The SAG-AFTRA presidential election has heated up with a pointed attack by six women on president Gabrielle Carteris and her handling of the guild’s response to the growing awareness of sexual harassment in the industry.
Allies of Matthew Modine, who has mounted an active challenge to Carteris, issued a detailed recap of her actions since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in October, 2017. Rosanna Arquette, Jessica Barth, Caitlin Dulany, Pamela Guest, Sarah Ann Masse, and Sarah Scott each assailed Carteris in a campaign message released Wednesday by Modine’s Membership First faction.
Carteris responded by accusing Membership First of ignoring the progress that has been made: “The timing of these complaints, made as our election ballots have just been mailed, is no coincidence. It’s deeply disturbing that the work our union has done — from individual members to our elected leadership — is being disregarded in Membership First’s cynical attempt to grab political power.”
She also asserted that union’s work to stem harassment on sets, in auditions, and interviews has been extensive and is ongoing, adding, “To suggest otherwise is simply politicizing the deep pain of some of our members.”
The Membership First message accused the guild and Carteris, who has been SAG-AFTRA president since 2016, of mishandling the Kip Pardue sexual harassment investigation, deception and spending a million dollars on a harassment initiative rather than working with existing organizations.
Arquette said she had met Carteris for lunch after coming forward with accusations against Weinstein.
“I told her I wanted to put together a committee to deal with sexual harassment issues so that it might not ever happen again,” she said. “Gabby was kind and very receptive. Or, so I thought. The very women who came forward to painfully revisit their experiences were shut out of these ‘confidential committee’ meetings. Why? Carteris was the one who would sign off on all members on the Task Force. Why wasn’t I included? I was told by one of Ms. Carteris’ supporters on Twitter that I was asked to come onboard — it was a complete and utter lie.”
Carteris has been the public voice of the performers union during the past two years on the issue. The guild established a Code of Conduct on Sexual Harassment instructing its 160,000 members how to deal with the issue last year. The union has also included harassment protections in the recent deals for Netflix, non-primetime TV and commercial contracts — including a ban on auditions in private residences and hotel rooms. The national board adapted guidelines for intimacy coordinators on sets earlier this month — though the statement alleges this was only after a long delay.
Guest noted that she had personally alerted Carteris to the growing enthusiasm for Intimacy Coordinators in August, 2018. “Then after much fanfare, the President’s sub-committee did not meet from June, 2018 to May, 2019, almost one entire year later,” she said.
Guest, a member of the national and Los Angeles boards, said she brought forward the idea of a Sexual Harassment Task Force in 2017, which was unanimously supported by the L.A. Board.
“But then, Ms. Carteris turned Ms. Guest’s Task Force into her own President’s sub-committee,” Guest said. “Frances Fisher, Rosanna Arquette, Patricia Arquette, Ellen Barkin, and Jennifer Esposito worked diligently alongside Ms. Guest and submitted numerous safety provisions that could have been implemented immediately. But, to their dismay, Carteris adopted none of them.”
Barth, who accused Weinstein of harassment in 2017, said Carteris had been responsive when she and Caitlin Dulany founded the Voices in Action organization.
“When we met with President Carteris, she seemed supportive but then completely stopped communication,” Barth said. “Despite our matching system being responsible for multiple criminal investigations, civil investigations, perpetrators losing positions of power and survivors speaking their truth, we have received zero support from our union or even our industry as a whole. SAG-AFTRA’s refusal to offer Voices in Action as a resource to its members shows an abhorrent lack of responsibility and a shockingly low sense of urgency to keep members safe.”
Scott did not name Carteris in her statement, choosing to criticize the current reporting system. She reported last year that she had been sexually harassed by Pardue, who was found guilty of misconduct, fined $6,000 and censured for “inappropriate and unprofessional conduct.”
“The reporting process was insensitive and the Member-to-Member Hearing I went through was demeaning and ineffectual,” she said. “The current system is antiquated and needs reform, and the punishment falls flat. A third party investigative team should be handling these cases, not our peers.”
Dulany, who accused Weinstein of sexual assault in 2017, said the union’s guidelines and codes of conduct are not protective measures with penalties and fines attached.
“They are not enforceable,” she added. “They are, at most, strong suggestions. It is imperative that safety from sexual misconduct be negotiated as part of our contractual agreements with producers.”
Masse, who disclosed being sexually harassed by Weinstein in 2017, said, “Current SAG-AFTRA leadership, which had the opportunity to promote transparency, safety, and survivor-driven, trauma-informed programs and policies, instead, created an ineffectual, non-transparent committee that has done nothing but slow these imperative changes.”
Modine also said in the message, “Survivors of sexual assault want our leaders to stand up and say that they understand sexual abuse is a serious problem in our nation. I stand beside every person who has survived these crimes and deplorable behavior, and I promise to take actions to change it.”
Election ballots were mailed July 29 to dues-current members and will be tabulated on Aug. 28. SAG-AFTRA represents about 160,000 performers. Besides Modine, Carteris faces three challengers — Jane Austin, the current secretary-treasurer; Abraham Justice; and Queen Alljahye Searles.
Modine told Variety that the issue of intimacy coordinators is a central issue of his campaign.
“For over four decades I have had the honor of working alongside some of the most famous actresses in the industry and have personally experienced abuses of power in relation to moments of cinematic intimacy,” he said.
“When an actress friend (who shall remain nameless due to fear of industry reprisals and who is currently engaged in the Harvey Weinstein lawsuits) became aware of my candidacy for SAG-AFTRA President, she reached out to discuss sexual harassment on film sets,” he continued. “She explained the urgent need for intimacy coordinators, just like stunt coordinators, for the protection of our members.”
He credited Guest with bringing up the issue in a subsequent video conference with several intimacy coordinators.
“It was clear to me that the need for intimacy coordinators was important to everyone,” Modine added. “However, no entity — the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild or SAG-AFTRA — wanted to assume responsibility. For me, there’s no question that intimacy coordinators should be our union’s responsibility. Someone who understands the demands and pressures put upon a performer and who can effectively provide a safe working space for our membership.”
Working with Intimacy Coordinators to codify and standardize how our members are protected on sets is just one of several important steps we’ve taken. We’re working diligently to ensure the safety of all members across the entire range of work we cover. That includes actors, broadcasters, singers, dancers, background performers and more. As a woman who has worked throughout the industry for decades, I know the issues at stake first-hand and I’ve repeatedly demonstrated my commitment to finding effective solutions.
I am always interested in putting good ideas into action as we have done with the Four Pillars of Change initiative, the Code of Conduct on Sexual Harassment, achieving new provisions in our Commercials and Network Television Code contracts with explicit personal harassment protections, the expanded and enhanced safety hotline, our harassment prevention guidelines, our intimacy coordinators initiative, the partnership on therapeutic resources with the Actors Fund, the industry call to action, and many other programs and initiatives. The work we are doing to stem the tide of harassment on sets, in auditions, and interviews has been extensive and is ongoing. To suggest otherwise is simply politicizing the deep pain of some of our members.”