Dear Hollywood, there’s this thing called sexual harassment

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Melissa Silverstein reported recently that Megan Fox is off the third Transformers movie because she’s sick of Michael Bay’s well-known verbal abuse and crap in general. This isn’t too surprising, considering Bay had Fox wash his car for her audition. But will calling him on his misdeeds hurt him any? Silverstein says:

But he gets away with this shit over and over because no one has the power — or the guts — to hold this man accountable.  He could never get away acting like this in an office environment.  It’s also probably true that the if the executives who hire Bay and tolerate his behavior acted like he did, they would be in court up on charges.

Yeah, no kidding. How come the advent of discrimination and harassment laws passed Hollywood right by?

In the 60s, the U.S. began pushing industries to hire minorities whether they liked it or not. They required it of federal contractors, and formed the EEOC to hear and address complaints of discriminatory hiring practices in those industries where it wasn’t required by law. This whole movement is generally known as Affirmative Action. And the reason I bring this up is: a glance at any twelve movie or TV casts from the 60s to the 90s demonstrates that no one ever pushed Hollywood to hire “minorities” in front of the camera. Nor behind the camera.

It follows that if there’s no pressure to hire minorities, there’s no incentive to make them feel welcome. Not until the 90s and Title IX came along, and sexual harassment had a legally definition and remedies under the law. But by then, Hollywood was already a paradise for misogynists and a hellhole for people who weren’t powerful enough to shield themselves from being used.

So why aren’t people complaining to the EEOC or suing for harassment more now? Probably because they lack faith in the government to do anything about it. I’ve heard Hollywood wasn’t considered subject to those rules when it came to casting – you obviously can’t cast a Latina to play Abraham Lincoln. Fair enough, except almost every role was being written for a white man – roles that could just as easily have been written for Latinas if Hollywood weren’t so heavily invested in stereotypes. And in any case, lots of industries had legitimate fears of losing money if they hired diversely: clients didn’t like their accounts being handled by women, didn’t trust women with anything relating to math or numbers, didn’t think women could sell. Assign a woman to a client like that, and you might lose the client.

But over time, that’s exactly what happened. Industries were forced to let women and minorities in, and if they lost clients doing so, tough. That was the whole point – for everyone but Hollywood.

(And what was the excuse for why they couldn’t hire minorities behind the camera? No qualified applicants? No minorities surviving film school because they were so discouraged by it, they left to become lawyers? I can’t imagine an “excuse” for Hollywood that wouldn’t also apply to lots of other industries – who somehow managed to hire minorities anyway.)

With that background, why would anyone ask the government for help? What faith would they have it would help? And so we’re left with a film industry that’s a good thirty years behind most other industries in the United States.

Comments

  1. says

    Good link, Tablesaw. Thanks!

    For everyone: it goes to an abstract of a PDF you can download for free. It’s worth reading, but even the abstract highlights the issue: casting calls typically exclude people based on race and gender by asking specifically for whites and, most often, white men. Exactly what we’re talking about.

  2. AJS says

    I thought of you recently when I read an article in the Entertainment Weekly magazine about the new Toy Story 3. It is introducing seven new characters, only one of which is a voiced by a woman-an octopus toy, played by Whoopi Goldberg. None of the other six toys looked like they had to be necessarily male but they were.

    If nothing else, you’d think women and minorities could be hired to be in cartoons at the very, very, least.

  3. scarlett says

    I think part of the problem is that there’s more leeway given to the entertainment industry about needing a certain ‘look’ than there is to other industries. In no other way could you get away with saying ‘we need someone to meet these ridiculously narrow physical requirements’, at least not so blatantly.

    And I bet if they were told, you need this percentage of women/blacks/asians on your payroll as writers/actors/producers or face stiff legal and financial penalties, those people would be found. That, or a bunch of randoms would suddenly be put on the payroll at award rates to pad the figures out :(

  4. Ray says

    I think part of the problem is that there’s more leeway given to the entertainment industry about needing a certain ‘look’ than there is to other industries.

    I’ve never worked in film but I’ve done some work in theatre, and I hate this… There is so much focus on whether someone “looks the part,” when we could tell so many more stories if we did more experimental casting. Abe Lincoln can’t be played by a Latina if you are most interested in historical accuracy, but if you are interested in telling a story about people, about how someone like Abe Lincoln might act, maybe he can be, at least in a play that is not working in a realist style. It doesn’t have to be that drastic — even just casting a woman who is not conventionally beautiful as Juliet would be a stretch for many theatres, and a welcome one in my book.

