Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer hasn’t shied away from repping the #TimesUp movement throughout this year’s awards season – she appeared on the Golden Globes red carpet wearing all black, alongside her good friend Jessica Chastain – but she’s also eager for the movement to be as prudent and savvy as possible.
As part of Sundance’s conversation section “Power of Story,” Spencer participated in a Friday afternoon panel alongside other creators and thinkers, including actress and “Insecure” creator Issa Rae, tech evangelist Megan Smith, Open Society Foundations president Patrick Gaspard, and Killer Films founder Christine Vachon, for a discussion moderated by Washington Post journalist Sarah Ellison. The theme of the chat was “culture shift,” and sought to discuss the various ways that their work plus “the power of media and the role creative choices play in shifting culture and crystallizing the national conversation.”
When asked by an audience member about how people can right the many injustices – in terms of both harassment and inequality – that have recently been brought to the forefront of the conversation around the entertainment industry, Spencer pondered the possibilities. “If I knew that, I’d be the $500 million lottery ticket winner,” Spencer said.
But she did have some ideas about the future of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and how they should move forward in positive ways.
“People know good and bad behavior,” she said. “Right now, this is a movement and moment that has to happen, it has to occur. But what we can’t allow to happen is that it becomes about women versus men. That’s not what this is about. We have to separate that out and make sure that we understand it’s about people who are being abused and to empower them. The only way to empower them is to hold those people accountable.”
Spencer also got honest about the current rise of public allegations – which she sagely deemed the “airing out phase” – and why it’s so essential.
“The airing out phase that’s happening now, I know it’s uncomfortable, I know you’re reading everyday about something new, but we have to allow those voices to be heard,” Spencer said. “But what we also cannot do is rush to judgement and, to me, there is power in numbers. If a lot of people are saying things happened when you can’t really prove sexual harassment, you need to believe the people and allow them that moment, because they’ve been living with the shame.”
Rae followed Spencer with her own thoughts on the movement, including the reason why it’s so necessary and why it’s happening now.
“I think we need to take into consideration that the man who runs this country has several allegations against him,” she said. “I think that’s also what helped to spark this movement. People feel so helpless and people feel like, ‘we can make a change right now, we can be vocal right now.'”
She added, “You’re feeling a sense of urgency for women to make a change where they can and to speak out where they can, but it really stops at the top and continuing these conversations to mobilize against the highest power.”