The widespread allegations of Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual harassment, bullying and abusive behaviour have rightly been met with condemnation. But deplorable as Weinstein’s actions have been, few doubt that they are only an egregious example of a type of behaviour that infects the film business at all levels. In their wake there is an opportunity for the industry to confront systemic issues that have been left unaddressed for too long, so Sight & Sound has asked a range of key figures from UK film and television for their thoughts on what needs to happen now to ensure real change.
Creative director, BFI
There has now been a deluge of words on the exertion of power in male-dominated industries – whether it’s Hollywood, music, financial services, whatever – where there is lots of money at stake and where, anecdotally, predatory and bullying behaviours are fuelled by drink and drugs.
In a myriad of tiny ways these behaviours can happen in the independent and public sectors, not just the glamorous high-stakes world of women trying to make it in a competitive industry where what you look like and which men you please really counts – we keep reading how Harvey Weinstein kept telling young women to lose weight! – and unchaperoned ‘interviews’ can take place in hotel bedrooms.
When I started working in film in the 1980s it was routine to have a ‘business’ lunch and be invited upstairs afterwards. One distributor whom I had never met, sitting beside me on a plane to Cannes (and I was seven months pregnant at the time) told me we could have ‘fun’ together on his boat that night, and advised me to fill my villa with girls if I wanted to do business. I advised him that I was staying in an £8-a-night room at The Star Hotel and that BFI budgets did not stretch to hiring prostitutes.
It was of course routine to have men make idiotically sexist remarks, and to demean your professional contribution by not listening, or the usual, by repeating what you have just said and it then being praised as a great idea. I have had cause to make a formal complaint about sexual harassment once in my working life (before I worked at the BFI); the other stuff was not worth the effort because of repercussions, and there was nothing that was a crime or I would have called the police. The one I did report was unresolved as it was not taken seriously.
Today I am in my 60s and in a senior position in my organisation (where the CEO and 50 per cent of the executive team are women), so no more invites for fun on boats, but from what we read about, it still goes on. Casual sexism and trivial but inappropriate behaviours are a backdrop to this, which I will always call out, but the bigger picture is that the asymmetry of power, the lack of women in lead roles in the industry, and the roles we see women play on the big screen, continue to prop up a status quo that I am fed up with. The ‘see it to be it’ mantra is true. How can my daughter imagine her life when what is so often imagined for her on the big screen is a one-dimensional, skinny, half-dressed sidekick to a male protagonist?
Let’s focus on some simple, immediate things we are doing where I work.
The BFI’s Lottery funding requires people to think about diversity if they want to use public money, on screen and behind the camera. And we believe that ultimately the commercial marketplace will wake up to the economic value of offering choice.
Change is happening, but very slowly. We have recently made available a Filmography of all 10,000 UK feature films released in the nation’s cinemas since 1911. We have an evidence base to understand what roles have been available to women across the 250,000 listed cast and crew who made these films, and from which we can actually measure change. The most depressing bit of data is that 100 years on, gender stereotyping is still the norm in the casting of unnamed roles. Men are still doctors, women are prostitutes. The percentage of female directors is small; of women working in cinematography and sound, tiny. In the ‘see it to be it’ stakes, what does my daughter imagine she can be when the number of onscreen roles for women is still 31 per cent – the same as it was in 1913?
- No guide to the future: the BFI Filmography reveals the thin wedge of female British filmmaking past
We believe it is essential to champion women’s creative contribution, women’s stories and potential. What men want to see dominates what gets made. Our audiences want choice. The ‘dead white men’ domination of programming only serves to reinforce values that we want to change, a world which accepts routine bullying and ridicule of women.
With the BFI’s public programme we set ourselves goals to ensure we have a high percentage of films written or directed by, or featuring, women; an equal mix of men and women on stage for events; and women’s voices in Sight & Sound. We’ve just finished the London Film Festival, which is run by a woman, with 25 per cent of films directed by women – not perfect but definitely way above the international film festival average. Next summer, for example, we will only be programming work either made by women or centred on women, and our major Comedy blockbuster season next autumn has women writers and great female comic performances at the core of its programme.
Adopting basic codes of behaviour, making it clear how to report an issue and that it will be taken seriously and dealt with quickly, can help make it simple and safe to raise concerns without fear of repercussion. Awareness training for all of us should mean that we have the same understanding of what bullying and harassment look like, and what is appropriate behaviour in the workplace, and to this end we are updating our staff training programmes.
