Anita Hill Commission To Survey Entertainment Industry Workers Next Month On Sexual Harassment, Abuse And Bias
David Robb Deadline September 13, 2019 9:09am
EXCLUSIVE: The Anita Hill-led Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality will conduct a survey next month of entertainment industry workers so it can put into place a wide range of strategic initiatives being developed to address the twin issues of harassment and bias. Based on the results of the survey, those initiatives are expected to be launched by the end of the year.
Formed in December 2017 in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the commission is made up of representatives from the major studios, networks, talent agencies, record labels, unions and guilds, and the film and TV academies, all of whom have been involved in numerous meetings of the commission, of which Hill is its chair.
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“The purpose of the survey is to give us information,” Hill said in an exclusive interview with Deadline on Thursday. “What we have right now is anecdotal information about what’s happening in a number of places, whether it’s in an office or on sound stages or in a writers’ room or on location. The survey will tell us what kind of behaviors are happening. The ultimate goal is problem solving. We could have just pulled a survey off the shelf, but the commission is just not going to be in the business of doing things just to be able to check a box. We really are trying to engage with what’s happening on the ground for people. And then provide responses based on that information.”
Those responses will include a Code of Conduct to cover freelance workers and others not covered by commission members’ existing structures; systems for reporting, investigating, and resolving claims of breaches of the code, including harassment and other forms of bias against freelance workers; and anti-bias and harassment prevention training.
Malia Arrington, the commission’s executive director, told Deadline that the survey, which is expected to go out in mid-October, will involve “as many industry workers as we can. We’ll be engaging the media in the conversation. We are working with those member organizations who are willing to participate and distribute the survey to their relevant workers in the hope that they will be able to take the survey as well. We will utilize social media and we will make the link available through our website. It will be an anonymous survey, which is critically important to give people comfort around taking the survey and to have confidence in its results.”
The code of conduct “is in development now,” Arrington said. “We are developing the drafts. I anticipate that that model policy will be developed by the end of the year. Recommendations for what the reporting and response systems will look like will also be completed by the end of the year. The survey is critical to the entire system design.”
“What we became aware of last year was that there are still a number of workers in the industry who do not have access to a resource that can help them deal with problems of bias and abuse,” Hill said. “At this point we are targeting freelance people, but what we have found is that there is no one definition for freelance people. So what we’re saying is that we want to make sure that everyone has a place to go when they face a problem. The inability to understand or know what the resources are can happen because of someone’s employment status, but it can also happen because someone is employed, say, in a small production company that doesn’t have resources set up to cover them.”
The commission is working with an organization called the Ethics & Compliance Initiative, which is currently finalizing the survey’s questions. “The Ethics & Compliance Initiative is an organization that focuses on workplace abuses, and how to provide systems and workspaces that are productive and help people feel safe and secure again,” Hill said.
“The idea of a survey,” she said, “is something that is so important to me because it is very frustrating to hear over and over stories from people who say, ‘I literally had no place to go,’ or ‘I tried to access the system and I just couldn’t really figure out how to engage it.’ That is one of the most frustrating things I have heard over and over again. And the fact that there are still people out there, in this moment of awareness, where people are now ready to step up and complain about behavior, and the fact that they’re still unable to find out how they can do that after you get the courage to do it, is entirely frustrating. And I think it’s particularly important because in many cases, we’re talking about some of the most vulnerable workers. Not only do they not understand the systems that allow them to wage their complaints, but maybe they’re even new to the industry. So they’re not sure of what all the resources are out there. And what we’re trying to do really is to fulfill our basic mission, which is to identify and establish best practices and solve problems related to harassment and bias and inequality and the lack of diversity in the industry. So we know that our attention has to be placed on the most vulnerable population, which is often those people who just can’t figure out how to get their problems resolved.”
Hill said freelancers to be surveyed include actors, writers, directors, film crews, stunt performers and anyone who works for small production companies that don’t have human resources departments or other internal systems to deal with harassment and bias complaints. “So when Malia talks about trying to reach out to as many of the people who are in the population that we’re trying to reach who don’t have resources,” she said, “we want to look at that very broadly and we want to be sure that we’re not missing people, because often those are the people who just don’t show up on anybody else’s radar, and we don’t want to miss them because we haven’t reached out to the right people to make sure that we have included them.”
The commission is called the “Hollywood Commission,” but Hill noted that its scope is nationwide – wherever industry workers are employed.
“When we chose ‘Hollywood,’ we were really looking for a shorthand for the entertainment industry, which we know is not just located in Hollywood. We are talking about people who are working in any number of locations. We’re not just using ‘Hollywood’ as a location – we’re looking out for people in different locations, because that’s where the work takes place. One of the things that when I first got involved in this project was that I started to pay more attention to entertainment, whether it was television or movies – I started looking at the credits. And especially in movies, when you look at the credits, you just realize that there are tons and tons of people who are contributing. And I started thinking about how complex the system is. But we believe that our membership, and the resources that we have within our membership, and the organizations that we’re working with…that we will be able to reach people throughout the country.”
“What we’ve been looking at and what we concluded very early on is that there is no one thing that is going to start to eliminate the problems that really brought this commission together,” Hill said. “And that’s true whether we’re talking about the code of conduct, or the reporting and response system, or the resources or the training – these are elements of an entire system of response. Just in terms of how we see the reporting system and to make it effective, we may need to bring into place an ombudsperson; we may need to make available counselors for individuals who are trying to navigate the system. It may be that we just need plain-language documents explaining how these systems will be working in terms of investigations of complaints, for example. So those are all of the elements that have come together.”
