Since sexual harassment and assault allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein spurred a torrent of other claims against men in Hollywood this fall, it’s felt like profound change was in the air. The industry has a track record of standing by powerful men who’ve allegedly or admittedly harmed women: Roman Polanski won an Academy Award 26 years after he pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 and then fled the US; Bill Cosby signed a development deal with NBC in 2014, well after he’d been sued for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, and 13 other women agreed to testify against him in the lawsuit; Mel Gibson pleaded no contest in 2011 after he was charged with battering the mother of his child, and he’s currently starring in a Christmas film. But almost overnight, it seemed, men were being held accountable for sexual misconduct.
Among female directors and producers in Hollywood, there’s an unfamiliar feeling about all this: hope.
“It's very empowering,” Haifaa Al Mansour told BuzzFeed News. Mansour became the first Saudi woman to shoot a feature-length film in that country with 2012’s award-winning Wadjda. Her film Mary Shelley premiered this fall at the Toronto International Film Festival. Mansour said that with so much gendered harassment and abuse becoming public, producers in particular are more consciously positioning themselves on women’s side. “I think people are considering me more,” she said. “And considering not only me — considering other female directors more.”
Shadi Petosky, the creator and showrunner of Amazon’s animated series Danger & Eggs, heard about the decades of sexual harassment allegations against Weinstein almost immediately after the New York Times published them Oct. 5. She was disgusted by the report but did did not expect much fallout. “You see this news all the time,” she said. “Nothing really happens.”
Although Petosky was initially skeptical, she quickly decided the moment is “incredibly hopeful” as more women began to come forward with their own experiences and Weinstein was fired.
“It feels a little bit how the Women's March feels,” Petosky said. “There's a lot of solidarity, and people are meeting behind the scenes, and creating these Facebook groups, and really working on specific tasks, which is pretty amazing. … Outside of the people that are famous getting fired, there's people all over Hollywood in different jobs who are finally getting let go to create safer spaces.”
Janicza Bravo, a writer-director and Sundance alumna, was “excited” that her younger female colleagues refuse to put up with as much mistreatment as she has over more than a decade in the industry. Still, she warns against a movement that reinforces another strain of inequality in Hollywood: “What I do hope is that we’re not gonna replace all the white guys with white gals.” She added, “In our business, when we talk about women, we tend to be talking about white women. Women of color are sort of ‘and also.’”
Although Bravo was encouraged by male colleagues initiating conversations about the sexual harassment news during episodes of HBO’s Here, Now and Netflix’s Dear White People she’s directed since Oct. 5, she noted critically that she had never seen such a widespread response to racism. Bravo thought the national conversation has persisted so long because most of the women coming forward with stories about Weinstein are white. “It’s tied to white women, and whatever our perception is about the delicacy or fragility of white women,” she said.
For women who have loudly railed against misogyny in Hollywood for years, the weeks after the Weinstein revelations have been strange. Brenda Chapman, the writer-director who won an Oscar in 2013 for her Pixar film, Brave, described herself as “hopeful with a very large dash of cynical.” After years of working on the film she conceived and directed, Chapman was fired from Brave in 2010; she kept her credit, and has been outspoken since then about the double standards women are held to in Hollywood. Her own story left her feeling “mixed” about the current traction women’s stories are getting.
“It’s incredibly frustrating that is has taken this damn long,” Chapman said. “But at the same time, it seems to be finally happening, so maybe this kind of predatory behavior will finally be looked on by society as it should have been centuries ago — with the disgust it deserves.”
Like Chapman, heavy hitters in the industry have expressed skepticism. Kathryn Bigelow — the only woman to ever win an Academy Award for Best Director — told the Los Angeles Times that Hollywood still needs to undergo “a tectonic shift.” Ava DuVernay told Vanity Fair on Oct. 14 that she wasn’t sure whether this moment would lead to real change.
Actor and director Amber Tamblyn said she sees a long road ahead. “You can’t undo a hundred years of the entertainment business in a week,” Tamblyn told BuzzFeed News. “We have to keep speaking about all of the stories. I mean, bombarding them. People are tired of hearing them? Great. Keep talking.”
Alanna Bennett contributed reporting to this story.