How Harvey Weinstein’s sentencing could change the entertainment industry
When the news broke that Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison, Lili Bernard was on her way to the Echo Training Conference, which empowers trauma survivors and is led by one of the producer’s many victims, Louise Godbold. Bernard, herself a Bill Cosby survivor, couldn’t contain her joy over the punishment.
“I was driving and screaming! Literally screaming!” she tells Fortune. “At the conference, I had to read this Maya Angelou poem ‘Still I Rise’ and the first thing I said was, ‘Congratulations to my Weinstein survivor sisters.’ These women have become my friends and it’s this wonderful siblinghood of a very unfortunate commonality. That he was sentenced to 23 years, it’s not just a vindication for them. It’s the same thing I said when Cosby was convicted—it’s just a greater step in humanity because it’s showing that women’s voices are finally being believed, that we matter, that we’re worthy.”
Even with Weinstein likely spending the rest of his life in prison, advocates say there’s still a lot of work to be done in the entertainment industry to make it a safer, more equitable place for the vulnerable, whether they’re actresses, production assistants, or receptionists. Hollywood has already gone through a number of changes, and many more are on the horizon, due to organizations like Time’s Up and Women in Film, as well as Bernard and the large number of victims who’ve channeled their trauma and anger into activism and support.
As Melissa Silverstein, the founder and publisher of Women and Hollywood, puts it: “The progress that’s happening is on the backs of so many people who have been really, really hurt and it better be worth it. We need to continue to make progress in their spirit and honor.”
So how will Hollywood and the entertainment industry as a whole change after Weinstein’s sentence? No one is quite sure, but many are optimistic that the moment represents a turning point.
More victims will come forward
The most obvious, immediate result of the Weinstein sentence, according to advocates, is that more victims will be empowered to come forward with their stories and potentially press charges. Now, victims can see that rapists get substantial, appropriate punishments for their crimes, as opposed to cases like that of Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer who was given six months in jail—and released after serving three—for the rape of Chanel Miller, an advocate who’s since written a book about the ordeal and her healing process.
“This is a light that will guide so many other survivors,” says Time’s Up’s executive director of entertainment Ngoc Nguyen. “They’ll be able to look back at this and say, ‘Truth does matter, justice has prevailed’ and there is now a roadmap for them to seek justice.”
Kirsten Schaffer, executive director of Women in Film, says her organization’s helpline, (855) WIF-LINE, saw an uptick in calls from people seeking assistance, either for pro bono legal advice or mental health services. The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund also has a helpline, (202) 319-3053, which can help victims get both legal counseling and, after an application process, public relations support.
Adoption and enforcement of better workplace policies
As Silverstein points out, one of the many benefits of the recent string of high-profile cases has led more actresses to unite to discuss the myriad issues they faced. “They’d been isolated for so long from each other, deliberately,” she says. “It’s a business where people don’t go to an office every day, so people came together and they understood a little bit more about, ‘I’m paid this, he’s paid that.’”
The lack of a traditional workplace environment also means that employees often don’t have access to human resources assistance. “There’s been a movement in recent months to address the productions and production companies that don’t have full HR departments,” says Schaffer. “The Producers Guild launched a program where they provide training for independent projects and gig-economy people working on contract. That’s a thing that we can continue working on, making sure that those people have a place to go. That’s part of why we started our helpline—we knew there were a lot of women who didn’t feel comfortable turning to their HR department or didn’t have an HR department.”
More diversity in power at studios, on sets, in film festivals, and more
“At Time’s Up, we’ve never been about toppling just one person,” Nguyen says. “It’s about getting to the root of the problem and accelerating systemic change.”
To that end, the Weinstein sentence could be emblematic of a departure from the old, white bully executive and a signal that traditional power structures that propped him up in the first place need to continue changing. “It’s really looking at how do we change the pipeline to leadership and how have you changed the gatekeepers that are in the top roles now,” says Nguyen. “Some of the things that we’ve done for example one thing is the 4 Percent Challenge that tries to increase the number of female directors that are commissioned for projects. A lot of really key studios and networks came up and said, ‘We will agree to work with a female director within the next 18 months.’”
