Is the entertainment industry running rampant with sexual misconduct?
That was the big question at Women in Film Los Angeles’ “sexual and gender abuse in the workplace” panel, held Tuesday night at the West Hollywood Library.
Actress, writer, and director Heather Graham and casting director Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd agreed that the men in the industry have “an ego issue.” Both women, along with other industry vets and activists, offered insight in a productive conversation about Hollywood’s sexual harassment epidemic.
“As an actress, I’ve experienced a lot of sexual harassment — including the kinds you’ve been reading about in the news,” Graham said early on in the conversation. She later shared that her initial response to those situations was to write and direct a film about it in her upcoming directorial debut, “Half Magic.”
“I think you wonder: ‘What should I do about this? Is this a criminal act they could be punished for? I don’t want to be seen as an actor that’s a pain in the ass,'” she continued while referencing Ashley Judd’s story. “My only recourse was writing and directing a movie about it because I thought it wouldn’t change, but now it is.”
It wasn’t until other actors came forward that Graham wanted to publicly share her story. “I felt like women were finally speaking their truths and finally being heard, and finally people were doing something about it,” she added. “I’m extremely excited about women becoming more empowered to speak their truth and for men that are acting in toxic, masculine ways to be fired.”
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The star also said that there is “a shift in the culture.” “Those people should be getting help,” Graham stated. “They should be in a treatment facility learning how to treat other people with empathy and compassion, and maybe we’re doing them a favor.”
The panel, which was moderated by WIF president Cathy Schulman, touched on a multitude of topics, including predation tactics, non-disclosure agreements, and legal action.
Graham said she thinks non-disclosure agreements should be completely off the table when sexual assault is involved. “Because of Harvey Weinstein and how he made everyone at those companies sign NDAs and they weren’t able to prosecute him,” she said. “He disempowered them completely.”
Fellow panelist and attorney Cynthia Bamforth countered by stating that no signed agreement should be able to stop the report of a criminal act. It was also said that some documents were simply used as an intimidation tool to silence accusers and prevent them from exercising their human rights.
Graham, Byrd, and Bamforth were joined on the panel by filmmaker and scholar Kathleen Tarr as well as Rosette “Rose” Laursen — the young Hollywood assistant who exposed her former boss’ sexist emails earlier this year, before the bombshell New York Times Harvey Weinstein expose.
The panelists concluded the evening by offering solutions for the industry’s widespread harassment claims: hiring more women as decision-makers, not working with those with sexual histories or reputations, and publicly praising men who don’t abuse their power.
The event was filled with mostly women, including actress Elizabeth Perkins, who has also participated in the #MeToo movement.
Women in Film Los Angeles advocates for women working in the screen industries to achieve parity and change culture, according to Kirsten Schaffer, executive director of WIF. The nonprofit recently announced that it will soon launch a help line and legal aid resource for sexual assault survivors who are working in the industry.
The number for the hotline goes public on Friday.