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Sexual Harassment in Hollywood Is Not a Thing of the Past

While some think sexual harassment to be a thing of the past, from many women this is an all too striking reality faced on a daily basis in the workplace. From things as innocuous as a simple glance, to being bumped into and subsequently felt up “accidentally”, to not-so-subtle sexual references inserted into everyday conversation, harassment is unfortunately alive and well in the workplace.

And nowhere is this more apparent than in Hollywood, a place where Marilyn Monroe once said was the only one where one could be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for a kiss but only 50 cents for your soul. As one of the most competitive industries, “Show Business”, as it is referred to, draws the most skilled singers, dancers and actors, from around the world all hoping to see their name in lights. However as with any competitive industry, those who make it to the top feel privileged to take advantage of those still trying to make inroads in a place notorious for a “you scratch my back and I will scratch your back” approach.

Indeed, this is how the film industry became one that is synonymous with harassment, with many a producer, director or film studio owner making it clear to a colleague or an underling, that sexual favours are what is required to get them where they want to be. The notorious Harvey Weinstein was of course a prime example of those who, when they did not get what they wanted, took it by force. Other less well-known instances include Stephen McPherson, the one-time ABC producer who worked on shows as famous as Lost and Modern Family, and whose career seemingly ended overnight, with a resignation nobody was expecting. The rumour mill, always churning in Hollywood, let it slip that he too had been accused of a series of indecent acts, and chose to retire with whatever was left of his dignity, rather than face public humiliation.

Cases similar to these abound, with many victims silenced with the help of a pay-out and a non-disclosure agreement. What follows these is also an often not so veiled threat regarding the prospects for a future career in the business should information about what victims underwent be disclosed. Some stories only come out of years later. Drake Bell of the famous Nickelodeon children’s show Drake and Josh was sentenced only in 2021 for crimes he pleaded guilty to committing as early as 2017 in Cleveland, where he was accused of acting inappropriate with a victim who later referred to him as a “monster”, calling his crimes “disgusting”.

While Bell would later take responsibility saying ” I just want to say today that I accept this claim because my conduct was wrong”, others simply try to bury the past without any semblance of remorse. Stephen McPherson is one such example, with his lawyers not only denying victims’ claims but also trying to sow doubt as to their veracity. In the follow up to the accusations, Stephen McPherson’s lawyer, Mr. Hoberman, stated that, ” It’s not uncommon for high profile executives to be the subject of gossip and innuendo”, insinuating of course that the vast accusations from multiple parties against him were not even exaggerated but rather, simply made up.

Sexual harassment in Hollywood must no longer be tolerated. Years after the #MeToo movement was started by a number of brave victims who were fed up with remaining silent, progress has been made but not nearly enough. This begins by letting those who faced such heinous crimes know that we have their backs. Aside from such much-needed support, the system must be reformed to empower those who want to speak out, at the expense of perpetrators like Weinstein, McPherson and Bell, who more often than not are let off the hook, with hardly a slap on the wrist. Hollywood and our society more broadly can no longer wait for change.

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