  5. says

    If nothing else, you’d think women and minorities could be hired to be in cartoons at the very, very, least.

    Exactly – and I take this as a clear indication there is NO PRESSURE AT ALL on HW to conform to the standards the government set for every other industry.

    In no other way could you get away with saying ‘we need someone to meet these ridiculously narrow physical requirements’, at least not so blatantly.

    And there’s no excuse for it here. They’re not even rationalizing it – they’re just doing it, and no one cares.

    And I bet if they were told, you need this percentage of women/blacks/asians on your payroll as writers/actors/producers or face stiff legal and financial penalties, those people would be found.

    That’s kind of how what the Dept of Labor did in the 70s with what was popularly called the “quota system.” I’m not sure where fines could be imposed, but there was pressure from the government, from changing laws and court case precedents, and from the social landscape for companies to prove themselves by hiring minorities.

    Unfortunately, die-hard bigots pulled a lot of stunts such as: deliberately hiring the least qualified minority member they could find in order to “prove” that so-and-sos really couldn’t handle the work; hiring black women expressly because they filled two quota requirements (race and gender); etc.

    But it made a positive difference. I wouldn’t say all our problems are solved by any stretch, but far more doors are open now than were then. It’s just the whole thing never touched Hollywood.

    The paper at Tablesaw’s link talks about how the law should balance a filmmaker’s right to artistic expression against the legal requirements to cast diversely. Basically, you know, no one’s going to ask that you cast Asian actors in a historical drama where no Asians would have been present. But beyond that, is it really hindering creative expression to ask that filmmakers toss at least a few crumbs to women and minorities? No, absolutely not. Would it really have killed Prince of Persia if they’d cast Persians in the Persian roles? I mean, does a movie propelled by the video game it’s based on even need a big name actor?

  6. scarlett says

    Does anyone remember an episode of Boston Legal where a black woman takes the director of a production of Annie to court for not casting her daughter for being black? In the episode, the judge themselves (can’t remember if they were male or female) pointed out that both girls were talented and the director ultimately had creative control. I can’t remember if the show actually went into it or if it was just something that occoured to me, but I remember thinking how easy it is for an industry with such high levels of unemployment to set such narrow standards of beauty and STILL be able to attract a fair pool of talent, and how hard it is to then argue with such a visual medium that TPTB don’t have the right to pick and choose the ‘right look’ – at least not argue with a solid legal case.

    Jenn, my dad is *always* going on about how affirmative action is basically discrimination, employing less-capable women (and blacks, and Asians) over more-capable men with corresponding consequences in quality. And my argument to *that* is always, well, wasn’t the reverse happening BEFORE affirmative action – less-capable men being promoted over more-capable women? Simply reversing the process doesn’t fix the problem, of course, but it can provide oppurtunity that wouldn’t otherwise have been provided and maybe have people stop and think, hey, maybe all women/blacks/Asians aren’t completely hopeless.

    Also, I’m only vaugely familiar with the story of Annie. Is there any particular reason it would need a white cast?

  7. scarlett says

    And there’s no excuse for it here. They’re not even rationalizing it – they’re just doing it, and no one cares.

    Possibly when doing a boipic? There’s an Australian true-crime series going at the moment based on the story of a high-profile hooker-turned-cop-turned-whistleblower and I think in a situation like that, with recent history and a high-profile figure, then yeah, TPTB have a right to cast according to a very specific image. Anything else? Nothing a decent writer can’t work their way around.

  8. Patrick McGraw says

    This is something I’ve been thinking about with the screenplay that I’m working on. It is a monster movie focusing on a group of young women. Only one character’s race is of any significance to the plot – she’s Native American and some of the others expect her to know legends about the monsters (Wendigo, specifically) and get chewed out for their assumption: even if she did know monster stories, her ancestors are from the wrong end of the continent.

    I’m tempted to specify ethnicity for the rest of the characters as well, since “no race specified” will equal “white” in the studio’s eyes, but Then I realize that it probably wouldn’t be worth it, as they’d likely just be changed to white anyway during casting.

  9. says

    Scarlett: no, generally affirmative action won’t lead to less qualified people getting the job. It’s miraculous how suddenly qualified women or minorities show up. There *are* great African-American or Asian (or…) actors and actresses, there are or would be great actors or actresses with a disability. And there are great actors or actresses who are not conventionally beautiful.

