The interview is as astonishing as it is unsurprising.
Ahead of “Arrested Development’s” fifth season dropping on Netflix next week, the cast sat down with the New York Times and, among other subjects, addressed the sexual harassment and verbal abuse allegations that have recently been raised against star Jeffrey Tambor. While Tambor has denied the harassment allegations, he’s admitted to lashing out on set at his coworkers – including his “Arrested” co-star Jessica Walter.
In addressing that incident in the Times interview, all the male castmembers present — Tambor, Jason Bateman, David Cross, Tony Hale, and to a lesser extent, Will Arnett – tried to dismiss it as typical of a tumultuous industry, while Walter in tears insisted that it was not. It’s a jaw-dropping exchange — a blatant, textbook case of men obliviously speaking for women without ever actually considering them at all.
Whatever actually happened is still in question; neither Walter nor Tambor has been more specific about the details. But it was apparently upsetting enough that Walter categorizes it as uniquely harsh, insisting that in “almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set.” And despite her obvious emotion, despite her impassioned honesty, all the men in the room dismissed her. “Not to belittle it or excuse it or anything, but in the entertainment industry it is incredibly common to have people who are, in quotes, ‘difficult,’” said Bateman, using one of the oldest excuses in the Hollywood book to explain away terrible behavior.
The outpouring of support for Walter — and outrage at Bateman, in particular — that followed on social media led to an apology from him, along with Hale and Cross, for their parts in belittling her experience. But perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the interview is that, to me and countless other women, it feels completely ordinary.
Walter insisting that she was badly mistreated only to have her male coworkers brush her off is an unfortunately relatable situation for just about every woman who has tried in vain to stick up for herself in a hostile environment. As is Walter invoking her immense experience in her industry to back up her point, only to have less qualified men tell her why she’s wrong. As is Walter’s pain – made even more obvious by the audio of the interview that the Times has now published – when it becomes clear that these men claiming to have sympathy for her are far more sympathetic to the broken system that makes dismissing her experience so easy. As is the fact that Walter didn’t even want to discuss the incident publicly before Tambor brought it up, likely knowing there was no point.
Walter shouldn’t have had to defend herself at all, let alone over and over again as her coworkers tried to chalk Tambor’s behavior up to some mysterious “process” that necessitates erupting at his coworkers. Their insistence that they don’t want to belittle her as they continue to belittle her is painfully ironic, not least because it’s so infuriatingly familiar to any woman who’s tried to stick up for herself only to have men fall all over themselves to talk over her.
Tellingly, the only person who unequivocally speaks up in Walter’s defense is Alia Shawkat, the only other woman in the room (“Arrested” castmember Portia de Rossi wasn’t present for the interview). Shawkat protested that just because the entertainment industry has indulged abusive “processes” in the past “doesn’t mean it’s acceptable” — yet here, too, Bateman condescended that she should understand that some actors just have “a wobbly route to their goal.”
Eventually, Walter ended the discussion by saying that she still respects Tambor and is trying to let it go. But realistically, what other choice did she have? She was surrounded by male coworkers apparently determined to dismiss her and Shawkat’s objections as inconsequential so they could praise Tambor for having the basic decency to be sorry. In trying to show their support for one coworker, they threw the other right under the bus and didn’t look back until they were called out for doing it. This frustrating double standard, as many women reading the interview immediately understood, trapped Walter in the kind of lose-lose situation that makes speaking up so hard to do in the first place.
For what it’s worth I believe Bateman and Hale when they say they didn’t realize how poorly they were treating Walter in the moment; ostensibly well-meaning men rarely do. Seeing their inconsiderate words in black-and-white (not to mention that damning audio) must have been as jarring for them as it was familiar for all the women reading it. But if they truly mean their apologies, they’ll stop making excuses for their abusive friends — and start holding them accountable.