By Margarita Sophia Cortes
Today’s headlines about sexual assault in the entertainment industry are not new. These stories are like boiling lava building up inside a volcano waiting decades for the right time to erupt.
In the same year that Casey Affleck received an Academy Award amidst multiple allegations of sexual assault, Harvey Weinstein has been shamed, pushed out and voted off the island. Following sexual misconduct allegations by numerous men against Kevin Spacey, he is being replaced in a movie that has been completely finished, while comedian Louis C.K. is being dropped by studios and his peers.
For all those years of men abusing their status and making someone feel powerless, industry executives are no longer looking the other way and they are finally taking action.
Like many women who read about these sexual assault allegations, my brain went back to dark memories of feeling stifled and powerless.
Mine flashed back two decades ago, as a young Latina in a corporate environment with six male senior level managers who played the familiar power card on a daily basis. While they looked down upon me, excluded me from meetings and talked over me, they welcomed my male co-workers and paid them a considerably higher salary. There was no one to talk to as everyone was part of the boys club.
As a minority, that feeling of being powerless to older white men was second nature. Having to prove myself three times harder than a man in any environment, I kept my head down and my voice low in order to advance my career. My voice went unheard and soon enough, these men began making sexual advances. That was when the lava inside me began to boil. Even though I left my situation, there was nothing I could do to break up the boys club and so it would continue for years.
So many women have their stories from every industry because for decades, men have not been held accountable for their actions. There were no repercussions for their misconduct and the boys club remained in tact.
Waking up to these headlines, as heavy as it is, means that our current climate is finally shifting and the volcano is ready to erupt. The difference between now and then is that there are repercussions following these inexcusable actions.
At first, it seemed uncertain if another likely “Roman Polansky move” was on the horizon. If Polansky could plead guilty to raping a 13-year-old girl but still be accepted by members of the industry and win an Academy Award, then who knows how long it would take for Weinstein to re-integrate himself into society. After all, it was only this past year that allegations of Casey Affleck’s sexual assault on multiple women were disregarded by the industry. Instead he was simply accepted and went on to receive multiple awards amidst the “noise,” as he described in his acceptance speech.
Why now? A volcano erupts because of density and pressure. Lava will rise to the surface because of density of the magma and weight of the rocks above. Through the decades, for every man abusing his power, there has been a collective of women pushing back. Diversity task groups didn’t arise out of thin air. Peaceful and diverse protests from the likes of Black Lives Matter to The Women’s March spread beyond this country and in unity with nations around the world. Efforts have been made by women-led organizations, advocacy and education groups building from grassroots efforts. Organizations like New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT), institutes and foundations gathered along with guilds, key talent agents, women creators and some key supportive men, all brought together on this tipping point. Women made this happen through their determination against the abuse of power. We created the density of the magma.
Could it be that the boys club is finally coming to a shameful end?
Our push back through the years has created a trickle effect through key industry leaders, such as Netflix, which has put a halt on the production of House of Cards, one of their most highly-acclaimed series, while they determine the fate of Spacey’s character.
Our peers are finally shaming these men for abusing their power. Men are finally being held accountable. Just last week, five women came forward with sexual assault claims against comedian Louis C.K. and overnight his finished film has been scrapped by its distributor on the eve of its release. Both HBO and Netflix have cut ties with the comedian, along with his management company and publicist, and the future of his projects are in danger due to his misconduct.
Unfortunately, many of us have been in a position of feeling powerless. Repercussions like the ones playing out in our current headlines have the ability to create a real shift like never before.
Although the pendulum is moving, it would be wise to proceed with caution as it could swing backwards or face backlash just like The Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Rights Movement. Women must continue pushing back against the abuse of power. We must continue to speak up support each other.
For some of us, decades have passed but those emotional days play vividly in the mind and reading these stories reminds me of those painful mornings when I cried myself to the subway. Hearing about these men finally being held accountable for their actions is a far better feeling than just watching the volcano erupt.
It means your voice is finally being heard, it has been validated and abuse of power is no longer accepted by men or women.
Contributors: M.Cortes and Rachel Watanabe-Batton