Since Alyssa Milano resurrected Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement this fall, the number of (mostly female) celebrity survivors of sexual abuse and harassment has grown phenomenally and the number of (all male) celebrity perpetrators of these alleged crimes and incidents has grown with them. From Harvey Weinstein and Louis CK to this week’s allegations by Eliza Dushku against Hollywood stuntman Joel Kramer, it’s clear that those who were once “victims” of these actions are willing to be victims no longer and that there has been a huge cultural upheaval in Hollywood and the nation. And now a group of young female filmmakers from LA has gotten together to add a visual component to the outcry: ten women directors have created a #MeToo PSA.
While our mic is still hot and our stories are being heard, it is a pivotal time to reshape our culture. Our goal with this content is to keep the momentum of this movement going as long as we can until real systematic changes are actualized. This is just the beginning. -Kristen Laffey, producer
The goal of this project, produced by one of the directors, Summera Howell, is to reach out to women who are survivors of the experiences portrayed onscreen and let them know they are not alone. Most of the directors too are survivors and have used their talents to work through their trauma. Says Howell, "As more women came forward to share their stories, I felt compelled to create a safe space for artists (including myself) to work through their trauma and to reach out to other survivors. #MeToo has given women a space to use their voices, and we're privileged to put images to those words."
AWD member Kayden Phoenix, another director on the project, adds, “I volunteered for this campaign because it's imperative to stand united. By staying quiet, predators are still out in the loose and that's dangerous. We have a voice and maybe me doing this will help the future and the past sexually harassed victims find theirs. We're strong regardless, but we're unconquerable because we stand together, in solidarity.” Fellow director Rachel Fleischer agrees: “The ways in which we as women are affected by these experiences are profound, layered and complex; they can only be fully revealed over time. Making work like this is part of uncovering those layers in the hopes that we can not only heal, but bring about real change.”
The #MeToo movement has obviously brought a great deal of attention to the issue of sexual harassment far beyond Hollywood. In the days immediately following the start of the hashtag, Twitter reported over 1.7 million tweets with #MeToo and 85 countries with at least 1000 of them. It is a worldwide problem that is now having a worldwide spotlight shone on it, and with each new revelation it remains starkly within that spotlight.
The PSA, however, is not about celebrities. It focuses on the 1.7 million, everyday women who find this happening to them all the time in one way or another, women of all races, cultures, ages and body types being abused by men who feel privileged to do so. It shows various scenarios from a classroom to a parking garage to a sidewalk, a home, a park, a church, an army barracks, etc. The message is clearly that this can happen anywhere, that “safety” is a fallacy. The world is a trap for women as long as men feel free to act in a predatory manner, and the PSA shows this in all of its ugliness.
To ensure verisimilitude, the creators of the PSA made certain to commit to authenticity of story-telling. Each segment was directed by a woman who knows of the issues involved. For instance, the piece about harassment on a military base is a veteran, the piece showing lesbians debased by a group of disgusting men is LGBTQ, etc. In this way the women can use their art to protest not only how they have been treated by men but how they have been treated by an industry that, to a large extent, doesn’t see them at all.
Greta Gerwig is a favorite to be nominated for Best Director this year for Ladybird. If she is, she will be only the fifth woman in history to do so. Others include Lina Wertmuller (Seven Beauties), Jane Campion (The Piano), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) and Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker). Bigelow is the only one who has actually won the award. This year marks the 90th Academy Awards. That will mean that, if Gerwig is nominated, 445 men will have received the nod against only five women. It’s clear that the industry still has a strong blind spot when it comes to female directors, even this year, when one of the top grossing films (Wonder Woman) was directed by Patty Jenkins. The Golden Globes didn’t even give Gerwig a nomination.
The entertainment industry frequently dismisses the lack of women working professionally on sets by claiming there simply aren’t enough experienced women to hire. This is yet another reason this PSA is important. Says director Katherine Voigt: “It was inspiring to see all of these badass professional women come together to create this important piece… Women are rooting for each other in this industry, and working in an environment like that makes you feel like your dreams are possible.”
Special thanks to Summera Howell for much of the information in this article.