that people don’t pay attention to: People are focused on their drinks and their meals and they’re schmoozing — and that? You could hear a pin drop. Even the bartenders stopped and watched. It was a significant moment. It was a moment of Hollywood acknowledging this enormous, egregious behavior publicly.

You have to remember this speech. The next morning, major news outlets were wondering if Oprah Winfrey might run for president. That Oprah voice — she could say anything, and you’re like, Yes, I believe you. Out of this speech, out of that energy, the group Time’s Up forms. Walk us through that briefly.
Well, the group had actually started forming in the months before that big Golden Globes launch, and it started in an unlikely place — at least unlikely to me — and that’s conference rooms at CAA, the agency that is one of the most powerful agencies in Hollywood and that had represented some of the actresses who were harassed by Harvey Weinstein, including Gwyneth Paltrow. So they started convening meetings. They started involving some of their A-list clients, and the Golden Globes was basically where they announced to the world what they had been doing in these meetings.

So then was the Oprah speech at all tied to that Time’s Up group that was forming or not?
A hundred percent. Oprah was a founding donor to what’s called the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which is the most concrete thing that came out of Time’s Up. It’s a part of the organization that helps connect people with lawyers if they’ve been sexually harassed. Sometimes it helps pay legal fees, and when you hear about the tens of millions of dollars that were raised for Time’s Up, most of it went into creating the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. Oprah was one of the people who gave a big chunk of money to that fund, and her speech was very deliberately pointing people toward the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund and the work of Time’s Up.

After that debut, what exactly is all of Time’s Up doing? You mentioned the Legal Defense Fund. What is the extent of their work at that moment?
A lot of people don’t understand that Time’s Up has these different pieces. The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund is housed at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C. It’s housed separately from this Hollywood organization. Their money founded it, but they don’t run it. Then there’s this other nonprofit based in Hollywood that’s trying to figure out what exactly they should do, and there’s a lot of different ideas floating across the table. Ultimately, the group decided to focus pretty specifically on workplace sexual harassment, and they have these different arms to deal with different types of workplaces: There’s Time’s Up Healthcare, there’s Time’s Up Tech, etc.

It seems as if, from the start, there was some disagreement on focus.
For sure. One of the central issues was that they had used these A-list actresses to draw attention to the group and help fundraise, but then there was a question of “How much should we be focusing on the problems of these A-list actresses versus the problems of other people?” That became a point of tension. Many people were very sincere in wanting to get involved. Some people wanted the appearance of giving a crap without actually needing to do so. And then there were some people who were looking for a way to have a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on them as companies.

“I am Time’s Up approved.”
You got it.

What was the most glaring or most talked-about conflict of interest with Time’s Up, if there was one?
Well, what I would say broke Time’s Up were the Andrew Cuomo sexual-harassment allegations.

Even just hearing you say it, I’m like, Really? Wow.
Tell me why — I’m curious to hear your reaction to that.

Your story points out that, eventually, some members of Time’s Up leadership start to counsel and advise former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo as he is facing allegations of sexual assault. I don’t understand. In what world did the Time’s Up people say, “Yeah, let’s help him out,” and not know that would be a problem?
This is what a lot of the victims who signed an open letter — over a hundred of them demanding more transparency at Time’s Up — were saying: How could an organization ostensibly designed to help victims be providing any kind of advice or counsel to someone accused of sexual harassment? There were smaller examples along the way that led people to think this kind of conflict of interest was going to be a problem: A few months before the Cuomo revelation, a bunch of members of Time’s Up Healthcare resigned when a member of the Time’s Up Board had an allegation of sexual harassment at a hospital she worked at — and they said that she failed to report it.

So then this goes on to blow up the organization. It led to the resignation of the CEO at the time. And the board chair. And then all but three board members left, and then most of Time’s Up staff was laid off. All of that came just ’cause of the Cuomo stuff? Or were there other things going on, too, that caused this demise?
There were other things. Certainly, the Cuomo scandal was the proximate cause. And there were some attempts after that to rebuild the organization. Supposedly, Time’s Up is still trying to rebuild — although what that exactly means is unclear because they don’t have a CEO right now, they haven’t had any programming for about a year, and they don’t have staff. So what Time’s Up is now is a question. They haven’t formally dissolved. The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund still exists and is still taking new cases, but the general nonprofit organization is a ghost organization right now.

Where is Oprah? And all the A-listers? Where’d they go?
You know how when a friend does something embarrassing, people will just not talk about that friend? Time’s Up is that friend we don’t talk about. One of the things that was interesting is when Roe v. Wade was overturned this past summer, a lot of the key figures in Time’s Up reemerged as being organized around abortion rights. They were having these meetings to discuss what to do next, and nobody ever mentioned Time’s Up in those meetings. It was like Time’s Up had never existed.

Is there a larger issue at play here that Hollywood still needs to get over? Just like this focus on symbolism: They love the symbols, the black squares, the white suits at the award shows, the open letters, which I don’t really think ever do anything. I’m watching the flameout of Time’s Up and saying, “Are we still an industry in Hollywood and a society at large that is still too focused on symbol over substance?”
Look, film and TV are visual mediums. They are focused on “what does someone look like? What can you communicate in a quick flash of a moment in a photograph on a red carpet?” The sort of hard work of changing society doesn’t get done that way. A symbol is powerful, a symbol is meaningful — but it can’t be the only thing. A problem that happened with Time’s Up was the focus on symbol and perception over very unglamorous, quiet, real work.

This excerpt has been edited and condensed.

Time’s Up Has Fallen Far Since Oprah’s Golden Globe Speech