    Hollywood has an advantage, though, in that qualifications can be very ephemeral. How do you judge who’s a better actor? By the speed they learn their lines? So it’s easy to say, “they’re both good, but Whitey is better”. Take that and combine it with the idea that white men get all the people to see a film and anything else is for a focused audience, and, well…

    You have to force them, probably. But will someone?

  10. scarlett says

    there are or would be great actors or actresses with a disability.

    There’s a reference in Glee’s wikipedia entry about how the show decided to hire an able-bodied actor to play a wheelchair-bound characer.

    I think there’s a fear of litigation, that a person with disabilities might slow a production down, fear that viewers might be uncomfortable

    Right, ‘cos no wheelchair-bound person ever worked out how to work around able-bodied people without slowing things down, and they’re all hyper-litigious, apparantly.

  11. scarlett says

    Good point. At least in Glee the character – I forget his name – has a dream sequence where he can dance. But there was absolutely no reason to have the Avatar guy as an able-bodied actor.

  12. says

    Jenn, my dad is *always* going on about how affirmative action is basically discrimination, employing less-capable women (and blacks, and Asians) over more-capable men with corresponding consequences in quality. And my argument to *that* is always, well, wasn’t the reverse happening BEFORE affirmative action – less-capable men being promoted over more-capable women?

    That’s a very popular refrain. And your response is exactly correct: white men benefited from being selected on the basis of gender and skin color without much regard to qualifications. Affirmative Action just sought to even the odds by turning the tables for a few decades.

    And Patrick’s right – it doesn’t *actually* lead to less qualified people getting jobs, despite employers trying to assure it would at some points in the process. Too many companies actually want to get some work done, so they hire the most qualified people who fit the quota, and in the long-run, oh my goodness, societies find out that white men are not uniquely qualified to handle the business world.

    Take that and combine it with the idea that white men get all the people to see a film and anything else is for a focused audience, and, well…

    I believe the whole idea that only Big White Actors bring in the audience could be challenged if someone with the power demanded to see real evidence of this. I did, and no one would ever actually produce numbers. First of all, if you only cast people who aren’t white men as leads in blockbuster movies about once per decade (I’m thinking Sigourney Weaver, Will Smith and Angelina Jolie…? and that’s it for thirty years?), you don’t have enough of a sample to state categorically these people can’t pack the theaters. And yeah, yeah, can’t expect them to risk billions on movies just to test the theory. BUT:

    All 3 of those actors made very profitable blockbusters when given half a chance. When Die Hard succeeds, it’s “Bruce Willis is a GOD, pay him MORE” but when franchises featuring people who aren’t white men make somebody lots of moneys, oh, it was the SFX, it was the creatures, it was the fact there was no competition that summer. Why can’t it just be that SW, WS and AJ are very charismatic actors who can TOTALLY hold an audience’s attention and leave them wanting more when you give them half-decent material? That’s the truth of it: these actors are just as cool as any awesome white male actor, and there are more like them out there, not getting a chance to prove themselves.

    And, as a direct consequence, getting paid a lot less when they get work at all.

  13. says

    There’s a reference in Glee’s wikipedia entry about how the show decided to hire an able-bodied actor to play a wheelchair-bound characer.

    I remember Lauredhel writing about this, but can’t find the specific link. IIRC, she (or someone in comments) pointed out that, okay, maybe if you insist on writing a dance sequence for a wheelchair using character, you’ll need an actor who never requires the use of a wheelchair. But you know all those movies where the wheelchair user gets healed, and they cast an able-bodied actor so he can stand up slowly and painfully and say “I’m healed!”? Well, the vast majority of wheelchair users CAN actually get up and walk at least a little. The wheelchair simply enables them to get around longer distance, or keep moving throughout an entire day.

    On a side note, I’d suggest using the term “wheelchair user” rather than “wheelchair bound.” There have been some disturbing cases where people were actually bound to wheelchairs (and even left to die). Additionally, “bound” focuses on the *needing* of a wheelchair like it’s an entirely imprisoning sort of thing not to be able to walk “normally”, when in fact a wheelchair is very liberating for people who can’t walk “normally” but have a lot to offer and receive by getting out and about.

  14. scarlett says

    Well in this case the character – Artie – has a fantasy where he gets up and does an energetic, if somewhat cheesy, dance routine, so I don’t think they could have had that part and used an actual wheelchair user. Also, I think they establish that Artie is paralysed from an MVA that severed his spinal cord; I assume that would mean he has NO ability to use his legs?

