Is There A Bottom To Hollywood’s Harassment Scandal?

Hollywood is in freefall following a series of sexual harassment, rape, and abhorrent behavior allegations, which are increasing by the day with no end in sight. It’s not just actors and actresses either, there are showrunners, producers, writers, crew, and office staffers at every level — men and women alike — who are standing-up and speaking-out. What we’re hearing and reading is shocking, but so too is the realization that these issues extend far beyond the movie industry. Similar crimes are perpetuated within every major and minor field of endeavor, including politics, journalism, high-tech, and major corporations.

These problems have existed — and have been condoned — for decades, as evidenced by Harvey Weinstein’s and Kevin Spacey’s alleged actions, which date back thirty years (or more). These problems aren’t going to be resolved overnight, not until our society enacts significant cultural, legal, and political changes that address these issues head-on, as well as the factors contributing to their existence.

I’m not a social scientist, nor am I a psychologist, but I have worked in entertainment, government, and high-tech fields for more than three decades. I’ve spent a lot of my time in leadership roles, and though I’ve never directly witnessed the types of crimes that are being described by so many in Hollywood, I have observed many disturbing trends related to abuses of power and position. I want to share a few of my experiences, as an industry insider, which hopefully contributes somethign positive to the ongoing discussion.

The entertainment industry — movies, TV, videogames, publishing, and much of high-tech — are highly, highly competitive fields, which is probably common knowledge. What’s not as well known is the stress and struggle inherent to breaking-in and sticking around. Regardless of the field, a few things remain constant: the money is good to great, the hours are long to absurd, and the opportunities are few and far between (unless you’re at the absolute top of your game). Consequently, there are tens of thousands of talented people vying for too few jobs, which creates circumstances wherein a whole lot of power is vested in just a handful of people.

I’ve seen firsthand how such conditions can go awry.

While staffing a videogame project several years ago, I received literally hundreds of artist resumes, even though we only had a handful of open roles. Some of these folks had been looking for relevant work for a long, long time and were becoming desperate — I’ve been in this boat myself, more than once, and it sucks — it’s a vulnerable situation to be in, one that’s ripe for unscrupulous types to take advantage.

Some years later, while working at a prominent Bay Area entertainment studio, I watched a particularly vile executive shake down a third-party developer. Months earlier this same executive compelled the developer to double their team size — hundreds of new hires — with the promise of additional work, only to yank the rug out from under them six months later — directly leading to the demise of the developer. This was another situation wherein power was abused and an employee (or in this case a contracted organization) is exposed and weakened, susceptible to abuse.

Over the years I’ve seen innumerable cases of young people fighting to find and keep jobs in the entertainment industry, while living with the realization that there are dozens of other equally-skilled folks coveting these gigs. There’s a real sense of powerlessness by many who work in these fields, as projects are routinely cancelled and companies frequently rise and fall (often without warning). Executives, and those in power positions, know these realities full well, and some individuals choose to manipulate the conditions to satisfy their own dark desires. Sadly, this is the status quo almost everywhere I’ve worked (size doesn’t matter either, as I’ve seen the same patterns at small, medium, and large organizations).

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. However, it does seem like a clear threshold has been crossed and these issues will remain in the open — hopefully until real change is enacted. The scary thing is that Hollywood doesn’t (yet) have a proactive plan and are instead only reacting: firing the offenders and freezing or cancelling projects — the former is an important step forward, but the latter is inciting fear and increasing stress throughout the industry.

A final thought: I sincerely hope my comments and anecdotes here do not detract from the very real and very horrible sexual abuses that have been reported by so many in Hollywood. Thanks for listening everyone!