As conversation about sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood grows louder by the minute, stars at the Make Equality Reality gala at New York’s Gotham Hall delivered a range of demands for change.
“It’s clearly about power,” feminist activist Gloria Steinem explained. “When somebody has had an experience that is wrong and it’s like yours, then you’re way more likely to step forward — and that is the importance of telling the truth.”
Hollywood’s leading figures received quite the call to action from their peers on Monday: It’s time to put up or shut up when it comes to women in the industry.
Steinem co-chaired the event, presented by the women’s rights group Equality Now, and said she hoped the conversations would extend beyond sexual harassment and into other areas of Hollywood, like equal pay.
“It can be a moment [of real change] if we start having movies in which the leading man and woman are the same age and getting paid the same. Those two things aren’t true at the moment. The industry enshrines power differences like it’s normal and natural,” she said. “We also need a group of bankable male stars to stand up and say: ‘I will not be in a movie unless my co-star makes as much money as I do.’ I think there are good men who would do that.”
Joss Whedon, who has credits ranging from creating “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to penning the screenplay for the upcoming “Justice League,” served as a creative director of the gala, writing scripts for mini-skits throughout the night. Role reversal was the central theme, as men donned the red costumes for “The Handmaid Tale” and complained about “mansplaining” and interrupting women being banned.
“Orange Is the New Black” actress Alysia Reiner hit the stage in a white bathrobe to conduct a job interview (as an obvious dig to disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein), while fellow actress Amy Carlson played a Silicon Valley exec telling a new male hire to think twice before having children.
Reiner and Carlson both said one of the biggest problems was simply the lack of women in front of and behind the camera. Reiner held up Ryan Murphy’s 50-50 men to women quota at his own company as a model for success, while Carlson explained that with 50% of grads in film school now female, the excuse for not hiring women was wearing thin.
“Six words: Hire more women. Hire more women,” said Carlson, an actress on “Blue Bloods.” “We’re so poorly represented in Hollywood on every single level. I’ve worked on shows where there are 22 episodes a year and they hire a single woman to direct and they think they’ve met quota. That is just not working hard enough.”
Michael Nathanson, who is starring in the upcoming Netflix show “The Punisher” said the industry needs those at the top to set an example. He pointed to the number of Hollywood insiders who backed away immediately from Weinstein.
“The public shaming is intense but it’s the right kind of scarlet letter,” he said. “As much as it is an individual’s responsibility, hopefully having powerful people in Hollywood say this will reverberate and change culture.”
“Blacklist” actor Amir Arison said he felt fortunate to have been raised by strong women, but he said he didn’t always recognize the harassment because of it.
“I knew there were sharks and predators out there, and I’m embarrassed I didn’t have a sense of how pervasive it is. So here I am tonight, learning how to help,” he said.
The evening, which also celebrated the nonprofit’s 25th anniversary, also honored Brisa De Angulo (founder of the children’s rights org Breeze of Hope) and Gucci America’s CEO and president Susan Chokachi, who helped establish the women’s rights initiative Chime for Change within the fashion company.