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How #MeToo has changed the entertainment industry

The hashtag #MeToo began as a way to show support to victims and survivors of sexual assault or harassment.
Photo: Erica Barillari · The Sentry

More experiences highlighted, but some abusers avoid scrutiny

Just over a year ago, The New York Times published an interview with actress Uma Thurman in which she claimed producer Harvey Weinstein assaulted her. The interview was particularly shocking given that Thurman had worked on many Weinstein Company projects, including Pulp Fiction and the Kill Bill franchise. 

The entertainment industry is still navigating the aftermath of the #MeToo movement. In January, Denver Comedy Works owner Wende Curtis declined to book comedian Louis C.K., who is currently in the midst of planning a comeback tour a year after admitting to harassing women who worked in comedy. Curtis said one of C.K.’s alleged victims reached out to her via email, which helped solidify her decision.

“It doesn’t appear to me that he’s paid his penance,” Curtis said. “He has to look at himself and do some hard, introspective work.”

Gina Portolese, a CU Denver student and stand-up comedian, said of Curtis’ decision, “I do admire that she is able to hold her position on it and utilize her position to not allow something like this be continuously swept under the rug, as it has been all throughout history.”

However, it is worth noting that fellow comedian Aziz Ansari will be performing at Denver’s Buell Theater on Feb. 16. Ansari also found himself accused of sexual misconduct as the #MeToo movement gained momentum within the entertainment industry. In January 2018, an anonymous woman accused the comedian of coercing her into sexual activity after a date.

Portolese said she is not personally concerned about Ansari plotting a comeback tour, as “He did something almost all men do.” However, she did add that she admires the woman who came forward about her experience with Ansari, as even though she feels his alleged behavior is relatively common, “It is still unacceptable behavior and should not be tolerated.”

Other comedians have overtly used the #MeToo movement as part of their comedy acts, perhaps acknowledging a cultural shift around the issue. Michelle Wolf on her Netflix series The Break featured a sketch about how the relatively common phrase “me too” is now associated with sexual abuse and trauma.

Portolese added that while other high-profile comedians like Hannah Gatsby have been using their platform to talk about serious issues, it’s less noticeable in local comedy circles. “If anything, open mics still tend to be masturbation jokes and living in parent’s basements,” she said.

Elsewhere in the entertainment industry, many actors, wearing black in solidarity with victims, notably used the 2018 Golden Globe Awards to invite women’s rights activists and wore pins to promote the recently launched “Time’s Up,” a legal defense fund for victims of sexual harassment.

The reaction to famous figures in the entertainment industry accused of sexual misconduct has been mixed, though. C.K., and Ansari to a lesser extent, has been widely condemned and taken a break from the spotlight other than occasional comedy club appearances. 

Likewise, Bryan Singer, who directed Best Picture contender Bohemian Rhapsody, has also been absent from award ceremonies and left unmentioned in appearances by the film’s cast and crew after facing multiple accusations of sexually assaulting teenage boys. The allegations against Singer and others in the entertainment industry, like Kevin Spacey, exemplify that even though the #MeToo movement has been mostly associated with women, there have also been many men coming forward about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault as well.

However, other famous celebrities, like actor Michael Douglas who was accused of sexually harassing a coworker in the 1980s, have seemingly brushed aside accusations. Douglas appeared in 2018’s Antman and the Wasp and received a Golden Globe for Best Actor in Television Series–Musical or Comedy at the 2019 ceremony in January.

It appears that the #MeToo movement has also led to a desire for featuring more voices and being more inclusive in Hollywood. Actress Frances McDormand ended her 2018 acceptance speech for her Best Actress win at the Academy Awards by uttering the phrase “Inclusion rider.” McDormand later explained that, for an actor, having an inclusion rider in your contract means “you can ask for and/or demand at least 50 percent diversity in not only the casting but also the crew.”

Similarly, Regina King, as she accepted the 2019 Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress, said, “I’m going to use my platform right now to say in the next two years, everything that I produce, I’m making a vow… to make sure that everything that I produce that is 50 percent women… I challenge you to challenge yourselves and stand with us in solidarity and do the same.”

Some film and television projects within the last two years reflect a desire within Hollywood to feature more diverse experiences, particularly with women. The 2018 remake of Suspiria featured an almost entirely female cast, including Tilda Swinton as a male character. 

Other female-centric projects explicitly address sexual assault. 2018’s Sharp Objects featured a protagonist struggling with alcoholism and self-harm after being sexually abused as a teenager. Additionally, Lifetime/Netflix’s You from 2018, while filmed mostly from the point of view of a male character, addresses stalking and intimate partner violence.

The focus on highlighting female experiences is noticeable within the music industry as well. Ariana Grande’s 2018 single “God is a Woman,” which peaked at number eight on the US Billboard Hot 100, celebrated female sexuality, while the music video featured Grande sitting impassively as a group of men in suits literally hurled insults at her. In an interview with Billboard, after the outlet declared her 2018’s Woman of the Year, Grande spoke of others often underestimating her musical abilities as a petite woman. “Believe it or not, there are plenty of tiny women that can do this,” Grande said.

The music industry in particular has faced scrutiny in the #MeToo era. For example, music journalists and fans have known about R&B singer R. Kelly’s predatory behavior toward teenage girls since at least 1994, when then-27-year-old Kelly married then-15-year-old singer Aaliyah. However, his label RCA Records didn’t decide to drop Kelly until last month after the airing of the docuseries Surviving R. Kelly.

Music producer Dame Dash, who was Aaliyah’s partner before her death in 2001, in an interview with Hip Hop Motivation criticized artists like Jay-Z for working with Kelly after allegations surfaced years ago. He also suggested that people within the industry are only criticizing Kelly now because of public pressure. “At the end of the day, my question is why does it take people so long? Why is it only because there’s a documentary and now it’s popular and now people be stepping up?” Dash asked.

Westworld actress Thandie Newton also expressed frustration with a previous reluctance to address sexual harassment and assault in the film industry. Newton, who first opened up years ago about being sexually assaulted at a film audition as an 18-year-old, told the Daily Telegraph last year, “I was ostracized because I wouldn’t stop talking about it.”

Actor Anthony Rapp, who in October 2017 spoke with Buzzfeed News about receiving unwanted sexual advances from Kevin Spacey as a minor in the 1980s, said he spoke out in part to change the abusive culture within the film industry. 

“I was just concerned that it would be something that could keep happening, so if I could do something that could make a difference, I was eager to,” Rapp said at a red-carpet event for his series Star Trek Discovery.

In Denver, Gina Portolese feels there has been some change within the environment of stand-up comedy. “Sexual assault jokes don’t seem to be as prevalent as they once were, and typically if anyone even circles the topic, they rarely get a reaction from the crowd,” Portolese said. However, when asked if stand-up comedy has become a safer environment for women as a result of the #MeToo movement, she said, “Oh, I wouldn’t go as far as saying that.”

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