The past year has brought about an unprecedented wave of sexual harassment accusations levied against powerful executives within myriad industries — a movement that began with an October 2017 exposé in the New York Times that brought to light the alleged sexual misconduct of veteran movie and television mogul Harvey Weinstein.
As such, the penultimate day of the 2018 Realscreen Summit in Washington, DC brought together leading female executives to discuss how the non-fiction content community can use this watershed cultural moment as a catalyst for change, while also examining the steps needed to ensure respectful workplaces for all.
The panel – titled “Reality Check: After #MeToo, What Now?” – discussed what progress the industry has made to improve its current business model.
Featured on the session were execs from across the production, network and legal sectors, including Jenny Daly, president of T Group Productions; Allison Page, GM of U.S. programming & development at Scripps Networks Interactive; Gretchen Palek, co-president at Leftfield Pictures; Laura Palumbo Johnson, a partner at Magilla Entertainment; and Maggie Pisacane, a partner of alternative TV at WME.
In light of the #MeToo social media movement, swift action to remove toxic behavior has been implemented across the feature film and scripted television landscape. And though the unscripted and non-fiction communities have largely been insulated from the more salacious stories that are gracing the front-pages, sexual harassment and assault permeates all aspects of the entertainment industry, said Pisacane.
“It certainly exists here,” said the WME executive. “But I actually have an issue with the one-size-fits-all response that seems to be happening, and what’s happening right now feels like more of a witch hunt.
“I’m not condoning sexual harassment or sexual assault, but I think that equating perhaps some off-colored jokes with sexual assault does a disservice to actual victims,” she clarified. “I struggle with that balance. How do you actually feel like there’s a safe space, and talk about what is the right reaction. The industry at large is struggling with that and the pendulum has swung to one side but hopefully it’s coming back to the middle.”
With the Producers Guild of America having recently implemented a new anti-sexual harassment guideline that is required for all members of cast and crew prior to the start of a production, moderator Nicole Page, a partner at New York-based law firm Reavis Page Jump, wondered whether those steps were being taken at the company level as well.
Palek of Leftfield Pictures said the ITV America-owned shop is being “very proactive” in terms of anti-harassment workshops they conduct.
“We do them in smaller groups so people can ask questions in a safe way,” she said. “We’re also talking about going to each production and having these conversations in person as opposed to just an employee handbook or code of conduct so that people see we’re taking this seriously.
“It’s taking it out of the shadows and putting it into the light; what could have been normal behavior is becoming abnormal. Recognizing that ‘no, that’s not okay’ is progress,” Palek added. “I’m so excited to see how we figure this all out together, our male allies and us.”
One of the best ways to create a safe environment free from fear of retaliation following a complaint to HR is by ensuring there are women in leadership positions at every level, Scripps Networks Interactive’s Page told the delegates in attendance.
The importance of having women represented at the highest rungs of the ladder is evident with the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), which was founded in 1919 and only counts 14 of its 360 active members, or 4%, as women. (Mudbound director of photography Rachel Morrison recently became the first woman nominated for an Academy Award in the best cinematography category.)
“Why aren’t women gravitating towards these fields? And once I know, I want to do something about it,” Palek stated regarding female DPs. “It’s really hard as you rise further and further up the ladder to stay in touch with some of those things, and the onus is on me to ask the question, but hearing that makes me want to have conversations to see how I can be part of the solution.”
T Group Productions’ Daly added: “If it’s a reason that women can’t be camera operators because it’s a boys ‘club, then that’s a problem, and what can we do to change that gatekeeping?”
(Photo by Rahoul Ghose)