Head of inclusion, BFI
As the world continues to reel from the shock of the past few weeks and faces the endless avalanche of new allegations, our industry is forced to actually confront what has been bubbling underneath the surface for decades. Widespread condemnation of one person’s actions must surely be followed by change. There will always be bullies in this world, but surely the moment has come where they’re just not tolerated any more. Where we all feel we can call out inappropriate behaviour the moment it surfaces. Where abuses of power are not met with silence, unchallenged. And where women’s voices are both heard and listened to.
The film industry urgently needs more women represented on every level both on and off screen. Would recently reported events have taken so long to surface if there were more women in senior roles in this industry?
It feels like we’ve all been talking about diversity and inclusion for ages. Now we need to see real change. The BFI Diversity Standards are embedded in everything we do and have to be met by every project we support with National Lottery funds. We have a clear target of 50/50 gender representation. We’re now gathering together a wide range of industry partners, with advice from Acas, to jointly develop a new set of principles that will address bullying, harassment and abuse at work. They should also help people in the industry to be better supported. These new principles will be incorporated in the Diversity Standards.
These standards aren’t in themselves going to change the world overnight. But they are an important step in helping to redress the balance. And they’re starting to be adopted across the industry. Bafta and Film4 have shown courageous leadership by adopting them and we hope other broadcasters, studios and production companies will join them.
Raising Films is a community and campaign by and for parents and carers in the UK film and TV industry. In July 2017 we published Raising Our Game, a landmark research report exposing the failure of the industry to offer its workforce fair employment rights, in recognition that the power structures working against parents and carers relate to wider exclusionary and unlawful practices.
The recent stories concerning abusive behaviour by Harvey Weinstein have publicly exposed these working conditions in the film industry. Inequalities in the sector are endemic and well documented, going back at least to Reena Bhavnani’s 2007 report for the UK Film Council, which concludes with detailed and practical solutions that inspired our Raising Our Game checklists and recommendations.
Yet abuses of power persist within the industry; so too does the inability to take action to prevent this. We do not have adequate systems or structures in place for workers to challenge unfair and unlawful behaviour. We call for:
- a sector-wide independent investigation into the extent of unlawful/unfair employment practices, led by a national industry body;
- an industry-specific independent body, headed by a legal expert, funded by the Skills Levy, with the power to arbitrate and to order compensation;
- support for individuals going to court or tribunal, and provision of guidance for employees, collaborated between unions and guilds;
- and scalable HR training, an enforceable equality duty, and a visible move toward diverse boards and leadership, for all companies with public funding, including tax credits.
For the full open letter with 400-plus industry signatories, see raisingfilms.com/action-open-letter.
Director of Film4
It is important to recognise that the Harvey Weinstein scandal only scratches at the surface of what is being exposed as a much more widespread problem within the workplace and society at large. The predatory attitude that many men appear to demonstrate in their treatment of women needs to be called out for what it is, and not explained away as an ‘affliction’ except in those circumstances where it is medically diagnosed as an illness requiring ‘therapy’.
It is my hope that if any good is to come out of the exposure of this substantial problem, then let it be a consistent effort to tackle these issues rather than a bright flare that shines for a brief moment, before it disappears and the status quo returns. It is our responsibility to make the film industry a safe environment for those who work in it, and to make sure that the voices of these courageous women, from all walks of life, who have spoken out about their dealings with blatant misogyny and abuse of power are a catalyst for change.
People in positions of responsibility need to create a safe environment where speaking up confidentially, either to a line manager or an HR representative, about any incidence of harassment feels not only possible but mandatory, so that we can stamp the abuse out before it has a chance to take hold. As part of this we need to encourage a more inclusive and gender-balanced environment throughout the industry, at all levels. More companies adhering to the BFI’s Diversity Standards would help with this in the UK.
In practical terms, perhaps the BFI could look at creating a confidential whistleblowing facility, in case people don’t feel able to speak out within their own organisations.
Producer, Sixteen Films: I, Daniel Blake (2016), The Spirit of ’45 (2013), The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), et al
One of the problems of the film world is that it’s a freelance industry, so in general you don’t have the safety-valve mechanisms that organisations have – like HR departments. It’s appalling that people did try to call out Harvey Weinstein along the way and were told, “That’s just Harvey, that’s just the way it is.” We need a system in place where people are taken seriously and believed.
There has to be an industry-wide response, and an industry-wide mechanism put in place so that people can, with a certain amount of discretion, go somewhere with their complaints. One idea is to set up some sort of helpline. The unions should take more responsibility too and more people should join them, in particular the media and entertainment union Bectu – it is in a position to fight on behalf of freelancers.
Quite a lot of abuse has taken place in the financing area. I’ve heard stories of abuse by financiers and producers – bullying mainly – in the funding sector. That’s the area that Harvey was part of. This isn’t policed by a union. So I think some sort of network of female producers – senior women working in the industry – need to be reachable. We need to create our own HR department. That’s not to say that abusive behaviour doesn’t happen to men, too, of course.
