“We have reached the tipping point,” Gloria Allred declared Tuesday night in Los Angeles, kicking off a post-Harvey Weinstein forum on sexual harassment and abuse at SAG-AFTRA’s headquarters, where members of Hollywood’s performers’ union packed the first in a series of educational seminars for the guild. “Sexual harassers and abusers must face the consequences of their actions.”
Allred’s advice to anyone experiencing harassment in the workplace: Keep an incident log, track witnesses’ names and complain to your employer in writing. Receipts, receipts, receipts.
Accountability comes in many forms, the lawyer and women’s rights activist told the standing room-only audience of more than 200, many of whom raised their hands when informally polled if they’d ever seen or experienced sexual harassment, or worse, in their careers.
Allred currently represents multiple women alleging wrongdoing against Weinstein, including a new lawsuit her office filed Tuesday on behalf of an anonymous actress, alleging sexual battery and assault. The executive has not yet responded to the legal action, but a spokesperson in a statement has said, “Any allegations of nonconsensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein.”
Speaking out publicly against powerful Hollywood figures like Weinstein, and director Brett Ratner and actor Kevin Spacey, both of whom have also been accused of sexual misconduct, can have a powerful effect that opens the way for others to break their silence. But as evidenced by the case of Ratner accuser Melanie Kohler, who is being sued for defamation by the “Rush Hour” director over a rape allegation posted on Facebook, making a public claim also invites serious potential legal and financial consequences.
Reaching a confidential settlement that costs an alleged abuser or company hefty penalties can have a different potent effect. Said Allred: “If they have to pay, then they remember it.” Even if a nondisclosure agreement has been signed, the lawyer said, an accuser can still testify in court if subpoenaed. Allred added that she’d reached “thousands” of confidential settlements with high-profile figures over her four-decade career, the details of which would never be revealed. “I know where the bodies are buried,” she said, “and some of them aren’t dead yet.”
In the Allred-moderated panel at Tuesday’s “teach-in, speak-out” event, dubbed “A Conversation on Sexual Harassment and Abuse in the Entertainment Industry,” SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris, casting director Debra Zane (“The Hunger Games”), actor Lisa Vidal (“Being Mary Jane”), director Niki Caro (“The Zookeeper’s Wife”) and assistant director and producer Liz Tan (“Spider-Man: Homecoming”) outlined the resources available to union members and urged those experiencing harassment to speak up and protect themselves.
The guild offers a 24-hour safety hotline (1-844-SAFER-SET) that members can use to anonymously report concerns over on-set safety violations, including sexual harassment claims. As Hollywood’s sexual misconduct scandal has come to light in recent months, amplified by similar accusations in other industries and in politics, the hotline has seen a 500% increase in reporting, Carteris said.
“That’s bad news and good news,” she added. “It’s bad news because there are more people out there than we know, but the good news is people are using their voice because they’re feeling safer.”
Carteris also serves on the executive council of the AFL-CIO, which she says is developing a task force to address sexual harassment in the workplace across industries. “It’s disingenuous for us to make it about Hollywood when this is endemic throughout our culture, in all workplaces,” she said. “We’re going to take the opportunity to try to create a shift in the culture.”
Addressing the mostly female SAG-AFTRA members in attendance at Tuesday’s forum, where individuals were invited to submit written or verbal workplace complaints to staff on hand and given handouts detailing various reporting options, crisis support resources and complaint filing deadlines, Zane offered practical advice to performers and those who represent them.
Agents and managers should prepare their clients ahead of casting meetings so that they know exactly who will be present, she said, adding that the days of sending actors into one-on-one meetings in hotel rooms or other nonprofessional settings, like those described by several alleged Weinstein victims, are waning.
“We have to get back to respecting people in a nonhierarchical way,” said Zane. She also urged actors not to go into questionable settings, but added that if they should find themselves in a situation that makes them uncomfortable, “just get out of there.”
Vidal, who also serves on the SAG-AFTRA National Board, related her own past experiences, encouraged her fellow performers to make use of the union’s hotline and emphasized the importance of protecting one’s boundaries. “It’s important to say, ‘No, I’m not OK with this.’”
The responsibility to create safe working environments falls on everyone on a production, the panel agreed. “I make it my business to create a safe working environment, and you actors need that more than anybody,” said Caro, who staffed the set of “The Zookeeper’s Wife” with so many female crew members that star Jessica Chastain wrote an op-ed piece in the Hollywood Reporter to celebrate the rarity of working with so many women.
Caro also encouraged performers to stand up for themselves and called for gender and pay parity across the industry. “Get out. Walk away. Tell someone. Please value what you do and use your voice,” she urged.
Tan acknowledged that the crew is often vulnerable on set to those in positions of power. To actors, she offered her support, and she advised leaning on assistant directors to do their jobs and create safe spaces on set. “Be clear about your boundaries,” she said, “and learn to say, ‘No.’”
After the panel discussion and a closed session in which SAG-AFTRA members had a chance to speak privately with panelists and union reps, Allred said she was “astounded” by the sheer volume of people coming forward to her of late.
“It’s a beautiful thing to see when fear is released and individuals become empowered,” she said. “I have many people contacting me to learn their rights, in reference to what they allege they have suffered, whether it’s rape or assault or some other kind of sexual harassment or sex discrimination on the job. And many are now going to be willing to assert their rights.”
Allred added that she is representing “numerous” women with allegations against Weinstein, including clients who have not yet made their claims public, and that Tuesday’s lawsuit against Weinstein and the Weinstein Co. would not be the last.
“We’re waiting for justice,” she said, “and we’re working for justice.”