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Women in Film, A Call to Arms: Here’s How We Can Take Back Our Community After Abuse

How can women in the film take back their own community, one still reeling from allegations that have emerged after decades of abuse? We've got some ideas. 

Wonder Woman

“Wonder Woman”

Warner Bros.

It would be easy to look at the last month in the indie film world — a month that has been marked by allegations against the Alamo Drafthouse, Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles, Screen Junkies’ Andy Signore, and, most notably, Harvey Weinstein — and not believe that a major (and long overdue) change is taking hold of the industry, but the work has only just begun. With the recent firing of both Signore and Weinstein from companies they built (complete with cultures they surely helped create), real-world consequences are finally a part of the kind of equation that for so long pushed victims and survivors of sexual assault and harassment to keep quiet.

That’s a huge jump forward, but it’s hardly the last one that needs to take place.

So what’s next for an industry in desperate need of reshaping? And how best can women in film take back their own community, one still reeling from allegations that have emerged after decades of abuse? We’ve got some ideas. And while aspects of these steps have already been taken — and plenty of them long before this latest round of allegations hit the wire — the question now is, how best to continue this push forward and hold on to such mighty momentum? Here’s a start.

Keep the Discussion Going

The first step is both the most obvious and the most difficult: keep the discussion going. Nothing can change without talking about it, and the last month has proven that to be especially true. But we need to go beyond talking about the issues, especially in small groups. While a number of women in the community swiftly made it a priority to band together to talk about the past, present, and future of a community in crisis — this year’s Fantastic Fest reportedly played home to such events, and more grassroots groups have sprung up online in recent weeks, from group chats to Facebook groups — a step that reinforces the power of being open and honest, there has to be more.

The discussion has to be louder, more public, more open. Small groups and secret chats? That’s partially how we got to this point. Exclusivity is the enemy.

That’s not to say that private discussions should stop, but they need to engender a public dimension. Have a great chat with a group of like-minded women in the industry? Talk about it with others, write about it, share your thoughts more widely, and perhaps more importantly, share the insights you’ve gathered with more people. Did you come up with a great idea? Don’t keep it to yourself or your group. Everyone who has a stake in this community (and this fight) should have the opportunity to participate. Do the work, then share the work. We’ve already seen what can happen when one person speaks up, how others will be inspired to take action, and how they’ll support each other. What we need, most immediately, is more of that.

Offer Support to Others

Support can come in many forms and take many shapes. One of those disheartening refrains during this past month has been some iteration of “that’s not a surprise” or “this is Hollywood’s worst-kept secret” or even “we all knew this would come out eventually,” and while that may be comforting to some victims and survivors who previously felt alone, it inevitably arrives right alongside further anger. Yet, for many people, just hearing vague whispers about certain men wasn’t enough to allow them to feel as if they could speak out more fully. It’s hard to come forward when all you have are murmurs and a “friend of a friend” story to go on, but there are plenty of people who witnessed events or heard about them firsthand from victims. For them, the next steps are very clear: offer support in its fullest sense.

Harvey WeinsteinTime and Punishment: A Town Hall Discussion with JAY Z and Harvey Weinstein, New York, USA - 08 Mar 2017

Harvey Weinstein

Lovekin/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

While many women have felt compelled and inspired to come forward after other victims spoke out, that’s not the case for all of them. Many are still worried about facing retribution or other consequences for revealing their experiences, and while the hope will always be that they can feel safe enough to tell their stories, that’s still not the environment we live in. If someone shares a story with you or you witness an act of assault or harassment, the most important thing is to offer up support, true support, the no-strings-attached variety. That might mean not pushing the person to come forward if they don’t want to, or it might mean standing by them when they do.

Know someone who has had a bad experience in the industry? Check in on them, see how they’re feeling, see what you can do to ease the stress. And if someone shares a private story with you, keep it private. Vaguely alluding to other people’s stories doesn’t help the larger story, and it certainly doesn’t make those people feel even more safe.

Push for Diversity

It’s no accident that all of these most recent accused harassers and abusers are straight white men, the same segment of society that rules Hollywood. Bolstered by their apparent power and reach in the industry, many of their victims felt unable to speak out, and it didn’t help that a number of them didn’t even know who they could reach out to for assistance. By pushing for more diversity in the industry, not only will different viewpoints and experiences be baked right into Hollywood, it will also open up a more welcoming environment for those who don’t see themselves reflected in a world dominated by straight white men.

It’s a two-pronged idea: different and diverse people will change the industry from the inside, while also offering up a more inclusive public face. That’s the sort of face that victims will likely feel far more at ease speaking to, especially when it comes to tougher conversations. As ever, it also goes back to talking about it and keeping the discussion going. But sometimes, you just need the right person to talk to. And once more voices from different walks of life are allowed to flourish in the industry, the sense that it’s all just an “old boys’ club,” the kind that looks away from allegations and abuses, will have to dissipate, and perhaps even disappear.

Create Welcoming Events

While there’s been a heartening uptick in diversity-centric and female-driven events over the past few years — including festivals like Athena and Bentonville, film funds and scholarships from Women in Film and The Academy for Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (and many, many others), and the changing face of the Oscars membership pool — still more need to be created, supported, and pushed out into the world. Those discussions? Let them foster something like this, an event that is built on inclusion and moving the industry forward by bolstering the talents that have so long been marginalized.

Utilize Allies

To activate real change, the kind that lasts, the industry is going to have to re-forge bonds between people who are eager to push forward into a brave new world without harassment or abuse. That means victims, survivors, supporters, and true allies, who are hopefully more inspired than ever before to support those in need of assistance. Find allies. Use them. If someone offers to help, let them. (And if you’re an ally, offer your help now, even — and especially — if that means letting others speak more loudly about their own experiences while you support them.)

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