Hill said that the goal of the commission is not just to uncover abuse and bias in the industry, but also to change the culture of the industry that allowed it to fester for so many decades, and to prevent it from happening in the future.
“Whether we’re talking about the survey or the code of conduct or the training or the response system, what we’re trying to do is get a sense, not just about the behavior that has happened, but to also engage with a culture that may be supporting this behavior. In addition, you may have systems that support the behavior. But I don’t want to give the impression that we’re taking a behavioralist approach to this. We’re really taking a holistic approach to this, and the survey is just the beginning, and all of these other elements really will have to come together to effect the changes that we want to effect. And we will also be using the information that we get from the survey to establish a baseline of what the behavior is; what the culture is like, and hopefully, what some of the systems are that might be locking into place or protecting the bad behavior.”
The reporting protocols will also include a hotline, she said. “That’s another one of those pieces that we’re working on, and making sure that it’s not just a hotline that people call and that’s the end of it. What else do we need to do to follow up on that? What kind of information can we gather from that that will then go back into our other processes – training, etc. – to be able to have something that is an effective whole?”
As for the industry’s own response to the #MeToo movement – which includes policies and codes of conduct adopted by SAG-AFTRA, the WGA, the DGA, IATSE and the major studios and networks, Hill said: “I am thrilled, really, that our members are responding. It’s going to take everybody in this industry to respond, and to know who their constituents are and to work to make sure that they are issuing rules for new policies and that those policies have teeth in them, so that they have identified specific problems; they know how to respond to them, and they know how to deliver the response. That’s really important for us, but we also know that there are people who fall between the cracks and that there must be some effort that will need to be taken on a broader scale. So we are squarely behind the positions that have been taken so far by our members, especially at SAG-AFTRA – I think they have been most forthcoming; the work that has been done by the Writers Guild, starting to collect the stories from their members – that will help inform our work as well.”
Asked if the commission is adequately budgeted to complete its mission, she said: “We have asked our members to contribute and money is coming in regularly. The resources are coming in and we are using the resources that are available to us wisely. So we are trying to be very effective, of course, with what we do and how we spend the money. And we’re also trying to be very thoughtful, knowing that we don’t have an endless amount of funding. But we have been assured by our members that we will be looking at the budget on an ongoing basis based on what we learn around the survey that we do.”
Changing the industry’s culture won’t be easy, she said. “History is hard to abandon, and it gets built into the system and can be powerful in the industry. We’re not going to be able to change the culture overnight, but it is something that we’re aware of as part of what is necessary to really begin to make a shift in what we see happening and know to be the case and what we continue to hear about anecdotally.”
We’ve got a lot of work to do. … And I am not naïve enough to think it’s going to happen overnight. I know it’s going to take a lot of people, and it’s going to take the voices of leaders who are willing to stand up and say it’s time for a change.
For decades prior to the Weinstein scandal, the so-called “casting couch” was often laughed off as just the way business was conducted in Hollywood. But not anymore. “That this is no longer a laughing matter is encouraging,” she said. “This is the moment. And that’s why we’re excited about the work that we’re doing. We’ve got a lot of work to do. And just this part of it alone is something new. So we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. And I am not naïve enough to think it’s going to happen overnight. I know it’s going to take a lot of people, and it’s going to take the voices of leaders who are willing to stand up and say it’s time for a change. And by bringing them all together, that is our goal – to make sure that they are entirely invested in this, because we know that from all the research, whether it’s in the Hollywood industry or in any industry – whether it’s about harassment or bias or any change that is necessary – the message from the top is what makes things move.”
Addressing sexism and sexual abuse is not the commission’s only mission, however. “It includes all kinds of bias,” Hill said. “I don’t really divorce bias from harassment and abuse. I think they’re all part of the same problem, which in many cases, if not all cases, is about a power imbalance. So absolutely yes – racial, ethnic and religious bias. We have a whole host of things that we know occur because of different identity factors. So when we say bias, we mean to include that. But we also mean to include abuse. People are abused in the workplace, and it’s not limited to Hollywood, because of their identity. All you have to do is pick up the newspaper to know that that is the case. So we’re taking on that as well. A lot of the focus and a lot of the reasons for how we got here is around harassment as a form of abuse, and I believe it’s also a form of gender bias that have limited people’s access and their ability to do their work.”
Asked about complaints of ageism in the industry, she said: “In that sense, Hollywood is a reflection of the larger culture, but it’s a reflection that then gets presented to the world.”
The commission, she said, is here for the long haul, but it won’t be around forever. “We’re into it to have effective change, and it does have to happen in the long haul, but in the meantime, what we’re trying to do is to put into place things that are sustainable, so that even when we are not here, the systems have changed; the culture has changed, and the issues do not present themselves in the same way.
“The idea that people have stepped up and complained and demanded change – that is a breakthrough in and of itself. It provides us with an opportunity, an opening, to have self-examination, and for us to put in place some things that are long overdue. And so we are looking at this moment as an opportunity and we are trying to fill it with what we believe to be the best practices and establish a better future, not only for the individual workers, but that the work will reverberate throughout the community. We believe that what is good for the worker is good for the industry.”
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