    Having said that, that particular episode could have been rewritten around an actual wheelchair user. That part of it was just about how frustrating it is for him to dream of being a dancer and know that, breathroughs in science notwithstanding, it’s not going to happen. Decent dialogue and acting could have expressed the same idea.

    And Other Patrick had a good point about Avatar; from memory, we never see his human-self walking around (though I’ve forgotten chunks of what was a boring, forgettable movie, so maybe I’m wrong) – so why not having a wheelchair-using actor?

    Actually this reminds me of something I thought of years ago, with the spate of gorgeous actresses ‘uglying up’ to play Oscar-winning roles – Nicole Kidman in The Hours, Charlize Theron in Monster, Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball. Because there are no plain-looking women to be find the width and breadth of Hollywood who could have acted the crap out of those roles, they had to find gorgeous women and make them over to be plain?

  15. Ray says

    But there was absolutely no reason to have the Avatar guy as an able-bodied actor.

    Just to play devil’s advocate, I believe the motion-capture tech they used to do the Nav’i and avatars did involve the actual actors, so for that they needed an able-bodied actor — “needed” as in, the way the movie was written it was necessary. But I agree that a more creative script could have allowed for a wheelchair user to play the part. Even just changing the way that avatars look compared to their human counterparts, so that two different actors could have played the part.

  16. says

    Also, while the motion capture technology did capture both the face muscles and the movement of the actors, since we never see the human character walking, we also wouldn’t notice if the animated avatar did not walk similarly to the human actor. You could have used anyone’s walk, really. Instead, they digitally changed Worthington’s legs to look more atrophied.

  17. scarlett says

    Exactly. It’s making an effort to digitally polish someone up to look more like the ‘type’ they were after when, oh, I dunno, they could have just HIRED that type in the first place.

  18. Patrick McGraw says

    I think another reason Sam Worthington is a perfect example to use here is because he is boring to watch. He’s been in three big-budget summer action movies in the last three years, and i had to point out to some friends that yes, that was the same guy in Terminator Salvation, Avatar, and Clash of the Titans.

    Upon realizing this, they all agreed that it certainly wasn’t because Sam Worthington has a Johnny Depp-like ability to embody a role. It was because Worthington just wasn’t memorable. At all.

    This group was all straight white men between the ages of 20 and 35, who like big summer action movies. They are exactly the audience that Hollywood insists matters most. And all of them found Worthington completely unmemorable.

    In additon: all four of these guys decided not to see Terminator 3 because Linda Hamilton wasn’t in it. They were only willing to see Terminator Salvation because they’d wanted to see a movie dedicated to the “future war” ever since seeing the first movie as children. Christian Bale was a plus, but not the main draw, and Sam Worthington was a non-factor.

    I know it’s just anecdotes, but it does seem to be evidence that Hollywood is wrong not just about audiences in general, but about their supposed “core audience” as well.

  19. Patrick McGraw says

    A clarification on Worthington’s legs in Avatar: the atrophied legs were prosthetics, Worthington’s real legs went through holes in the wheelchair/beds and were digitally edited out.

    And yeah, given that we never see Jake walk (or his twin brother, so that wasn’t a factor either), there was absolutely no requirement that Worthington be the mocap actor for Avatar-Jake’s body movements.

    (Still think the movie would have been so much better with Michelle Rodriguez in Worthington’s role.)

  20. SarahSyna says

    “(Still think the movie would have been so much better with Michelle Rodriguez in Worthington’s role.)”

    This times sixty-two million. She had twenty times the talent, sixty times the screen presence and a hundred times the likeability. I was actually kind of heartbroken during Avatar when she died. First Sigourney Weaver and then her. Why did the cool characters have to die? To make the main guy, whatshisface, more Speshul?

  21. SunlessNick says

    In additon: all four of these guys decided not to see Terminator 3 because Linda Hamilton wasn’t in it.

    True of all the guys I know too.

  22. samantha2074 says

    Basically, you know, no one’s going to ask that you cast Asian actors in a historical drama where no Asians would have been present.

    This reminds me of a discussion I read a few months ago about a possible remake of “My Fair Lady.” One poster complained that the makers would probably add in black or other minority characters in order to be more PC, regardless of historical authenticity. Another pointed out that there were in fact black people in London at the time the musical is set. So, really, filmmakers have far fewer excuses for whitewashing than they think.

  23. says

    Another pointed out that there were in fact black people in London at the time the musical is set. So, really, filmmakers have far fewer excuses for whitewashing than they think.

