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After Weinstein Retaliation, Sarah Ann Masse Is Urging Hollywood to Work With Sexual Harassment Survivors

Sarah Ann Masse Hire Survivors Hollywood
Courtesy of Marie Buck/Sarah Ann Masse

In 2017, at the height of the #MeToo movement, actor, comedian and writer Sarah Ann Masse came forward with sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein.

In the years since, Weinstein has been convicted of rape, sentenced to 23 years in New York prison and awaits another sexual assault trial in Los Angeles. All the while, Masse has taken power back into her own hands by launching her own initiative, Hire Survivors Hollywood, and by bringing her activism to projects in which she’s been cast to ensure better working conditions and increased opportunities for survivors who have faced retaliation in the entertainment business.

As Weinstein’s rape conviction stands to possibly be overturned, allegations of sexual misconduct continue to be leveled against a number of high-profile men in Hollywood. Just this month, individuals have come forward with allegations against “Sex and the City” actor Chris Noth, CNN’s Chris Cuomo and “X-Men” director Bryan Singer. And while some progress has been made in regards to sexual misbehavior being exposed, many survivors express a common fear in telling their stories: retaliation for coming forward.

Masse’s initiative, Hire Survivors Hollywood, aims to raise support for survivors of sexual violence within the entertainment industry by encouraging those in positions of power to make a pledge to hire survivors and silence breakers, and give them a fair chance through auditions, meetings and interviews, like any other person trying to make it in entertainment.

Masse hopes that her initiative will create a safe, equitable work environment, increase representation in the industry and encourage individuals who have faced sexual violence to come forward without fear of their careers being damaged.

“We know that if survivors of sexual violence who have yet to speak up see those who have already come forward being punished for telling the truth, it will make them less likely to come forward,” Masse tells Variety, adding that survivors are then overwhelmed by “the burden of silence, leaving predators free to continue operating within the industry, which makes our working environments less safe for everyone.”

Hire Survivors Hollywood started as a hashtag in late 2017. Masse started using #HireSurvivorsHollywood, and speaking up about retaliation, after she was told she was being blacklisted in the business for speaking against Weinstein. The initiative was formally launched in early 2020, after Masse spoke on a panel with other survivors at the Athena Film Festival. Now, Hire Survivors Hollywood is helping to guide productions on how to work with survivors at all stages, from development to release, and in all departments, covering actors, writers, directors, costumers, grips, editors and more.

The key is for these wonderful talents, both above and below the line, to be given opportunities again,” Masse says.

To start, Hire Survivors Hollywood assists productions in helping to find survivors to audition for a more inclusive casting process. On set, the initiative encourages hiring a trauma educator to put on a training session with the cast and crew before cameras roll, a mental health professional for shoot days that might deal with triggering content and intimacy coordinators.

So far, Masse has teamed up with independent filmmakers, and is busy with her own outreach to those she knows in the film community. But, the big-picture goal is to work with major Hollywood studios on normalizing hiring survivors. She reveals to Variety that she is currently working on expansion efforts to reach out on a larger scale, along with ReFrame, an initiative founded by the Sundance Institute and Women In Film (WIF).

“The fight to achieve gender equality in Hollywood is also the fight to end gender-based violence and harassment in Hollywood. We have to go beyond improving the numbers of women hired on a production, and examine what we are all doing to ensure those workplaces are free of harassment,” says ReFrame’s director, Andria Wilson Mirza, who is collaborating with Hire Survivors Hollywood on ReFrame’s new toolkit, which will launch in the new year to provide resources and training for producers committed to creating safer sets. 

“Survivors of sexual harassment and assault in the entertainment industry have faced blacklisting and retaliation for too long,” says Kirsten Schaffer, CEO of WIF. “We must commit to uplift the voices of survivors who speak out against abuse and support them in sustaining the careers they deserve. Hire Survivors Hollywood is an important initiative that holds decision makers accountable and fosters the respect and care that survivors deserve.”

According to Anita Hill’s Hollywood Commission, which surveyed nearly 10,000 entertainment workers in 2020 about abuses in Hollywood, 75% of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation.

Masse says she has been “largely frozen out of the more mainstream parts of our industry,” noting that in the three-and-a-half years since she came forward about Weinstein, she’s had roughly a half dozen auditions. Prior to speaking up in 2017, she says she was auditioning at least four times a month, and that was as an unknown transplant who was new to Los Angeles.

“Retaliation and blacklisting are alive and well,” Masse says.

Last month, Oscar winner Mira Sorvino said in an interview that she was blacklisted from Hollywood for 20 years because of retaliation she faced from Weinstein. “I mourn the loss of the two decades of career that I would have had,” Sorvino told Vanity Fair in November. 

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” star Eliza Dushku, who was fired from the CBS series “Bull” in 2018 after accusing star Michael Weatherly of sexual harassment, testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee this November to fight against forced arbitration. Dushku testified that she “feared that if I pushed back or reacted strongly, my job could be at risk, or my professional reputation could be harmed.”

Masse says that recent exposés showcase the fear still associated with coming forward in the entertainment business’ post #MeToo era. Major publications have allowed women to speak up under pseudonyms, in order to protect their privacy, as evidenced in recent Noth stories where three women have spoken anonymously, alleging sexual assault and rape. (In the wake of the allegations, which the actor denies, he was axed by his agency and fired from “The Equalizer” on CBS.)

With her activism, Masse is hoping Hollywood takes things a step further and doesn’t just listen to survivors by holding perpetrators accountable for sexual misbehavior, but actually acknowledging the very reason survivors want to be heard — to be seen as human beings; not just accusers, who are plagued with their names printed next to their “cancelled” abusers on Google.

Thus far, Masse has successfully gotten the pledge from two films in which she’s been cast: “Through the Rinse,” a Latino crime caper from Schoolhouse Pictures, and “A More Perfect Union,” a drama described as a COVID-era whistleblower drama that will star former Ohio State senator Nina Turner.

“Through the Rinse,” directed by writer Jason Avalos and set to begin production in New Orleans in early 2022, tells the story of the infamous “Aguila Blancos,” who were the Bonnie & Clyde of the 1990s. Masse has joined the cast, alongside Eme Ikwuakor, Maria Elena Laas and Diana Pombo. Avalos, who developed the project with Jason Cherubini of Dawn’s Light Media, says: “Being a BIPOC filmmaker, I am very aware of my trauma and marginalization, so it made sense to me to team up with Hire Survivors Hollywood to create opportunities for another group of people that face retaliation and marginalization.”

“A More Perfect Union,” directed by Ian Mark and Blaize Hall, will feature Turner playing a progressive presidential candidate in the 2020 election. Masse is part of the cast that also includes George Wyner, Quei Tann and Calinda Jade. The film is produced by Pasadonuts LLC, which has taken the Hire Survivors Hollywood pledge.

“We believe aligning with survivors surrounds us with people who are not only talented but have a depth and strength of character,” says Hall, who adds, “If our script is going to tackle conflicting material, we want actors on board who are ready to use their voices for the greater good.”

Hall’s co-director, Mark, says he met with Masse early in the casting process to brainstorm how best to work with her initiative. After Masse posted on social media from an early table read, many survivors learned about the project and submitted themselves. The filmmakers then included a note in their breakdown about their commitment to inclusive hiring and encouraged actors to self-identify as such, if they felt comfortable. “I want to stress that we did not cast anyone in this film solely based on their status as a survivor,” Mark tells Variety.

“For us, it wasn’t so much about opening doors to some people and not others,” he adds. “It was about widening the doorway so all kinds of actors with all kinds of career paths felt comfortable walking through the door.”