Natasha Henstridge: Why I made my #MeToo stand
On Nov. 1, 2017, The Times published an investigation in which six women accused director Brett Ratner of sexual misconduct. One of the women, actor Natasha Henstridge, said Ratner strong-armed her and physically forced her to perform oral sex on him in the early 1990s, when she was 19. Ratner, through his attorney Martin Singer, categorically disputed all of the women’s allegations.
The Times asked Henstridge to reflect on the last five years. This is her account, as told to Times senior entertainment writer Amy Kaufman. It has been edited for clarity and length.
I remember the moment when I told The Times, go ahead, use my name, put me on the record. I was at my girlfriend’s house. I had had a couple glasses of wine, and I was feeling all ballsy and brave. To be the first person on the record is scary, and I had spent at least a week weighing the pros and cons of speaking out.
At the top of the pros list: This was something that I should have done 20 years before. I, like so many survivors, initially thought I was the only one. But when I found out that there had been other women who allegedly had been subjected to sexual misconduct, that really bothered me.
After the Weinstein allegations came out, I thought about Brett and how nobody was talking about him. He could keep on doing what he was doing. That was the thing I struggled with.
I had very powerful people telling me not to speak out. There were so many fears. Never working again. Getting bullied. Getting sued. I was afraid. I was really afraid for my safety for a long time. I thought I was being followed. Maybe it was paranoia, I don’t know.
I’m a keep-to-yourself, just-mind-your-own business kind of person. I don’t need to be in everyone’s business. I don’t really operate that way. It’s terrible to say, but part of me did think that ignorance is bliss. But this was important. I needed to make a stand.
In the end, I just asked myself: What am I doing here if I can’t stand up for what’s right? My late ex-husband and dear friend, Darius Danesh, was the one who convinced me to come forward. He was committed to justice and truth and women’s rights, and so I thought: God, we can go through life with blinders on and pretend nothing is happening, or we do something to make change.
Ashley Judd was the key source in the New York Times’ investigation of Harvey Weinstein, the woman whose decision to go public created a domino effect, emboldening other women to go on the record with their allegations too. I would later find out I was the Ashley Judd of the L.A. Times’ Brett Ratner investigation. The paper needed one person to say yes, to go on the record. And once I did, others followed.
It was important for me to be that person, because I felt like I’d failed so many women until that moment. I had not shared the thing that happened to me. I had not stopped the same thing from happening again.
That’s the big message I give women who are considering coming forward: “How will you feel if this continues to happen to other women?” I thought I was the only person whom this had ever happened to with Brett. We’re so naive at times. And look, there are people who will not be able to handle the pressure. It’s an individual choice.
I think back to the time I once got held up in my car by two guys with shotguns. I never called the police. I just got the hell out of there. I remember just wanting to get home. Looking back now, I see so many reasons why I should have reported the crime: to help find the guys, to stop them from doing the same to someone else, to make sure reported crime statistics are accurate. But at the time, I just felt like reporting was not the right thing to do. I really struggled.
This is the stuff that you shove to the back of your head. You go through life, tough as nails, and you pretend nothing bad ever happened, and you push everything down. You move on. You get on with life. Unless you’re seeing your abuser, or auditioning for him, or running into him at a party, you sweep it under the rug. Doing that L.A. Times article, and all the media coverage that came after it, brought so much to the surface. As a young girl in this business, I used to think I was tougher than anything, but then all of this stuff happened. I was just a young girl who got taken advantage of. Let’s be real about what it was. Looking at all that, all the emotions came out. It was intense.
I left town for a few days after The Times article was published. I was super scared — for my physical safety, for my financial security. I was in a guesthouse in Palm Springs, literally shaking. I stayed there for two, three, maybe four days. I didn’t want to come back to L.A.
The response to the article, when I was able to take it in, was incredible, though — people with similar stories, support from my family and others with whom I’d never really talked about this stuff. I never wanted them to feel bad for letting their little girl leave home and find herself in situations that weren’t always the safest.
