It takes some effort to have as much clout as the New York Times, but to still not be able to accurately describe Hollywood after years on the beat. But let’s put Brooks Barnes aside for now (or forever).
This is such an important story. And it seems that the Times got a number of serious people to talk, albeit off the record. (I remember when they put the “anonymous because” rules into effect. They have now morphed, especially when in an intensely edited piece, into quotation sport fishing…. like a studio looking for a pull quote for an ad.)
Writing this piece today is a little like testing the third rail on a train track with my tongue. Gotta be careful. So before I get into the piece Barnes wrote, let me state my position as simply as I can.
As events, #OscarSoWhite and #MeToo were terribly important because they opened up the door to a discussion on these issues. The challenge, which I have felt from the start, is how do these very real and important issues manifest in the work environment and how do we codify a set of standards that can - with inevitable exceptions - be agreed upon.
The work environment has improved… but is still often dicey. Obvious predators - with again, some amazing exceptions - are no longer welcome to ply their abuses openly. There has been underreach and there has been overreach. A lot of boundaries are still unestablished.
Of course someone who has been working one way to acclaim for decades is going to bridle against demands for changes that they don’t instantly see as positive. Likewise, someone coming on set and expecting a code of conduct that they assume is now standard could be shocked by some of what was accepted as standard just a few years ago. We need to find a way to empower both sides of the evolution, understanding that both sides need to be willing to engage on improving things for all… or those who refuse to respect others need to go away until they can. (Obviously, there are degrees to be measured in every specific situation and postures by individuals that can be instantly disqualifying or increasingly disqualifying.)
One big problem in solving this is that most abuses stop short of rape or any kind of application of physical force or detailed damage done to career or reputation. When it’s not a clearly defined abuse, it can be as destructive and should be as disqualifying for the abuser. But there are few standardized methods by which to measure this kind of abuse. As a result, we land on absolutes, which have serious drawbacks. Yes, lean towards the alleging victim first… assume they are being truthful. But before penalizing the accused, there has to be a legitimate level of investigation. In some cases, we have sailed right past that step and made summary judgments as a culture. Odds are that the court of public opinion will be right more often than wrong. But collateral damage is not, in any way, okay either.
That said, the bigger problem in this industry is a lack of women, but more so people of color, at every step of the industry hierarchy. Not just Black, but all under-engaged minorities of color. And it’s not just the “decision makers” that matter. Firstly because what the “decision makers” end up deciding on is usually moving through a series of people on a series of levels in an organization before it reaches “the top.” But also because those people in the middle become the decision makers in time.
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