About Time: Confronting Decades of Sexual Assault in Hollywood

By Sophie Steinberg

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In the last few weeks, the sexual assault epidemic in Hollywood has shaken the country, but should you be surprised? The entertainment business, with its recent onslaught of career-ruining sexual harassment and assault allegations, seems to fit into the increasingly alt-right atmosphere of America. In the past year, movies and TV haven’t had the privilege of being apolitical, as they incorporate Trump’s regime into storylines and messages. Now, Harvey Weinstein and others are about to get the same treatment. While liberals have started to pull back the “political curtain” from our dark-times government, Hollywood has tried to do the same.

Many journalists and celebrities had heard stories of assault for decades, but only began reporting on them when Trump entered the West Wing. Accusations of assault by Trump and his open sexism towards women have been both troubling and empowering for his presidency. His vulgar behavior has gone without consequence, as he holds arguably the most powerful position in the world, and when liberal Hollywood wasn’t able to take him down, they sought justice in other areas. In early fall, when Ronan Farrow released the New Yorker article naming Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator, the floodgates of Sunset Boulevard were opened. Victims of sexual harassment, assault, and groping in the entertainment industry have begun to speak up. Empowered by the overwhelming evidence, men and women alike feel comfortable sharing their own stories and realizing that they’re not alone.

Today the names Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, and Kevin Spacey are synonymous with the term “sexual misconduct.” In the last few months, reporting on sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood has increased exponentially. Over 34 men in Hollywood have been accused of sexual misconduct–all experiencing deserved fallout and for some, police investigations. Other offenders include Louis C.K., Jeffrey Tambor, Ed Westwick, and Roy Price. The media has given a platform to victims and finally released incriminating evidence that had been swept under the rug for years.

Actresses such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Rose McGowan, Lupita Nyong’o, and Angelina Jolie have shared their own experiences with Weinstein. Many give detailed accounts of being violently raped and harassed by Weinstein as young actors, as well the producer making numerous unwanted sexual advances. Now, most of Hollywood looks at Weinstein with disgust as actors join forces to condemn his actions. Weinstein has been removed from the Academy and has lost multiple projects as a result of his behavior. Similarly, Kevin Spacey, who actor Anthony Rapp accused of making a sexual advance towards him at age 14, has been removed from upcoming movies and had his Netflix show, “House of Cards,” suspended.

With the sudden outpour of revelations from our stars, the media and public alike are forced to reconcile the horrifying actions of formerly beloved celebrities. For many, the news stories and accounts are surreal and burdensome. Movies are forms of escapism, creating worlds where people can remove themselves from everyday life. Today, the business is anything but an escape. The dark period of the Trump Administration is almost too Hollywood–with our president being straight out of 1984 and foreign leaders resembling Marvel superhero villains. Now, movies starring Kevin Spacey or comedy done by Louis C.K. are difficult to watch, considering the wrongdoings of their stars.

Famed screenwriter Anthony Burgess once said, “It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you watch them on a screen.” Until recently, victim-shaming and the stigma around discussing harassment in the workplace were absent from the news. The harsh reality of assault in Hollywood has forced the nation to confront the troubling topic of sexual harassment. No longer dismissed by fellow actors or executives, the survival stories of both women and men in Hollywood are finally being heard.

In the age of the Trump Administration, Hollywood has pursued justice by blacklisting sexual predators, but the concept of assault is not new. Assault is pervasive–even in the White House! Some stories of harassment and misconduct date back decades. Gwyneth Paltrow described her experiences being sexually harassed as a 22-year-old. Rose McGowan has spoken out about Hollywood assault for years, although until now, she had been largely silenced. Her feminist views and blunt perspective of Hollywood was raw and scary to both the media and the public. It took not just an epidemic for people to believe her, but a presidential administration. Our current day-to-day politics have galvanized women and the entertainment industry to take action and hold powerful predators accountable.

Social media has also contributed to the deluge of sexual misconduct stories. Celebrities such as Uma Thurman took to Instagram to express their disgust with the scenario. She wished everyone a happy Thanksgiving, “Except you Harvey, and all your wicked conspirators.” Furthermore, many survivors of sexual assault are using #MeToo to share their stories. Actress Alyssa Milano urged women to use the hashtag when expressing their trauma, as the ability to join an online community of survivors has created a new sense of safety.

Hollywood has had to re-evaluate its standards as women are finally allowed to speak up. Now, with its ugliest side being exposed, Hollywood has even more work to do. Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men are only starting to be held accountable for their actions, but that cannot compensate for what survivors of their violative behavior have experienced. Survivors in Hollywood and around the world need to feel heard, comforted, and understood by the public. The ability to share shouldn’t be a privilege–it should be a right. At a time of national political turmoil and pervasive sexism, there is a silver lining: we won’t let the term “sexual misconduct” be taken lightly, as justice will be served for those who used to define it.