Hollywood’s attempt to deal with sexual misconduct seemed to be entering a new phase in the first few days of 2019.
CBS, a company that spent the latter months of 2018 under scrutiny following sexual-misconduct allegations that resulted in the departure of CEO Leslie Moonves, named Susan Zirinsky the new president of CBS News.
A 46-year veteran of the network, Zirinsky will become the first woman to run the news department.
On “CBS This Morning,” co-anchor Norah O’Donnell said Zirinsky has “a kind heart and cares about the people that work here. So a new day is on the rise.”
But a stark reminder that sweeping change won’t occur overnight came days later.
On Thursday, John Lasseter, the former Pixar chief who was ousted after being accused of inappropriate conduct, found a new job in Hollywood. (Lasseter apologized for making his former colleagues feel “uncomfortable.”) On the same day, Harvey Weinstein, the former movie mogul whose downfall helped spur a movement against sexual harassment in the industry and beyond, scored a partial victory in a civil suit brought by Ashley Judd.
If 2018 was the year when women in Hollywood and their allies called for change, this year may be when we learn if companies and industries that claimed to support their words take actions to do so.
In her upcoming Lifetime documentary, “Gretchen Carlson: Breaking the Silence,” the former Fox News anchor who after a landmark sexual harassment suit against that network’s chairman and CEO, Roger Ailes, emerged as an influential figure in the #MeToo movement, Carlson, calls attention to some companies who have fallen short. She does so by elevating the stories of average working women from all walks of life, many who experienced harassment and mistreatment while working in lower income positions.
“It’s important for companies to take the first step now instead of waiting and hoping that this is some sort of a passing fad,” she tells CNN in an interview. “If I was running the company, I would want to be on the front lines of this thing to really be seen as a company that was putting action into my words.”
She adds: “I’m hopeful we’re going to see of that.”
Skydance Media received widespread criticism from Time’s Up and other advocates for hiring Lasseter has their new head of animation.
“We didn’t flip a switch and [now] everybody is going to get rid of all the harassers, get rid of all the assaulters and start the business anew. That’s not the way it went,” Melissa Silverstein, founder and publisher of Women and Hollywood, says. “The demand for systemic change is something we have to keep pushing for. But that’s also really, really hard to do.”
The week’s events have also underscored the long, slow road to correcting an accepted norm in which stars and top executives could get away with abusing those around them. Hollywood’s clean-up – in certain high-profile cases – is seemingly moving from news reports to the courts and criminal-justice system, where some of these stories will potentially drag on for years.
Kevin Spacey appeared in court in Nantucket on Monday to plead not guilty to a charge of indecent assault and battery stemming from an incident in 2016.
R. Kelly could also be facing a possible criminal investigation, stemming from allegations of abuse against young women in the Lifetime documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly.” The spotlight on Kelly has also turned attention on those in the music industry who have worked with him over the years. (On Wednesday night, one-time collaborator Lady Gaga joined the chorus of people now condemning Kelly.)
Silverstein sees the reaction to the docuseries as a good thing because it’s “magnificent that these women’s voices have been amplified” and they’re finding supporters.
The rise of #MeToo continues to shift cultural attitudes about acceptable behavior.
“Green Book” director Peter Farrelly apologized this week after news articles referencing past instances of sexual misconduct, veiled at the time as attempts at humor, resurfaced.
In the middle of awards season, where Farrelly will be making promotional rounds, will Hollywood embrace his presence on the red carpets?
“The entertainment industry still has a lot of work to do, as pretty much every industry does,” says Shaunna Thomas, co-founder and executive director of UltraViolet, a women’s advocacy organization. “But, obviously their impact on culture is significant. They shape the content that the vast majority of people in this country are consuming, and so when you have misogynists shaping that kind of content that people are seeing, that’s serious.”
Thomas says that’s why activists often focus on the entertainment industry and look for it to be a beacon for progress.
On Friday, UltraViolet commissioned a plane banner to fly over Sony Music’s headquarters in Culver City, California, urging the company to cut ties with R. Kelly. The singer’s record company, RCA Records, is owned by Sony.
“We do expect this year to be an opportunity to really cement some of the #MeToo gains we saw over the past year,” she says. “I think this means abusers are not generally – and there are going to be exceptions – going to get golden parachutes when they are fired for abusing women.”
Lasseter’s appointment and the developments in the Weinstein case were particularly discouraging to advocates who aim to dismantle a system that has enabled abuse. (Silverstein says that with Lasseter’s hire, Skydance’s message to women is “that women’s voices don’t matter and that women’s truths don’t matter.”)
“These blows hurt,” Silverstein adds, “but it also should make us all resolute in…pushing for change.”