Who Gets To Be Angry, And Who Has To Give It Up?

A female producer reflects on the male emotion, and female suppression, that runs Hollywood.
Jessica Walter attends the premiere of Netflix's "Arrested Development" Season 5 in Los Angeles on May 17.
Jessica Walter attends the premiere of Netflix's "Arrested Development" Season 5 in Los Angeles on May 17.

People were missing the most important part, thought one female Hollywood producer. That was understandable, what with all the male jocularity, solidarity and defensiveness on display in The New York Times’ instantly infamous roundtable interview with the cast of “Arrested Development.” But the moment that resonated most with the producer was when Jessica Walter (who plays Lucille Bluth) forgives Jeffrey Tambor (George Sr. and Oscar Bluth) for an incident in which he verbally abused her during filming.

“I have to let go of being angry at him,” she tells the Times’ Sopan Deb, in tears. “He never crossed the line on our show, with any, you know, sexual whatever. Verbally, yes, he harassed me, but he did apologize. I have to let it go.” She goes on, “But it’s hard because honestly — Jason [Bateman] says this happens all the time. In like almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set.”

Later, Deb asks Walter whether she’d have reservations about working with Tambor again. “No,” she says. “I’ve just given it up.”

This was the interview’s emotional climax, said the female producer, who spoke with HuffPost on Friday. (She spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing career repercussions.) Superficially it appears to be a cathartic, even redemptive moment, Walter finally acknowledging her emotional needs. Instead, it registers as grim. Notice the words: “have to,” “given it up.” Her language could be intended to reference her own wishes. But the words signal compulsion and surrender, not self-solicitude. She sounds resigned.

It’s a familiar feeling for a woman in Hollywood, the female producer told me. “That to me was the most resonant part of the piece, that I think people don’t realize,” she said. The phrasing of Walter’s forgiveness was striking to her. “It means the onus is on her, you know?” she said. “She’s the one who has to forgive. She is the one who has to do the work.”

Walter’s apparent sense of resignation, in particular, stood out to her; the producer recalled having felt that way many times during the decade-plus she has worked in the industry. “When you’re in bad situations on set, especially, it is much easier to just give up,” she said, “because if you are the person being abused, you know you are emotionally capable of handling it, and it is not worth causing other trouble, really.”

We can almost see this happen in real time, during the New York Times interview. Walter didn’t doesn’t bring up the incident; Tambor had revealed it himself, in a sympathetic interview with The Hollywood Reporter in which he defended himself against sexual harassment claims related to his stint on “Transparent.” When Deb references the “Arrested Development” incident, Walter acknowledges that it took place, that it was difficult to deal with, and that she’d never experienced such dreadful treatment on a set. It’s only after Tambor’s male castmates leap in to joke about, minimize and absolve his behavior that Walter shifts her approach to forgiveness. Her male colleagues have clearly signaled that her pain and anger are causing trouble. Letting it go quickly becomes the simplest way forward — a way to stop hearing Bateman explain that her abuse was normal, or hearing Will Arnett use it to crack jokes.  

Power means having the luxury to have people care about your emotion. A female Hollywood producer

Not that this ends the ordeal. Even after Walter has extended her forgiveness, Bateman, Arnett, David Cross and Tony Hale continue to offer excuses including Tambor’s immense acting talent and idiosyncratic process, the unusual stress of working on a TV set, and the fact that everyone on the show had lost their temper at some point. (“But not like that,” Walter interjects, determinedly. “That was bad.”) Finally, when Walter tells Deb she’d work with Tambor again, the conversation moves on.

Walter had to give it up. In this interview, we all watch as she is pressured to, and apparently concludes she must, give up the only things she should have total control over — her anger, her forgiveness, her friendship. She might have chosen to do so because it was the healthiest and easiest of those choices for her. She might have wanted to.

But we shouldn’t ignore the context in which she made that decision: that everyone else, aside from her one female co-star present, Alia Shawkat, seemed to find her anger frustrating or problematic. They didn’t appear to care about her emotions; they just wanted those feelings to go away.