But this goes beyond the director’s chair. Time’s Up has done a study with USC Annenberg, Inclusion at Film Festivals, that shows diversity in festival boards increases the likelihood that underrepresented films are shown. They’re also working on an initiative to increase diversity among film critics and journalists, and they have a mentoring program called Who’s in the Room, which helps women who want to work in development and production. “It’s really looking the entire ecosystem,” Nguyen says.
Women in Film also has a simple, effective measure that’s helping increase gender equality all throughout productions—a literal seal of approval. “We run a program called ReFrame with the Sundance Institute where we issue a gender balance stamp to films and television shows,” Schaffer says. “Now people are calling to say, ‘I’m about to go into production and I want the ReFrame stamp. Can you take a look at our crew list and see if you think we’re going to get it?’ It’s starting to catch fire with the public as well—just like people want to buy food that has an organic stamp, they want to watch content that has the ReFrame stamp.”
New rules protecting actresses and children
There have been strides in getting intimacy coordinators on sets to choreograph scenes that involve nudity and sexuality, as well as making sure actresses know their rights when it comes to the ability to refuse to do nudity on set or at auditions. Bernard is working on this as part of a SAG-AFTRA sexual harassment committee alongside actors like Rosanna Arquette, Jennifer Beals, Mira Sorvino, Elliott Gould, Terry Crews, and Corey Feldman, among others. Getting these protections codified has been an eye-opening experience for the actress, who met Cosby in 1984 while guest-starring on his sitcom.
“We’re trying to change specific laws like the one about how casting directors were allowed to demand that the actress takes her top off,” she says. One that stood out to her was a provision in the SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreement that confusingly said, “Producer shall also have the right to double children of tender years (infants) in nude scenes (not in sex scenes).”
“I’m texting Mara Nasatir from Time’s Up like, ‘What does this mean?’ She said, ‘It means generally under the age of 4.’ I’m like ‘What the heck?!’ The Screen Actors Guild manual is saying it’s okay for a 5-year-old? The justice system catching up with modern culture, and we’re working really hard to help the Screen Actors Guild catch up with the justice system.”
More bystander reporting
Allyship is going to play a key role in protecting the more vulnerable and Bernard believes anyone witnessing criminal behavior, harassment, or bullying will feel more empowered to step in and say something. As she points out, Cosby threatened her with false accusation charges and a defamation lawsuit if she came forward, so she could only imagine what he’d do to a production assistant if they ever reported seeing him put drugs in someone’s drink.
“Bystander culture is something that also needs to change in order for rape culture to shift even more quickly towards justice,” she says. “There are so many people who don’t say anything because they want to keep their jobs. Everybody has to eat, has children to feed, and rent or a mortgage to pay. But yeah, they’re people who know and they don’t say anything out of fear. Those people, those bystanders will feel more empowered as well to speak out when they see an injustice happening.”
Hiring blacklisted women
As Schaffer says, the Weinstein verdict and sentencing doesn’t erase the pain he’s inflicted and the damage he caused for many careers.
“There’s definitely a conversation going on—what has happened to the careers and lives of the women who were assaulted, especially those who spoke out? Who’s hiring them? Is there a stigma now that they have spoken out, even though he was convicted? There really needs to be a concerted effort to think about hiring them.”
Bernard agrees, saying that the damage Cosby did to her career isn’t easily overcome just because he’s in jail now and that entrenched reputations about “difficult” actresses need to be rethought. “When I told him that I was going to report him to the police, he told me would blacklist me. He said, ‘I will tell all of Hollywood that you are a no-good actor, that you’re a liar, that you’re a little whore trying to sleep your way to the top.’ So, now I represent that kind of actor whose career was derailed because of the sexual assault.”
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