The Weinstein stories are especially shocking, but are just the most egregious examples. I have witnessed bullying happening, and not just to younger people – I’ve seen quite senior people being bullied in this industry. It’s usually about people finding ways to display their ego. It’s a misconception and a cliché that a producer needs to be aggressive. There’s a big difference between bullying behaviour and flexing your muscles. There are people who misinterpret how they are supposed to behave and haven’t seen good practice. Some people come into the industry and only see people getting their way through bullying.
The groups I’m part of have got plans to meet and come up with concrete ideas. Our film policy group at Pact (Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television) are meeting to discuss the way forward. I’m sure other organisations are doing this too. The BFI, BSAC (British Screen Advisory Council), Bafta, Women in Film & Television UK, the Production Guild, the unions – they all need to get together and discuss what to do about it. You don’t want to lose this opportunity to change things.
Screenwriter and critic
The Weinstein allegations shone a klieg light into the film industry, revealing an atmosphere of toxic masculinity in Hollywood where women struggle to survive, let alone thrive. Now the debate has started, it needs to continue at every level, not merely about workplace practices, but across the industry.
As a critic until recently for the Times, I sat in screening rooms with mostly male colleagues, watching top box-office films, 96 per cent of which were directed by men last year. Those films starred actresses paid, on average, one-third of their male equivalents. In any other industry, this would be cause for rioting. In Hollywood, it is cause for Oscars.
For writers, concrete steps must include calling out inequalities and lack of diversity. A few years ago, I joined Women and Hollywood, which campaigns for gender diversity in film. When Cannes fails to have any female directors in competition in 2010 and 2012, we must ask why, loudly. When Roman Polanski gets a free pass from critics we must ask, how would that play if he worked in a school? When Woody Allen writes another film with an adult/teen affair, we must do more than sigh.
And here’s a final thought for Sight & Sound readers who love auteurs, but rarely hear of the feminine auteure. That must change too. As Wicktionary notes: “While some European dictionaries and the Académie française do not list a feminine equivalent of auteur, auteure (or autrice) are occasionally used in European French. Auteure is now common in Canadian French.”
Amanda Berry OBE
Chief executive, Bafta
Bafta believes everyone working in the film, games and television industries has the right to work in a safe, professional working environment. We are working actively with the BFI and other industry bodies on a set of measures to help ensure abusive behaviour isn’t tolerated, guidelines are robust and appropriate support is available for both those affected by harassment and employers.
Producer: Elizabeth (1998), Jane Eyre (2011), Saving Mr. Banks (2013), Suffragette (2015), Tulip Fever (2017), et al
The past few weeks have been both depressing and exhilarating as we have absorbed the extent of the abuse that has taken place and started to process how we can react and change things in our industry. The particular nature of our industry means that we have to be extra vigilant to protect all women (and men) against any kind of harassment or inappropriate conduct, and create a structure where individuals feel safe to complain if they are unhappy or concerned about any behaviour.
We have to break the culture of it being the Unspoken Subject, the one where the harassed person is made to feel like the ‘difficult’ one. We must implement written codes of conduct that are real, fair and enforceable, and not just there to protect the company from potential litigation.
We should have a universal ‘code of conduct’ that all agencies and industry bodies – Pact, BBC, Channel 4, etc – sign, that says specifically what behaviours are not OK. If this is stated in black and white it will reassure women that they are not going to get fobbed off with the usual ‘can’t you take a joke’, ‘it was meant as a compliment’ kind of stuff. Individual productions can use this as a basis too, for crew and cast and staff to sign as a matter of course.
Everyone should feel more comfortable if they know precisely what is acceptable and what oversteps the mark, and the procedures that will result if they overstep it.
We want our industry to be fun – no one is saying that a wink or an inoffensive joke is a problem. But clearly the parameters need to be drawn more clearly, so that we can initiate open conversation and break the taboo.
Onscreen diversity executive, Channel 4
As shocking as the Weinstein allegations are, they’re not wholly surprising. People have been abusing their positions of power since time immemorial.
This isn’t a film problem. Or a TV problem. Or even a workplace problem. It’s a societal problem. It’s a problem that stems from a society that makes it acceptable to joke about rape. A society that allows women to feel uncomfortable when travelling on public transport and just accept that getting groped is par for the course. A society that enables the patriarchy to remind women of their place. A society that blames victims of abuse and harassment on what they wear.
