Call it a reckoning. Starting with the onslaught of sexual assault and harassment claims against Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood has been rocked by revelations that extend to all corners of the entertainment complex, including the annual Sundance Film Festival. At this year’s event, the growing #MeToo and Time’s Up movements are top of mind. But what’s next?
“These last few months have definitely been seismic, I think we can all agree on that,” Sundance Executive director Keri Putnam said in her opening remarks at Monday’s annual Women at Sundance brunch. “The brave victims who came forward have launched a movement that I think we can all agree has sparked a lot of conversations, a lot of activism, and a lot of contemplation.”
Putnam then referred directly to the Weinstein allegations, which “opened the floodgates” to others coming forward with their stories. Putnam’s reference to the Weinstein effect was necessary; it also required an admission of the festival’s role in his alleged crimes.
“I want to start just by acknowledging with all of you here that some of those incidents happened during the Sundance Film Festival, and I just want to sit here and acknowledge that,” Putnam said. “This is about all of us, the community that we share, and what inspires me coming out of that, is that we have a chance to reshape it together.”
A repeated refrain is the inevitability of not only the allegations, but also the change it is sparking in the industry and beyond.
“Right now, this is a movement and moment that has to happen, it has to occur,” Oscar winner Octavia Spencer said at a Power of Story panel during the festival’s opening weekend. “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.”
Even Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, subject of festival documentary “RBG,” addressed the movement during a weekend panel. “It’s about time,” said Ginsburg. “For so long, women were silent thinking there was nothing you could do about it. But now the law is on the side of women or men who encounter harassment and that’s a good thing.”
Asked if she’s worried that such a heightened situation will lead to backlash, she was clear: “Let’s see where it goes,” she said. “So far it’s been great.”
During the first weekend of the festival, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association hosted a panel, “Women Breaking Barriers,” which included Women in Film president Cathy Schulman, who has long been outspoken about the issues that drive #MeToo and Time’s Up.
“Seven years ago, I would call the trades and beg them to cover our issues and I couldn’t get a single article published,” said Schulman. “Now there isn’t a minute, a day, week or month that goes by that we don’t talk about women’s issues. The most important thing is that we don’t get all excited and then just brush everything under the rug again.”
One way to ensure that: continued conversations. Loud ones, messy ones, big ones. At Sundance, those chats were everywhere, from scheduled events to offhand remarks at parties and premieres.
“This isn’t a new conversation for us, but it’s a new moment, and we’re not going to go backwards from here,” Putnam said at the festival’s Day One press conference. “I do want to recognize, though, [that] I don’t think making change in a complex system like ours is easy, and I think that it’s going to require a lot of effort, and a lot of pressure, and a lot of conversations.”
Yet, a few months into the movement – one that already has seen massive change and the formation of activist groups like the Time’s Up actress collective – supporters and survivors are eager for the next stage: action.
“We know that systematic, sustainable change is absolutely necessary, and it must come now,” Pat Mitchell, chairperson of the Sundance Institute’s board of trustees and an outspoken feminist, said at the women’s brunch. “All movements toward systemic change seem to start with that first moment, when the brave victims of the current system, the oppressed, the violated, the left out, step up and start to tell their stories.”
She continued, “We have just gone through that moment. What comes next is the hard part: the movement-building.”
Mitchell also moderated a panel of current luminaries in various movements tied to this new era in Hollywood, including actress Tessa Thompson, one of the key members of the Time’s Up actress group formed in January. With members like Brie Larson, Natalie Portman, Reese Witherspoon, Ashley Judd, Eva Longoria, Emma Stone, Kerry Washington, and America Ferrera, the alliance used the Golden Globes to spread their message through prominent lapel pins and a commitment to only wear black.
“Essentially, the actress group is [about] how can we use our platform and our position in this industry towards collective bargaining for parity,” Thompson said at the women’s brunch. “Of course, our first big effort was around the Golden Globes. I think, for us, it was, ‘How do we take this moment, how do we lean in as opposed to opt out?'”
Time’s Up has also been swift to organize its own actions, and Thompson has been a vocal proponent of the group’s first “real resource”: a legal defense fund. “I think upward of $18 million that’s been raised now has been raised from 50 states and 67 countries,” she said at the WIF event. “And that’s Time’s Up, right? That’s everybody collectively saying, ‘Time’s Up.'”
“Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” filmmaker Angela Robinson, a vocal proponent of the 50/50 By 2020 movement that pushes for gender parity and further inclusion of minorities throughout the industry in the next two years, was also on hand at the women’s brunch, armed with her own vision of action.
“Everyone said, ‘That’s impossible in two years, you can’t do it,'” Robinson said. “And we were just like, ‘Well, why not? Just as a negotiation, a thing to start with.’ We’re just asking, and we’re in a moment now.”
Robinson added that showrunner Shonda Rhimes recently visited her agency, ICM, and asked it to adapt the concept of 50/50 as it applies to its board, its leadership, and new hires. ICM agreed, and now the group is continuing to take its ask out to other agencies.
While some panelists offered skepticism that the agencies would hold to their promises, Robinson and Thompson were clear that it’s a move that will only work if they — and other members of the movement — keep everyone accountable. In that respect, it may be time to stop talking.
“We don’t really want panels about this, we want policy, right?” Thompson, who also spoke at an ATT DIRECTV and Women in Film event earlier in the week. “This is useful insofar as it gives us a space to get on the same page, to be able to look across the room at our allies who are like-minded… When we talk about the real change that needs to happen on a studio level, to really create some change in our industry, and in the kind of stories that are told and celebrated, that’s kind of what we need to do, right?”
She added, “That’s what these spaces are useful for.”
Additional reporting by Jenna Marotta.