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Beyond Casey Affleck: Women in Production Say Filing A Sexual Harassment Claim Can Be Career Threatening

IndieWire spoke to women about their struggle in the male-dominated world of film production and the dangers of speaking up.

Casey Affleck Joaquin Phoenix

Casey Affleck at a February 2009 screening of Joaquin Phoenix’s “Two Lovers,” during the production of “I’m Still Here.”

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At this point, Casey Affleck’s sexual harassment allegations may never see the same attention and scorn (and, the diminishing career and awards prospects) that Nate Parker received for his rape trial. However, there has been plenty of reporting around the reasons why Affleck hasn’t received that kind of coverage.

For the uninitiated, Affleck is currently a favorite to win the best actor Oscar for his performance in “Manchester By The Sea;” that attention has revived interest in two sexual harassment lawsuits he settled, stemming from the production of his 2010 Joaquin Phoenix documentary “I’m Still Here.” Parker is the writer, director, and star of “The Birth of a Nation,” an early Oscar favorite that went on to die a swift box office death in the light of Parker’s 2001 rape acquittal.

Among the outlets that have covered this beat are Bust, The Cut, The Daily Beast, The Root and Mashable. This week, Buzzfeed News culture writer Anne Helen Petersen laid out no less than seven reasons that Affleck’s not receiving the same treatment (among them: severity of the allegations, their respective images, Affleck’s Hollywood privilege, the quality of their filmmaking output, PR strategy, and Donald Trump), while The Hollywood Reporter weighed in with the “Sliding Scale of Moral Punishment.”

However, there’s another element to be considered in Affleck’s case, one where his situation diverges significantly from Parker’s: His alleged harassment of cinematographer Magdalena Górka and producer Amanda White was directed at fellow film professionals.

The following is excerpted from Górka and White’s respective legal filings.

From Górka’s filing:

Affleck and other members of the production team made lewd comments; they discussed engaging in sexual activity with [Górka] and they suggested that she have sex with the Camera Assistant.

[snip]

In mid-December 2008, [Górka] traveled with other crew members to New York to shoot scenes involving Phoenix. Affleck and Phoenix decided not to put the crew up in a hotel, and the crew instead stayed overnight at Phoenix and Affleck’s apartment. 

At the time, [Górka] was the only woman on the Project. After a long night of shooting, Phoenix told [Górka] to sleep in his bed and he would sleep in the living room. Because she believed she was in a private bedroom, [Górka] went to sleep in a camisole and pajama pants.

During the middle of the night, [Górka] awoke to find Affleck lying in the bed next to her. Unbeknownst to [Górka], Affleck had entered the bedroom while she was asleep and crawled into bed. When she woke up, Affleck was curled up next to her in the bed wearing only underwear and a t-shirt. He had his arm around her, was caressing her back, his face within inches of hers and his breath reeked of alcohol. 

[Górka] was shocked and repulsed because she did not know where he had touched her while she was sleeping or how long he had been there before she woke up.

[Górka] immediately jumped up and told Affleck to get out of her bed. Affleck responded by asking, “why?’ [Górka]said “because you are married and because you are my boss.” Affleck, undeterred, asked if [Górka] “was sure.” [Górka] said she was sure and insisted that he leave the room. Affleck left and slammed the door in anger. 

Over the next few months, [Górka] was subjected to numerous incidents of outrageous and offensive conduct. She was subjected to a near daily barrage of sexual comments, innuendo and unwelcome advances by crew members, within the presence and with the active encouragement of Affleck. [Górka] was berated and verbally attacked by Affleck after she refused his sexual advances in New York, and was criticized constantly for refusing to be submissive in response to his rants and derisive comments. 

From White’s filing:

[White] was forced to endure uninvited and unwelcome sexual advances in the workplace. On one occasion, Affleck instructed a crew member to take off his pants in order to show [White] his penis, even after [White] objected. Affleck repeatedly referred to women as “cows;” he discussed his sexual exploits and those of other celebrities he allegedly witnessed; and asked [White] after learning her age, “Isn’t it about time you get pregnant?”… Affleck also attempted to manipulate [White] into staying in a hotel room with him, and when she resisted, he grabbed her in a hostile manner in an effort to intimidate her into complying. 

Their claims included sexual harassment, intimidation, creating a hostile work environment, and wage theft. Affleck settled both cases out of court, for undisclosed terms, and has offered no further explanation, although in a recent interview with Variety he appeared to be dismissive.

“People say whatever they want,” he says about the charges. “Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you respond.” A few minutes later, he adds: “I guess people think if you’re well-known, it’s perfectly fine to say anything you want. I don’t know why that is. But it shouldn’t be, because everybody has families and lives.”

Whatever Affleck believes about the charges, one point is empirically untrue: No one in production thinks it’s perfectly fine to say anything they want, especially about the famous.

Hollywood operates on a scarcity of opportunities; this is overwhelmingly true for women. In Górka’s lawsuit, her attorney noted that deciding to file was a struggle because “she is justifiably concerned about the effect this lawsuit will have on her career.”

Indeed. As a cinematographer, Górka is in a real minority; women make up less than 4 percent of the American Society of Cinematographers. (Founded in 1920, the ASC admitted its second female member in 1995.) Production jobs are freelance, competition is fierce, and hires are based on reputation and word of mouth.

Now imagine the prospect of facing those odds with the baggage of having filed a very public sexual harassment lawsuit against a male director, producer, and actor who holds a great deal more power and influence.

However, we wanted to do more than imagine it. IndieWire spoke with a dozen women in film production, all of whom had at least 10 years’ experience, to ask what it currently means to be a woman working on a film set. To avoid any risk of reprisals, all identities are anonymous.

“I hate to say it, and we’ve all had these conversations, but if the sexual harassment got extreme, I think you have to consider your career before coming forward,” said a longtime camera assistant.

Most of the women IndieWire spoke with say, at some point, they or someone they know has been sexually harassed. Some said it happened on “nearly every job,” while others say it’s “once in a while.”

But on this point, they were unified: Coming forward with any claim has the potential to kill a career.

That’s because, like all freelance positions, film production jobs are often based on recommendations. “Is someone going to hire me after I claimed their colleague, who denies it, sexually harassed me?” said a veteran of the camera department.

Many women said that a key factor in deciding to step forward is where you are in your career.

“If you are 50 and have been working at certain level for a while, I think you feel more secure,” said a production supervisor. “But if you are 35, you are already stressing about establishing yourself. The last thing you need is the dreaded ‘troublemaker’ label.”

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