How can we help? At Channel 4, our commitment to diversity is entrenched in everything we do. Our 360-degree charter champions inclusivity and helps create an environment where everyone can prosper and thrive and enables us all to be our authentic self without fear of shame. Bullying and sexual abuse and harassment should never be tolerated or allowed to infiltrate the workplace like a cancer. Now, more than ever, we all have a chance to ensure it does not happen again.
Kate Kinninmont MBE
Chief executive, Women in Film & Television UK
The present furore reminds me of the scene in Casablanca where the chief of police announces his horror that gambling is going on in Rick’s nightclub: “I’m shocked! Shocked!” And then he pockets his winnings.
There’s scarcely a woman on the planet who has not had to cope with ‘inappropriate behaviour’. Women, wearily, learn to deal with it. We get lots of practice.
I’ve worked in TV since the 80s and I’ve seen my share of bullying and harassment. Five years ago as result of the Jimmy Savile revelations, Bafta got in touch and asked if this sort of sexual predatory behaviour is still prevalent. I did a survey of WFTV members as part of my research for a Bafta debate. More than half the people who responded had experienced something but didn’t know who they could report it to. We’re not talking about rape or criminal charges here but bullying and the kind of behaviours that denigrate people in the workplace.
At that Bafta debate, Dorothy Byrne, head of news and current affairs at Channel 4, spoke of starting out in the industry and being told: “You’re going out with so and so today, he’ll put his hand up your skirt. He does it with everyone.” She was asked at the event what she had done to change this. Her reply: “I became head of news.”
Women are still in the minority in the industry. For too long women have been restricted to roles where they look after people and serve. Nothing will really change until we have many more women on film sets and in positions of power – calling the shots, firing abusers.
Film facilitates particularly shameful behaviour. The illusion of glamour gives dominant, insecure men power over inexperienced young women, often broke and desperate to please. Film and television crews are still laddish; almost all directors are men and Hollywood studios remain overwhelmingly male. Most young workers are freelance; victims are isolated.
What has been normalised is a level of harassment, bullying and banter – it’s so much part of the culture in some areas in film and television. On set, you’ll often get what’s described as banter: “Is it your time of the month?” “Have you lost your sense of humour, love?” Too often you have to find a way of dealing with that on your own.
The #MeToo online protests are important, but we can’t just leave their revelations in people’s timelines. WFTV is inviting women to email email@example.com to share their testimonies and to say what would have helped them at the time and suggest what safeguards or help mechanisms we might create. See wftv.org.uk for more details. On our website we also have details of the Acas helpline – a workplace Samaritans, if you like.
I’m now looking at what people are sending in to us. The fascinating and worrying thing is that a lot of people did tell someone. But they just got told, “Oh, everyone knows about that person.” Or they got told that they should just get over it.
Jennifer Smith, Head of inclusion at the BFI (see above), is calling for representatives from each of the industry bodies to meet to agree on guidelines that are common to everyone. That’s a great start. However, we’ve got legislation about equal pay but we’ve still got a gender pay gap. It’s not about adding legislation. It’s about changing the culture. We can’t reform the bullies, and shouldn’t demand that victims ‘toughen up’. But we can change the bystanders. Everyone in the industry has to call out this kind of behaviour.
We need an impartial group or organisation that people can turn to. Even when companies have an HR department, they are often seen as management. What we need to establish is somewhere an individual can take a complaint but not make them a whistleblower.
We need to professionalise the film and TV industries. Interviews should not be a one-on-one in a bar or restaurant. At least two people should interview someone in a professional setting. If someone persists in bullying or sexually inappropriate behaviour, action needs to be taken.
If everyone did a course on bullying and harassment, like they would a health and safety course, then there would be no excuse. We need to get together in the industry and make that sort of thing a priority. It needs to be more sweeping than simply having one person on set who is responsible for behaviour, because would they have the power? It was only when Weinstein was losing his power that people spoke out. It’s not just about one bad apple, it’s a culture.
Producer, Number 9 Films: On Chesil Beach (2017) Their Finest (2016), Carol (2015), Made in Dagenham (2010) et al
The changes needed are about empowerment and representation: more women writing stories, directing stories and producing stories; more women in meaningful roles in those stories; more women in executive positions of power in studios and independent financing, production and distribution outfits; more women journalists reviewing films and writing about the industry – an industry which does not allow legal documents purporting to be in the interests of a business actually being used to protect the illegal activities of a sexual predator (non-disclosure agreements). In a very practical way, a code of conduct within companies and on sets, which offers protection to those at risk of exploitation and a phone line that operates like Childline set up by the industry or government.
Finally, I am stunned by the number of high-profile individuals who have worked in the industry for decades and said words like, “I am saddened and shocked and knew nothing about these allegations.” That is simply not true. Be brave, tell the truth even if it is shaming and difficult. Put the possibility of change before self interest.