“In film and television production,” the female producer told me, “power means having the luxury to have people care about your emotion.” Though Walter and Tambor are equally essential to “Arrested Development” ― if anything, Lucille Bluth is the more memeable, more beloved character ― it’s clear that Tambor, who has had more high-profile roles outside of the show in recent years, holds the power in this interview.

Now, sure: Powerful people have more clout. But the interview shows how the distribution of power manifests itself in practice: The powerful indulging their feelings, the less powerful catering to them instead of to their own. It’s worth considering that the people we often deem emotional, unstable and messy are in fact the ones who have little room to indulge in or display their feelings. It’s the powerful who can behave emotionally without consequence; the powerless are the ones who have to swallow, suck up and let go of their anger.

And power doesn’t just accrue with money and prestige. It tends to align with other forms of privilege too. Men more often hold the power to be emotional without consequence to themselves. We expect them to display emotion, which is partly why we tend to think of them as less emotional: Their feelings are self-justifying, condition-setting, and therefore possessed of a terrible appearance of logic.

Consider the stereotype that women are constantly chattering, and contrast it with studies that show no clear evidence that women talk more than men. We might consider women more talkative because we don’t expect, or wish, to hear them speak. We might consider women more emotional because we don’t expect, or wish, to deal with their feelings. We’re already so busy dealing with those of men, which we are entirely accustomed to dealing with. We fear angry women, and angry black people; white men’s anger, though weighted with more power to truly damage, rarely registers as notable. It’s the condition we’ve all learned to operate in. It’s the weather.

As a woman in a male-dominated field, the producer noted, “you do end up having to take on a lot of the emotional weight ... of making sure everyone’s OK, in a way that I think that men have the luxury of not having to worry about as much, because it’s about them.” We saw this in the Times interview, as Walter and Shawkat gingerly tried to counter their ebullient male co-stars without pushing hard enough to anger them. The conversation continues to happen on Tambor’s terms, despite their best efforts: It began with his anger, and since then it has revolved around his ego, his remorse, his desire to save his career.

Exhibiting anger, and having it expediently assuaged and soothed, is a privilege more often afforded to powerful men. But it can also be a way of demanding power by insisting on one’s own importance ― at least, it can be for men.

“Women are so often pegged as emotional,” the producer pointed out, “so you almost can’t get the power because you can’t show your emotions.” A man’s display of anger can convey dominance, authority. For women, it’s more frequently talked over and eye-rolled. He’s a genius with a complex artistic process; she’s a hysterical diva. He’s a visionary leader with a gruff manner; she’s a controlling psycho bitch.

Hollywood’s self-conception is built on such shibboleths. Undoing the dynamic is hard, the producer said, “because I think that a lot of people grew up in a time where everyone glorified things like the stories about ‘Apocalypse Now,’ which sounded like true hell to make, and it’s a brilliant movie. People thought that that was a causal thing … like it’s not going to be genius unless we suffer for it.”

The producer isn’t sure what comes next for a Hollywood that, despite this sudden shift, still clings to deeply ingrained power imbalances and toxic conceptions of the artistic process.

“I think we’re in a really tricky time, right at the transition time, so I think everyone is finding different ways to address it,” the producer said. “My way of handling things is to do what I can with the power that I have — constantly pushing against things to try to expand, hire more good people, promote good culture and all of those things.”

But most of the industry still runs on boys-club networking and deals over drinks; it takes more than a few dedicated women to change a male-dominated culture that’s so rife with inequality, exclusion and secrecy. Despite the fall of a few titans ― witness the famously rageful Harvey Weinstein’s perp walk this week ― the industry, like much of the world, is still organized around men’s preferences and feelings.

Who gets to be angry? In this world, men get to be angry. The rich, famous and powerful get to be angry. The very people whose anger is the most dangerous get to be angry. The rest of us get to choose to give it up, for our own self-preservation.