I’d like to be clear: my rape did not take place within the context of the film industry.
But the day after it happened, in post-traumatic shock, I dragged myself to Leicester Square, to the red carpet premiere of a film I’d worked on as associate producer. I used concealer to cover my bruises, hoping no one would notice them beneath the gown I’d been lent by a designer.
I found myself drinking themed cocktails, making small talk with the big-name cast and other producers – and nowhere in all this high-gloss celebration could I tell anyone about the truth of what had just happened to me. That my life as I knew it had been destroyed.
In many ways, that premiere exemplified my experience of the film industry as a woman: you must hide your injuries beneath a veneer of glamour and confidence, pretending that everything’s fine. This was an industry where, in assisting a director, I’d had to cast Page 3 models for a film production, casually asking agents about their clients’ breast sizes. Where I’d had to give script notes because the “love scene” in a screenplay was essentially a rape and the male writer/director couldn’t see what was wrong with it. Where at Cannes, I’d had to courteously negotiate around a 70-something male film executive’s repeated invitation to his hotel room, while still flattering him because politically this wasn’t someone I could upset.
And then, when I was 29, I was violently raped, and there was no provision in this precarious creative industry for a young woman’s job security after a destructive, destabilising trauma like that. So I left.
I’m hardly the only woman to have left the film industry – or many other types of work. Reading about the Harvey Weinstein scandal, I noticed several female film-makers who partially attribute their own decisions to leave the industry to their own experiences with Weinstein. Life is short; there is only so much sexist behaviour and financial precarity we’re willing to tolerate. But I wonder how many talents have gone unnoticed, how many creative careers have been unfulfilled because they were thwarted by a working culture of misogyny and male dominance.
As the past weeks have shown, it’s virtually every male-dominated industry – politics, fashion, sport, advertising, etc – where women experience sexual harassment. If she can, a victim might decide to go through the laborious process of addressing this behaviour through HR – or she might just leave the company. Or the industry. Or politics.
Bullies and predators impoverish our working environments, draining them of diversity and talent. But in film and other creative industries, the impact is immense, because these industries create the culture our society consumes. Think of the stories that never got told by female film-makers, of the women’s screenplays that never got produced, of the gifted actor who never got to play a complex, realistic female character, of the women MPs.
We hardly need to be reminded of the gender imbalance in the film industry. In the UK until 2017, only 16% of all films were directed by women. In Hollywood, that figure is down to 4% among top-grossing films. So few women are behind the cameras – directing, writing, producing, financing – this impacts the kinds of stories and characters we see on screen. And the kind of narratives our audiences can connect to and imagine.
An industry that fails to recognise the reality of gendered power relations and how they constrain the voices and talents of those within it, is an industry that is culturally all the poorer. And we as audiences are poorer as a result.
For myself, I suppose I’m lucky, now that I’m a novelist. My novel Dark Chapter features a scene similar to my film premiere, so I was able to repurpose that moment into material. Asia Argento made a film featuring a scene very similar to her alleged real-life rape by Harvey Weinstein. As creative, that’s what we do: we tell stories, and sometimes these stories are filtered through our own lived experiences. Now just imagine all those other stories female creatives could be telling, if so much of our talent and our energy wasn’t being taken up by negotiating misogyny. Wouldn’t that be something.
Source: The Guardian