    Yes, you’re right. Just speaking for myself, as I learned history growing up, I tended to assume milieus were pretty homogeneous because I was being propagandized with the idea that the U.S. was the very first experiment in mixing cultures in human history. By college I was pretty aware things weren’t that simple, but to this day I kind of have to remind myself to ask. There ARE milieus where certain ethnicities just wouldn’t have been, but they’re fewer and further between than *I* was led to believe. And I attended rather decent schools.

  24. Patrick McGraw says

    Another pointed out that there were in fact black people in London at the time the musical is set. So, really, filmmakers have far fewer excuses for whitewashing than they think.

    This is something that I’ve run into a fair bit regarding Warhammer 40,000. “In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war.” (And white people.)

    Someone will inevitably try to defend 40k’s lack of diversity by pointing out that Games Workshop (the developers) are almost all British and wouldn’t be exposed to people of color.

    Not only is this excuse a load of crap even if it were true, it clearly isn’t. GW’s studio is located in Nottingham, which is only about 80% white.

  25. Patrick McGraw says

    I also saw people making a similar complaint to some of the above when the live action G.I. Joe movie made Storm Shadow ethnically Korean rather than Japanese.

    What I found telling was this: Even once some detractors were willing to accept that Koreans make up by far the largest ethnic minority group in Japan, they complained about Storm Shadow being adopted into the Arashikage ninja clan despite being Korean. They had no trouble with Snake Eyes (a white American) doing the same.

  26. SarahSyna says

    Someone will inevitably try to defend 40k’s lack of diversity by pointing out that Games Workshop (the developers) are almost all British and wouldn’t be exposed to people of color.

    What the sandwich? One of the things I remember vividly about visiting England when I was eleven was the sheer amount of black folks. I remember being boggled by it because it was the first time I’d ever seen any.

  27. photondancer says

    Everything I’ve read about Japanese culture and history suggests to me that they hold Koreans in rather more contempt than they do ‘whites’, so I don’t find that example implausible.
    Going back to the OP, I have noticed many times that even when a show is obviously making an effort to introduce non-‘whites’ into the cast, they’re never the main character(s), always subordinate. For several years now I’ve also been noting how many actors have blue eyes; it seems a much higher percentage than the general population. (I use ‘actor’ to encompass both sexes)

    And what was the excuse for why they couldn’t hire minorities behind the camera? No qualified applicants?

    And how many times have we been told about how the latest hot actor was ‘discovered’ by a talent scout while working some menial job? are we supposed to believe ‘blacks’ and latinas don’t work menial jobs?

  28. Scarlett says

    photondancer, one of the things that struck me about being in the UK and watching a lot of UK shows is a) how many black people they have in the cast b) what a non-issue having black people in the cast is, c) the difference in accents and d) what a non-issue the difference is accents is. I can’t remember the last time I heard a character in an Australian show who had something other than what I call the middle-class Sydney accent and they didn’t make a point about them being from north Qld/the NT/NZ.

  29. photondancer says

    Scarlett, you’re probably right. I watch very little tv (I happened to watch 3 USAain shows tonight, but that’s almost unprecedented) and most British shows are on channels I can’t receive. I don’t watch Australian shows at all, but you’re right: I can’t recall ever hearing the broad Australian accent in commercials for Aussie series, not even the Underbelly type shows. And you can’t tell me nobody in the underclass speaks with that distinctive accent.

  30. Scarlett says

    Well, I call it middle-class Sydney, which I suspect is the Aus version of JK’s LA accent. Weather you’re from North Qld, Tasmania or Perth, everyone had the same accent. I’m from Perth and I hear different accents in my own city.

    Funily enough on Underbelly – one of the main actors, Wil Traval (he plays Jo Dooley – one of the good cops) is from a farm in Victoria. Yet he has the middle-class Sydney accent. I refuse to believe that’s how he talked to begin with.

    And the Steve Irwin accent? Doesn’t exist. Except to people who believe in crocodile hunters.

  31. DragonLord says

    I wonder how often the circular arguments of – The script is written for a white male lead, so we can’t possibly hire someone that isn’t a white male lead.

    coupled with.

    Well there’s only white male stars so there’s no point not writing the script to try to utilise them.

    I also have a lot of trouble with the unionisation of the film and stage industry (in that it is currently an oxymoron to be a professional actor and not be in the union) which means that the rules state that they can’t hire outside the union unless there is no-one in the union that could play the role. And that you can’t get into the union unless you have played a role in that unions country.

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