A couple of years ago, I was kicking back with some friends in a nice little shack of a place in Williamsburg, some cute wood-pine bar in Brooklyn. They served drinks in pretentious jam-jars, the décor was homely and deceptively snug, a struggling comparison to outside streets where neighborhood walls served as canvass for Banksy enthusiasts, and soulless factory buildings hosted rats making fugitive excursions from dank subways. It was there I first heard it, from a young British theater actor. “You know Kevin Spacey is handsy, he groped my friend and tried to kiss him once. He’s a total fucking creep who goes to all these gross parties with Bryan Singer in LA or whatever, where they get up to all sorts.”
This was the first time I heard of Ugly Hollywood from someone directly, about the film business and the unreasonable advances from influential weirdos abusing their status.
What I did not mention, as the conversation descended into a scramble of thorny anecdotes, is that I myself was once groped by someone who I knew a little, a friend of my own close friend. In the middle of a packed pub in Dublin, waiting to be served at the bar, while his mates sat at a nearby table. His girlfriend wasn’t there that night. Leering into me, he quickly cupped his hand over my groin, and squeezed. I forcefully brushed his hand away. Smirking knowingly, he then made some low-pitch throwaway comment, some lascivious joke I fail to remember. Not usually do I evade justifiable confrontation, from speaking up, but on this unexpected occasion, I was subdued by shock. I thought no one at our table would believe me if I said anything, after all, I was at a table populated by his friends. I did not much reflect on this incident, until actor Terry Crews fired off a series of courageous and inflammatory tweets about his personal experience of sexual assault. It was then that it really registered. I felt sick.
I never intended to reveal my story the way I did, until last week, doing The Echo Chamber Podcast with Martin McMahon and Tony Groves, it just felt right. We were talking about the movement, and I just said it. What I didn’t say, is that it happened twice. Two different men. It happened another time when I was at a party with a friend from college when I was around 19. After the podcast went out, Terry Crews picked up on my interview, retweeted it, and sent me very kind words. These things are reassuring.
The narrative of 2018 has been considerably punctured by this shock-avalanche of brave testimonials, a stampede of courage that has had a destabilizing force throughout the entertainment industry.
Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan were trail-blazers in getting the movement going. Judd is one of the first women who helped break the silence. A humanitarian and an actress who has fought to raise standards in health for the underprivileged. It was two years ago, in 2015, that she first went public with the allegation that she was sexually harassed by an unnamed movie mogul, and this October, Judd bravely identified him as known bully Harvey Weinstein. Rose McGowan also broke her silence and accused Weinstein of rape. I believed her from the get-go. These revelations inspired hundreds of others, until then largely silent, to speak out about sexual harassment at the hands of influential weirdos. An inspirational group of women to Terry Crews, no doubt, and me, too.
Ashley Judd’s encounter with the notorious Weinstein took place in 1997, just before Judd’s career took full-flight. Invited to a meeting with the sinister Weinstein, head of the then-influential and now struggling studio Miramax, at a Beverly Hills hotel, Judd alleges he tried to coerce her into bed but, fortunately, she escaped. Others were less fortunate. Something that could have served as a humiliating or silencing experience made these women speak out.
“I started talking about Harvey the minute that it happened,” Judd recently said in an interview with TIME Magazine. “Literally, I exited that hotel room at the Peninsula Hotel in 1997 and came straight downstairs to the lobby, where my dad was waiting for me, because he happened to be in Los Angeles from Kentucky, visiting me on the set. And he could tell by my face—to use his words—that something devastating had happened to me. I told him. I told everyone.”
Scepticism coincides with support as these stories break. The other night on Irish television, I heard Mary O’Rourke, former leader of the Irish Senate, say that the Me Too movement has “gone too far”, and that a lot of the accounts “are completely exaggerated”. I have much respect for O’Rourke as a woman and former public servant, but this is the kind of talk that threatens the momentum of the movement because it is dismissive and serves to trivialise the importance of this change.
Most of the accounts are from women as they are more subject to these predatory assaults. However, Terry Crews, a male actor, understood the demanding strain on being silent, and spoke out. As did Anthony Rapp, who spoke out about his horrendous experience with disgraced actor Kevin Spacey. Crews revealed that he was groped by William Morris Endeavor agent Adam Venit, at an industry event, in front of his wife. The agency subsequently stated that they suspended and demoted Venit, who has since even returned to work. Crews is now suing Venit and the agency for sexual assault. Tweeting out his own story in a viral thread of tweets, Crews became one of the first men to add to the riptide of women speaking out about harassment.
A couple of people had, earlier, fired warning shots that never got the attention they deserved. One came from Courtney Love in 2015. The outrage directed at the horrid Harvey Weinstein, encouraged journalists to do some digging and resuscitate earlier indications of this culture. Such a clip re-emerged from the red carpet at Comedy Central’s roast of Pamela Anderson, where Love spoke out after being asked by a reporter, “Do you have any advice for a young girl moving to Hollywood?”:
“I’ll get libelled if I say it,” Love began, eyeballing some off-screen person near the reporter, calculating whether to say, then firmly stating: “If Harvey Weinstein invites you to a private party in the Four Seasons, don’t go.” The clip went viral with people commending Love for her comments.
One of the most commendable examples of courage came from Dylan Farrow, whom, more than three years after speaking out publicly against her father Woody Allen, yet again voiced her concerns in a recent Op-Ed for The Los Angeles Times. Woody Allen, now 82, adopted Dylan with his then partner Mia Farrow, and in 1992, he left her for her other, older, adopted daughter, Soon-Yi. Farrow asked: “Why is it that Harvey Weinstein and other accused celebrities have been cast out by Hollywood, while Allen recently secured a multi-million-dollar distribution deal with Amazon, greenlit by former Amazon Studios executive Roy Price before he was suspended over sexual misconduct allegations?”
This is such an important question.
Not many people, at the time, seemed to speak out on Dylan Farrow’s behalf. With very few exceptions, one of which was Susan Sarandon. “I think he sexually assaulted a child and I don’t think that’s right,” Sarandon stated during Variety and Kering’s ‘Women in Motion’ talk at Cannes Film Festival last year.
Farrow alleged that Allen assaulted her in the attic of their home when she was seven years old. I believe her. “There’s a lot I don’t remember, but what happened in the attic I remember. I remember what I was wearing and what I wasn’t wearing,” Farrow told Vanity Fair’s Maureen Oarth. “The things making me uncomfortable were making me think I was a bad kid, because I didn’t want to do what my elder told me to do. I was cracking. I had to say something. I was 7. I was doing it because I was scared. I wanted it to stop.”
People in power and influence need to be held accountable, and more of them are being held accountable every day. The best we can do is support those who speak out, tell our own stories, and try to prevent this behavior in the future by raising awareness. Alyssa Milano is right saying it’s the micro that makes the macro. “We are not outraged because someone grabbed our asses in a picture.” She tweeted. “We are outraged because we were made to feel this was normal. We are outraged because we have been gas lighted. We are outraged because we were silenced for so long.”
That silence is diminishing every single day, and may this chorus of outrage grow ever louder.