Occidental students respond to Hollywood’s moral reckoning

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Early this October, sexual assault allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein made waves through the media. Survivors’ voices resonated across social networks as seen by the #MeToo movement, which encouraged thousands more outside the Weinstein case to step forward about their experiences with sexual assault. Occidental students from both the theater and Media Arts and Culture (MAC) departments weighed in on the news, discussing power dynamics in the film industry, the pressures of typecasting and the need for interpersonal accountability in the arts.

When asked about her reaction to Weinstein’s history of exploitation, MAC major Macarena Blando Demarco (senior) explained that the news didn’t come as a surprise.

“I was not surprised in the slightest, not even a little bit. It was something that I am sure people have known about, but now it’s finally in the open,” Demarco said.

Elena Sanchez (senior), a theater major, has plans to pursue acting after college and shared Demarco’s sentiments.

“I definitely was not surprised. With the allegations coming up against Kevin Spacey in the past week, it is really frustrating to see how many people have been willing to turn a blind eye because that’s easier,” Sanchez said. “These men in positions of power, because [of] how well known they are or how much money they have, can own people’s bodies to such a degree that it’s allowed for someone to be groped and assaulted.”

Several of those interviewed, such as theater and psychology double major Karensa Nagle (senior) and theater major Sophia Brown (sophomore) spoke to the ways in which women in the entertainment industry struggle to find agency when trying to prove themselves to seasoned casting agents.

“I think there is exploitation towards women in the sense that there are a lot of women in theater who want to be involved and it can become very competitive,” Nagle said.

Brown added her thoughts on the difficulties of navigating situations that put morals in conflict with careers.

“It is super demoralizing that women are already looked at as if they are less capable,” Brown said. “If I was in a situation like the women in the Weinstein case, and someone offered me a full deal, and I believed I deserved the position, I see how someone could feel pressured. Do you stick to your morals, or do you just do it?”

Sanchez was also sympathetic to the situations many fledgling actors find themselves in when first pursuing their careers. She noted the many sacrifices —such as cultural preservation and identity — young actors may consider when pursuing their craft.

“It is hard when it comes to the situation of the actor who is starting out,” Sanchez said. “Casting agents may say, ‘Oh we want you as this,’ [a part] which you don’t identify as, or, ‘We want to play you as something you identify as, but we are going to play you with a thick accent and adhere to all the stereotypes of your perceived identities.’ It is so complex in terms of how you deal with that. You have to think about how you are doing financially, and is it worth to pass up?”

Kobe Cancel (junior), a theater and English double major has acted in several college plays and aspires to be a film writer. He said that, until recently, the media hesitated to expose rampant assault in the industry, and that today’s social media has changed the state of affairs, providing survivors new platforms to be vocal.

“There is a freedom to be unadulterated, to say whatever you want on social media. Today there are more outlets, like publications of sorts, that accept news that was once passed over. Years ago it used to mostly be silence,” Cancel said.

Brown also discussed how empowering it was to see survivors bravely speak out online and create a united front against some of the industry’s magnates. According to the New York Times, at least 20 high-ranking men in the film industry have been criticized for sexual misconduct since Weinstein’s accusations in October.

“I think social media is a really good outlet,” Brown said. “Just a screen and a keyboard, that is all you need. If you are scared to file a Title IX report, you can lift up your voice online.”

Theater major Elenor Goulden (junior) discussed the ripple effect of the Weinstein scandal. She said she is looking forward to victims coming forward and outing other predators in the industry so that they face real consequences.

“There seem to be institutional blockades in theater in terms of accountability,” Goulden said. “In a cast, you have to be really intimate with each other in certain ways, but people can often cross a line. There doesn’t seem to be any training or accessible system around dealing with harassment within a cast, be it in college or professional theater. I have often expressed that directors and producers need to prevent harassers from being cast with people they have harassed, but I know it still happens.”

Cancel challenged society’s tendency to be less critical of creatives, arguing that all those in entertainment have a social responsibility.

“I don’t really care how talented someone is, how many jobs they’re going to give you. If they are doing something wrong, they still should be held responsible their actions,” Cancel said. “The theater likes to think of itself as more liberal or accepting than the rest of society. People in theater are invested in telling human stories, and we believe we have this special connection to the human experience, and therefore we are exempt from the problems of the world. But the problems of society are the problems of theater.”