The impact of 2017’s wave of sexual harassment allegations and revelations is already changing Hollywood, according to a story in this week’s The New Yorker.
Article author Dana Goodyear writes that the #MeToo movement has caused show business to ask itself who is safe to work with and who might blow up tomorrow.
An anonymous television executive notes, “All people want to know is, ‘Who’s next and what happens? How long do these people stay off the playing field, are they done for good, does this provide opportunities for women, is this permanent, temporary, what? Is this an overreaction? Should all doors literally be glass? Nobody knows how to act now. The rules have been so changed.’ ”
Beyond business decisions, others in Hollywood are cautious about even the most innocuous contact. Goodyear quotes, again anonymously, a former studio head: “In staff meetings, in writers’ rooms, in casting sessions, how you greet somebody in a restaurant, the language you use—every nuance has been impacted. Unless someone’s father just died or you are best friends, no one is hugging anymore.”
Cathy Schulman, an Oscar-winning producer and the president of the advocacy group Women in Film, told Goodyear that when she walks into a man’s office and tries to close the door, she gets an objection. “It’s happened at least ten times in the past two months. And there are constant apologies in meetings—‘I didn’t mean that to sound gendered.’ Fumbling over language to be careful to say ‘he,’ ‘she,’ ‘they’—not everything ‘he.’ But not naturally. As in, ‘Whoever gets this job, he should—they should—she should . . . ’ ”
The story, titled Exposure, has interviews with studio and television executives, show runners, actors, journalists, and writers. It examines the impact of #MeToo, and at the century of sexual harassment and misconduct that has led to the reckoning.
Goodyear doesn’t stint on the horror stories she presents. She tells the story of Amaani Lyle, a writers’ assistant who got a job on Friends in 1999. The only woman of color in the room, her job was to write down what the writers talked about, much of it coarse, vulgar and sexually charged.
Lyle pitched a story line involving an African-American love interest for Joey, the character played by Matt LeBlanc. It was ignored and Lyle was later fired, ostensibly for typing too slowly. Her subsequent suit for wrongful termination and racial discrimination was unsuccessful.
In the suit, the writers didn’t dispute the behavior Lyle had described. They claimed, citing the First Amendment, that the behaviors were a “creative necessity” on a show about unmarried friends, and the comments were not directed at Lyle.
An amicus brief, signed by Steven Bochco, David Milch, Norman Lear, Diane English, and a hundred and twenty-seven other writers, argued that “the process creators go through to capture the necessary magic is inexact, counter-intuitive, non-linear, often painful—and above all, delicate.”
In another anecdote in the article, an unnamed actress, described as “a year older than Shirley Temple, a year younger than Jane Withers,” tells a story about being propositioned by a studio head writer, Harry Ruskin, when she was 16.
She left Ruskin’s office and found a broom closet to weep in. When she had composed herself, she went upstairs to studio head Louis B. Mayer’s office. “He said, ‘Have you seen Harry?’ I said, ‘Yes, but’—he wouldn’t let me say anything. She responded, ‘But, Mr. Mayer, do you know what Harry wants me to do?’ He was behind this enormous square desk, and he came around, sat on the arm of the chair, put his arm on my shoulder, pulled me toward him, and said, ‘You’ll get used to it.’ ”
She wouldn’t, and she tells Goodyear that nothing changed between her time and today. Until 2017.