I thought it was funny that male producers I worked with called. They were sweet and supportive, but they also were checking on themselves. “Was I always appropriate with you?” they would ask. “Like, am I gonna get canceled?” “Did I step over the line?” “Where was the line?” “Did I ever do the wrong thing or say the wrong thing?” There were a lot of men questioning themselves.
And you’d be surprised how this is still playing out. I had somebody approach me by phone who I know socially — it was probably a couple of years ago by now. “I ran into so-and-so at the gym, and somebody they knew had a film that Brett still wanted to make. They wondered, ‘What would make it right for me? Everybody’s got a price to make things right,’” the caller said. And I said, “What do you mean? What are you saying? Like, I’m supposed to go, ‘Just kidding! That never happened?’”
Let me tell you something: I’m no longer a 25-year-old in-demand actress making the salary I made as the little movie star. I could have used the money. But I said, “No, there is absolutely no price.” You know what would have gone a long way? An apology.
This still follows me. I’ve been in the production van going to work and someone will be talking about how it’s ridiculous that everybody’s being canceled over sexual misconduct. “The pendulum has swung too far,” someone will say. These are conversations happening in the van with me in it, and I’ve had to speak up and say, “You know, guys, this happened to me.”
But I’ve also noticed that people are more careful on set when it comes to not assuming that everybody’s comfortable with touch. Even sound operators, who always have their hands on your chest and up your skirt, they’re more cautious placing mics, more conscientious. I have seen a shift.
It’s still hard to speak out. I don’t want people to think of me as difficult, as the “Oh God, she’s going to have everybody canceled” woman. I still have a lot of fear about that. I do think people have learned so much more about the psychology of rape and sexual harassment. People go, “Natasha, you’re one of the strongest, toughest people I know. I can’t even see you in a situation like that.” But there’s this whole concept of fight, flight or freeze. There’s a different survival mechanism that kicks in in different environments, in different settings, with different threats. Until you experience what it’s like to be truly afraid in a room, to have someone slam a door and push you down — unless you’re in that position, you don’t know what you’re going to do. So don’t be so quick to persecute me for not biting his dick off.
My job was to tell my story, not to forever dictate the outcome of Brett’s life. That’s not my job. That’s not my life. But I did know some people who were talking a big game about doing meaningful pro-woman projects, and the next thing I see, they’re making a movie about Milli Vanilli with Brett Ratner directing. I was pissed. I reached out to them and had some conversations. They ended up pulling the movie. That felt amazing. Because he hasn’t apologized, and without an apology, I don’t think it’s fair that you just get to wait a couple of years, let the dust settle and get on with business as usual.
Has speaking out hurt my work opportunities? It’s so hard to say, it’s like sliding doors. I’ve done some bad projects and some great ones too. That is the up-and-down battle as an actor, and I don’t need proof one way or the other. I was doing a Canadian TV show for a few years. I’ve done some little movies, and I’ve got some stuff in the works. I’m producing a Christmas film, which is cool.
Really, speaking out has been one of the proudest things I’ve ever done. I’m so glad I did it, to this day.
But if I’m being totally honest, just doing this article right now makes me anxious. It makes me wonder, is there going to be backlash again? There’s still that fear.
I was just invited to the premiere of “She Said,” the feature film based on Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor’s reporting on Weinstein. My first instinct was: I don’t want to be involved. But then last night I’m like, why not? All of these women came together to do this incredible thing, to shift the way Hollywood does business and the way people treat one another along the way. And so I asked myself: What was my issue with being there? I think it’s still this weird stigma, this fear about being perceived as difficult.
I don’t want to dwell. I like to process things, get through them, or at least that I think I am processing them and getting through them, and then move forward. I do believe in moving forward. But there is the other half of that: If you do a stupid thing, acknowledge your stupid thing and move on. An apology goes a long way.
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