Three years ago, the Me Too movement sparked a Hollywood reckoning that put some of the most powerful players in entertainment on blast. From Harvey Weinstein’s rape conviction to Matt Lauer’s firing, the industry has been working toward safer and more equitable workplaces in the years since the hashtag lit up Twitter.
Anita Hill — who became a national figure when she publicly accused Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his Senate confirmation in 1991 — has been one of many activists working to end sexual harassment, gender discrimination and racial bias. Through an industry-wide survey among nearly 10,000 workers in entertainment, she is providing data to industry partners, in hopes that real progress will be made.
As chair of the Hollywood Commission for Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality, which was founded by Kathleen Kennedy and Nina Shaw, Hill helped to conduct the survey, which on Tuesday, released its final findings in a report about the culture and climate in Hollywood.
In releasing the final results, Hill writes about the survey landing at the end of an unprecedented year. The attorney and academic notes that racism and sexism flourish during any global pandemic, writing, “Black and Hispanic Americans are dying at greater rates from COVID-19 than the general population. Women of all races are bearing a disproportionate burden of the pandemic’s economic and social fallout.” Hill also notes hate crimes and anti-Semitic violence reaching an all-time high at the end of 2020, which is the deadliest year for transgender people in the U.S.
With the backdrop of social unrest sweeping the nation, Hill believes Hollywood can use its power to set an example and “do better.”
“This year, Hollywood leadership embraced entertainment’s role as a world influencer, realizing that global and industry conditions demanded better choices,” Hill writes.
“With ingenuity, determination, and innovation, Hollywood has risen to the complex challenges posed by COVID-19,” she continues. “Industry interests across labor and management upended long-held ways of doing business in Hollywood and precipitated a reinvention of the business from the ground up in response to the health crisis. Moved by the deep disparities revealed by the pandemic, widespread antiracism protests, and the pleas of entertainment workers of color for meaningful representation, the entertainment industry welcomed new storylines and voices, and pioneered new ways to create content.”
The survey found that less than half of participants believe that Hollywood values diversity and inclusion, and only 39% believe that Hollywood “acknowledges and respects the dignity, unique perspectives, and experiences of every person.”
“We have truly started to create an infrastructure for change,” Hill says.
Some of the year’s accomplishments she highlights are the Academy’s new representation and inclusion standards for the Oscars; ViacomCBS establishing the First Time Directors program; CBS’ commitment to developing projects from BIPOC creators and aiming to staff its writers’ rooms with a minimum of 50% BIPOC representation by the 2022-2023 broadcast season; WME and Endeavor implementing more than 30 actions based on the initiative led by Michael B. Jordan and Color of Change; and Netflix pledging $100 million to Black-owned financial institutions.
Highlighting the work that needs to be done when it comes to accountability, bullying, racial bias, and sexual harassment and assault, the final survey provides staggering statistics: only 35% of survey respondents believing it is “very” or “somewhat likely” that a harasser in a position of power would be held accountable for their harassment of a lower-level staffer; and only 7% thought it was “very likely” abusers would be held accountable in the workplace.
“Something needs to be done to hold people accountable for all types of abuse, beyond the great progress we’ve made with the #MeToo movement alone,” an anonymous survey participant wrote. “There are so many people in the business who are still verbally abusive to assistants and people below them. It would be great to see future initiatives that work towards eradicating this behavior.”
Another anonymous survey participant shared that when they were an assistant, the CEO and vice president of the company “gave me actual assignments to flirt with other powerful people in the industry to try to get my bosses more meetings.” When she declined the request, “They always compared me to ‘the girl before,’ who would do everything they asked and were, as a group, hostile toward me for refusing,” this anonymous person wrote. “They also pulled the line that ‘it’s just how the industry is’ and that I had to do it because everyone else does.”
With regard to widespread bullying and an unchecked power balance that is pervasive across the industry, the survey found that to be largely true.
“The industry tolerates bad behavior by powerful people. Producers, actors, and above the line individuals are rarely held accountable for tyrannical behavior,” another participant wrote, anonymously, adding that they have witnessed people being fired, rather than the powerful aggressor being reprimanded. “A production works at the whims of those in power, and those below the line have very little recourse to complain or to have their complaints addressed.”
In addition to releasing the findings across the industry, Hill, who has been meeting with industry leaders weekly throughout the pandemic, is providing groundbreaking resources: a reporting system to help identify repeat offenders across the industry, a bystander training program, a best-practices conduct policy, a production field guide and an online workers’ guide, which are all planned for publication.
The Hollywood Commission has released a suggested path forward, which can be found here in the final report.
“The same intent, resolve, exigency, and creativity that will soon deliver a safe, effective COVID vaccine can help eradicate the parallel plagues of racism and sexism,” Hill says, urging, “Hollywood was born of innovation. It can be rebuilt by it, too.”