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Hollywood reflects on MeToo impact as new trial begins

Opening arguments have begun in the latest sexual assault trial of the disgraced former Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein.

A much-diminished Weinstein, with reportedly declining health, is back in Los Angeles and incarcerated in a prison cell, on trial for rape and sexual assault.

This court case follows Weinstein being convicted in New York for other sex crimes, though that case is under appeal.

He denies ever having non-consensual sex with anyone.

Deputy District Attorney Paul Thomson told the court on Monday that eight women allegedly attacked by Weinstein would testify.

He quoted Weinstein’s accusers, saying one had recalled of the alleged assault: “Part of me was thinking I should just make a run for it, but he’s a big guy.”

Another alleged victim had said: “I was scared that if I didn’t play nice something could happen in the room or out of the room because of his power in the industry,” the prosecutor told the court.

Weinstein – who was wheeled into court wearing a black suit, blue tie and glasses – listened impassively to the prosecutor.

Mark Werskman, for the defence, told the court the accusers were lying.

He said two accusers had fabricated their alleged encounters with the former producer, and that the other two Jane Does had “transactional sex” with him.

He suggested Jane Doe Four, an anonymous name for one of the accusers, was “just another bimbo who slept with Harvey Weinstein to get ahead in Hollywood”.

The Los Angeles trial is causing many in Hollywood to look back at the #MeToo movement and assess its success.

A recent study by the advocacy group WIF (Women in Film, Los Angeles) showed that while 83% of respondents felt that progress has been made since 2017, a staggering 69% said they had personally experienced abuse or misconduct at work since the movement began.

“It’s lost momentum,” WIF CEO Kirsten Schaffer said of the movement for equal rights and representation for women.

Seasoned film producers often ask their stars to shoot sex scenes on the first day of filming. That way, an actor can’t change their mind about nudity halfway through a film when recasting would prove expensive.

That still happens in Hollywood, five years after stories of systemic sexual assault and harassment rocked Hollywood and ignited the #MeToo.

But now, it’s likely an intimacy co-ordinator will be on set making sure actors feel comfortable and safe as they simulate sex.

Schaffer continues: “I think there is forward motion. And that’s why it’s not super depressing,” she says, adding that five years ago the response to #MeToo was intense, with “so many people caring about it, putting new policies in place, launching programmes”.

And many people in Hollywood say those policies are working.

Actresses say they’re offered more interesting roles, and there are more opportunities for female crew members, writers and directors.

Rosanna Arquette, one of Weinstein’s first public accusers, was part of the Screen Actors Guild committee which helped introduce intimacy co-ordinators on set, to make sure everyone is comfortable in any scene requiring nudity.

“A lot of people were against the intimacy co-ordinators, but you know, a lot of abuse did happen that way,” Ms Arquette told the BBC.

Rose McGowan and Rosanna Arquette in 2012IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
Image caption,

Rose McGowan and Rosanna Arquette came forward with accounts of abuse by Weinstein in 2017

Many aspiring actors say the industry has changed for the better. When we visited an acting class five years ago, many told us horror stories of the fear they face going into auditions – the very real fear that they might be sexually assaulted or propositioned in exchange for a role.

At the Michelle Danner Acting Studio this week, aspiring stars spoke to the BBC about their experiences auditioning and performing in low-budget films hoping to get their big break. Aside from a few sleazy propositions, most said they’d been treated with respect.

Ms Danner, who runs the acting studio and directs movies, says the casting couch will never fully disappear but that people are much more careful now.

Auditions have become much more safe and formal experiences, with monitors and rules about the number of people in a room. And due to the pandemic, many are now taking them via video phone.

“The fears are real,” says Ms Danner, adding that people feel empowered to speak up now more than ever if there is misconduct at work.

“The #MeToo movement created that, and there’s no going back. I don’t think you can ever close the door to what has started.”

Harvey Weinstein
IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
Image caption,

Weinstein was known for producing films such as Shakespeare in Love and Pulp Fiction

The Academy of Motion Pictures has responded to criticism of Hollywood by significantly diversifying its membership, inviting more women and people of colour to be part of the group which hosts the Oscars.

But it can only do so much and the statistics for women in film can be fairly grim.

According to the Center for the Study of Women in Film in Television, female characters accounted for just 35% of major characters in the top 100 grossing films in 2021, down three percentage points from the previous year.

And after reaching historic highs in 2020, the percentages of women directing top grossing films declined in 2021. The number of women working as directors on the top 100 films retreated from 16% in 2020 to 12% in 2021.

But more women are producing film and TV – 32% of producers (up from 30% in 2020).

Many powerful female players like Reese Witherspoon have started their own production companies, to make the kind of films and TV shows they want to see. That urge has spread throughout the industry.

At the Danner acting school, actresses Josephine Hies and Meitar Paz have started producing as well as acting so they can have more control over the stories they tell.

As a producer you have “a different power in how you tell stories” and power over which stories are told, Hies said.

She SaidIMAGE SOURCE,UNIVERSAL PICTURES
Image caption,

Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan star in She Said, a new film about journalists investigating Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein’s downfall is now immortalised in a film. She Said stars Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan as the New York Times reporters who investigated the sexual harassment and abuse claims against Weinstein. It’s due to hit cinemas in the US in November, and Weinstein’s lawyers failed in their attempt to delay its release, claiming it would prejudice the jury that’s just been selected against him.

At the film’s New York premiere, the stars rubbed shoulders with many of Weinstein’s accusers, some of whom have roles in the film.

Rowena Chiu, Weinstein’s former assistant who says he sexually assaulted her then coerced her into signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement, or NDA, says she hopes the film will inspire healthier workplaces.

She came forward 20 years after the alleged assault to tell her story, because she thought it was important to say that it wasn’t just Hollywood actors who were targeted.

“It’s important that we uphold the legal system. There were dozens of women he assaulted and only a handful can testify,” she said.

“I’m not involved in Hollywood. I don’t work in Hollywood,” she said.

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“It’s important to show our stories.”

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