Inside Time’s Up Entertainment’s Plan to Take on Sexism in Hollywood

Times Up Hollywood
Directors Chair: Rex/Shutterstock; Illustration: Variety

Nithya Raman was named executive director of Time’s Up Entertainment in July. If you didn’t know that, you’re not alone. Raman was hired with such little fanfare that when, last month, journalists were asked to an off-the-record meet-and-greet with her at the office of Hollywood publicity firm Sunshine Sachs, many who received the invitation were unaware not just of Raman’s hiring but of the fact that Time’s Up had sprouted an entertainment-specific branch. In an industry where no new hire or venture is real unless accompanied by a host of trumpeting angels, such a quiet entrance is unusual.

But Raman is an unusual choice for an entertainment-industry job. An urban planner who spent most of her career in India advocating for slum dwellers to receive access to basic services, she spent the past three years in the Los Angeles City Hall working on homelessness initiatives. She is not of the business.

“There is a sense often in the entertainment industry that it is a very unique industry, that it is really different from others,” Raman says. “But for me coming from the background that I do, I feel a lot of the problems are really common.”

Raman describes Time’s Up Entertainment as an affiliate of the core Time’s Up organization — which was hastily formed early this year in the response to sexual assault and harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein and others in the film and television industries. Amid much buzz, a legal defense fund was launched in partnership with the National Women’s Law Center, fueled by $13 million in initial donations, much of it from the Hollywood talent agencies. With capital and cultural momentum behind it, but without much infrastructure, Time’s Up has been largely associated with celebrity backers such as Reese Witherspoon, Eva Longoria, Ava DuVernay and Brie Larson. Tina Tchen, former chief of staff to Michelle Obama, was recruited to work on the legal defense fund.

But following an initial push earlier this year, Time’s Up has remained out of the spotlight, and confusion has reigned over what exactly the organization is. Aside from the occasional press announcement focused on a particular issue — most recently an open letter recommending that money earmarked by CBS as potential severance for Leslie Moonves, ousted from his post as CEO following allegations of sexual assault and harassment, be given to Time’s Up — the organization has been mostly quiet.

Time’s Up is less than a year old, so details of its financials are still shrouded. The legal defense fund is administered by the National Women’s Law Center, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization with which Time’s Up’s founders partnered. The fund has a public GoFundMe page that is currently sitting at $22 million. But Time’s Up has also formed a 501(c)(4) organization — able to participate in politics — donations to which are not tax deductible. That organization, whose daily operations are supported by a handful of private donors, now boasts a full-time staff of six, in addition to the services of several outside consultants and celebrity volunteers.

The “core” Time’s Up has spawned affiliates focused on particular industries, including advertising, venture capital and media.

Time’s Up Entertainment, which is designated as a 501(c)(3), is an effort to create a unit dedicated to the industry that created Time’s Up. Raman is, so far, the only full-time employee, buttressed by one part-timer and staffers from core Time’s Up, which provided initial funding. But Raman’s goal is for the entertainment affiliate to be, eventually, independently funded through grants and donations. “The staff size that I’m going to be able to grow to depends on how much money I’m able to raise,” she says.

Part of the reason for Time’s Up Entertainment’s low-key rollout is, according to Raman, that most of its fledgling initiatives are not ready for public consumption. The one program that she is able to talk about — called Critical — is not focused on the entertainment industry, but rather on the journalists who cover it.

Set to roll out in the coming months, Critical is a digital tool meant to be used by studios and publicists to, according to Raman, “help them put together events that were more reflective of the broader American audience” — effectively to assemble invitation lists for press events that would be less overstuffed with straight white men. Time’s Up Entertainment has, working with critics’ organizations and film festivals, begun to form a database of film journalists that come from diverse backgrounds and work in nontraditional media such as podcasts.

“One of the questions that we were talking about in those early days was barriers that unrepresented voices, including women, including people of color, faced in telling their stories,” Raman says. “The critics issue just came up in different conversations, and felt like something where we in the entertainment industry had the ability to make some changes in how we could remove barriers that we were putting up to a far greater diversity of voices.”

That white men dominate film criticism is a fact. A study this year by USC’s Stacy L. Smith, with Time’s Up Entertainment, found that white men wrote 65.6% of the reviews of top-grossing films from 2015-17.

But Critical is an odd first effort. Raman makes no distinction between film critics and the journalists who cover red carpets, go to junkets and attend group set visits — all of which, in addition to press screenings, the digital tool is designed to increase access to. And the initiative’s goal appears not to be to promote opportunity for women, people of color and other underrepresented communities at established entertainment-journalism outlets, but rather to change the makeup of the group of journalists that actors and creators see when they attend industry events.

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The chosen method to accomplish this is to push for more freelancers and people representing marginal media outlets to be invited to press events. As such, Time’s Up Entertainment has not engaged the editors who control hiring and assignments at top media outlets about their recruitment or talent-development practices.

“We in the entertainment industry cannot tell editors and publications who to hire and who to assign for these kinds of stories,” Raman says.

Talking with Raman, it becomes clear that Critical is largely the result of early input from Time’s Up’s core of successful industry leaders. Discussing the formation of Time’s Up, she talks about how “women in production were talking to directors, were talking to actors, were talking to executives.” Asked why the tool focuses on film instead of television, where a far higher volume of work takes place, particularly below the line, she answers, “I think the people who initially started this conversation were more experienced in film.”

Raman insists that Critical is not the first major initiative for Time’s Up Entertainment — just the first that she is able to talk about. She promises that soon much of the work that she and others have been engaging in behind the scenes will be ready for primetime.

“The bulk of the work is not focused entirely on creators or creative people,” she says. “I think the focus is on the entertainment-industry workplace and how we can make it safer and more equitable.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that Raman worked in the office of the mayor of Los Angeles. Raman in fact worked in the office of the City Administrative Officer, which is housed in L.A. City Hall. The story also originally identified Time’s Up Entertainment as a 501(c)(4). It is a 501(c)(3).