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Laura Dern: #MeToo Has Already Changed the Way Hollywood Treats the Next Generation

During a recent panel, Dern and #MeToo founder Tarana Burke examined how the industry has changed in less than a year (and what they make of that backlash).

Laura DernThe Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 05 Feb 2018

Chelsea Lauren/REX/Shutterstock

It hasn’t even been a full year since Hollywood was shaken by the rise of the #MeToo movement and a series of allegations against some of entertainment’s most powerful figures, but change has already come to certain segments of the industry. At a Tuesday evening panel at the annual PromaxBDA Conference, which brings together various segments of the entertainment marketing world, outspoken actress Laura Dern and #MeToo founder Tarana Burke sat down with “20/20” anchor Amy Robach to talk about how they — and Hollywood — are moving forward.

Asked what changes Dern has already seen take root in the entertainment industry since #MeToo went viral nine months ago, and the actress pointed to both shifts in narrative storytelling and the way Hollywood treats its next generation.

“While simultaneously culture is changing, I think that Hollywood and that industry is shifting in terms of the questions we’re asking, both in storytelling as well as [how to] protect individuals … from the abuse of power,” Dern said. “Many of us are working specifically with our unions, like myself and Screen Actors Guild, to reconsider and create a very different code of conduct that protects young actors in the audition process, a seemingly simple thing, but many stories we heard occurred [during auditions].”

And Dern appears to be especially enthused by the response from that younger generation, who are no longer content to simply wait for their elders to enact change.

“There’s so much work to be done, there’s a lot of opportunity, and it’s happening as we’re trying to support the youth in our industry and in all industries,” she said. “We also have the youth having probably the loudest, most momentous voice in many years in the country, we can see it with [issues] of gun safety. That the youth is saying, ‘We’ve had enough, we are in the position where we thought you grownups were going to keep us safe, and we’re not safe. So now we’re going to do something about it, we’re going to effect change ourselves.’ This is extraordinary.”

She added, “I think all of us, in positions of being storytellers … must protect the next generation coming into our industries, going to school ‘because we make them,’ and making sure that we create a safe environment.”

As a long-time actress in Hollywood, Dern was also asked about how the #MeToo movement has shifted her perspective as a woman in the industry. Asked if she feels differently now than she did even a year ago, she responded, “Well, very, because I gave myself permission to see my own story, to see the voice or lack thereof that my parents had,” she said, referring to Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd. “I was raised by actors, so watching how it’s shifted since they tried to be authentic in their experience and have boundaries in their experience.”

She also noted the need for better safety measures on set. “We’re talking about boundaries of self-respect, not only in sexuality or in your art, your creative environment, but physical safety in the workplace,” she said. “The multitude of physical challenges that between my family of actors, we’ve had all because they are injuries that occur in the workplace. It was like, ‘Oh, you’re not going to be the one guy that doesn’t do his own stunts.'”

She recalled how her father started his career in Westerns. “So the guys all did their own stunts, and you wanted to be the guy who never complained, and then you’re thrown off a horse and you break your knee, break your collarbone,” she said. “I can’t tell you the amount of injuries in my family. I watch how that has shifted dramatically.”

While the changes that Dern highlighted are all positive ones, both she and Burke admitted that they’re not blind to backlash against the movement, including those who seek to call #MeToo and Time’s Up a “witch hunt” (or worse). As for those eager to disavow the movement because it’s “gone too far,” Dern and Burke had words for detractors who just don’t get it.

“This idea that, ‘Well, you can’t hug anybody anymore,'” Dern said. Burke cut in: “That makes me crazy, people take it too far,” she said. “It’s a lack of compassion, if you can’t even be compassionate enough to see that people are not saying, ‘Oh, don’t say my dress is pretty,’ … that’s not what’s happening. People are taking the lowest common denominator and blow it up.”

Burke also reiterated that #MeToo remains focused on “centering victims” and their stories, an aim that has not changed even as the world around has in just a few short months.

“Here’s the reality: nine months ago, millions of people across the world raised their hand and said, ‘This happened to me too.’ That’s all they’re saying,” Burke said. “They didn’t call for anything. Even the women who came forward about Harvey Weinstein, they didn’t call for him to be taken down, they didn’t even think it was possible! But, at their own risk, they came forward to tell their truth.”

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