Millions of Americans have, in recent weeks, discovered that their favorite movies and shows were made by men now accused of sexual assault or harassment. This presents a dilemma for those who would prefer to watch art by people who haven’t built their careers on the sexual exploitation of those around them. But how can moviegoers avoid supporting such institutions and individuals?
Not easily. Right now, the public has no way of knowing how pervasive sexual harassment is at any one company or production. In other industries—oil and gas, apparel and footwear, and tech, for examples—moments of revelation and public outrage have moved companies toward new codes of conduct, processes, and accountability mechanisms. Those initiatives have fielded criticism for not having enough teeth, speed, or reach. However, they have changed how some major companies operate, and have helped civil-society organizations and policymakers better understand the businesses, to in turn better hold them to account.
Is it the entertainment industry’s turn to develop a new standard, working with watchdog groups and regulators as other sectors have done? Should there be a stamp of approval in the credits from a third party that says, “No sexual harassment went into the making of this film?”
To be sure, it must be pointed out that one shouldn’t need a code for not harassing or assaulting people. (The other industry initiatives arose in part from conflicts between some countries’ laws and international human-rights standards.) But an awful lot of people don’t seem to have received that memo. And the legal system doesn’t prevent or address enough cases.
One might argue that these cases of sexual abuse were committed by individuals, not institutions. But look at the systems that alleged perpetrators like Harvey Weinstein have reportedly built up around them—colleagues, agents, assistants, and other enablers who knew or should have known. Given how entrenched and long-standing this behavior appears to be in Hollywood, it is clear that change is needed in the industry, not just on a few marquees.
The problem is that, right now, no organization has the credibility—nor ability—to deem a production “harassment-free.” First, experts would need to define what that means: for example, having an effective ombudsperson, or positive results from confidential staff surveys. Second, a credible organization would need to be built around investigating and certifying. Third, a certification would need to be readily available and easily understandable: Imagine a “fair workplace” rating next to show times on Fandango.
In the apparel sector, it has taken decades for the processes and institutions to be developed to the point that I—an atypically informed consumer—can be confident that if I shop certain brands, some of my money will go to workers and the systems that protect them. It could take at least as long for me to be convinced that a certain production company or certification means fair treatment of the men and women involved.
Until then, I will seek to point my eyes towards the work of anyone trying to be the antidote to what clearly ails Hollywood today. That might be movies produced in women-owned studios, or directed by women, or starring women who are paid the same as their male counterparts (or men who took pay cuts to ensure that equity). It may not solve the problem in the short run, but at least I’ll see a lot of great movies in the meantime.