Culture Trips

I’m still picking up the pieces after being sexually harassed by a fellow actor | Anonymous

It started with comments on my first day of shooting, from one of the actors I was co-starring with: suggesting we have a drink, saying he was attracted to me, hugging me out of the blue and finally commenting on my physique while shooting a scene.

It felt uncomfortable; I laughed it off. I was still getting into my stride on the production, which I had joined a little late, and I wanted to get on with this actor. We had several scenes that we were shooting together.

At one point I told a friend about his behaviour, who suggested I report it. “Report what?” I replied. “I’m not even sure if anything’s happened.”

Things escalated, ending up in a physical act of sexual misconduct that left me reeling, profoundly affecting my mental health and my relationships with others for a long time afterwards. I was left immensely anxious and blamed myself for not handling things better at that first sign of trouble. I considered leaving the industry, which seems extreme, but it was how I felt. I’d spent my life to that point building my career.

I’m writing this anonymously. As a young woman still relatively early in her career within the industry, I have an instinctive sense that I need to maintain a level of dignity and self-protection. And as nothing came of it when I did finally report the incident, what value would there be in exposing myself? It’s sad that I feel I won’t be identified from these words, because incidents such as this happen so much.

So, while I was shocked by the allegations of sexual harassment made by 20 women against Noel Clarke last week, I wasn’t surprised. Unfortunately, a culture exists within some sections of the film and TV industry that allows actors, directors and people in positions of power on sets to behave on a scale from “poor” to “unacceptable”, with relative impunity, often leaving traumatised people in their wake. And that’s bullying, as well as sexual abuse. I have long since learned that as long as producers and editors are happy with footage, nobody really cares what happened around it. “We got there in the end and isn’t he/she marvellous: gosh what a nightmare. But brilliant.” I have seen versions of this scenario play out multiple times in my career.

I look back to the beginning of my career and my time in acting school, just a decade ago, and think “that wouldn’t happen now”. But in the same breath I think so much of it does, and would. Jokes are cracked about X being “a bit of a Weinstein”, while female actors and crew give each other sotto voce warnings: “Watch out for so-and-so.” I feel for costume and make-up staff particularly, who are often young women left alone in the trailers with these people, frequently for intimate costume fittings.

Film sets are ad hoc spaces, with very little privacy and people working together in close quarters without a set code of practice. Who are these young women meant to go to after a week’s shoot has wrapped? Often the person just goes on to the next job to begin afresh.

Sets are also places with clearly defined power dynamics. Often it’s “talent” (those front of camera) versus everyone else (the crew). Egos abound and people are treated with reverence. There is also a hierarchy among the actors, based on the order of the call-sheet. My attacker was senior to me on the project. Some people act as if they could get away with anything. And it’s not just actors: I’ve heard stories about directors and producers too. I understand how people can pass through this industry often for years on end without their behaviour being challenged. Especially if these people are seen as “assets” to the projects they’re working on – the moneymakers.

I welcome the introduction of training and safeguarding officers on some shoots to ensure professionalism and respect among co-workers. Being able to report something to someone who is separate from the set, whose primary concern isn’t just finishing the day on time is hugely important.

I reported the incident I was subjected to, after telling my agent. It wasn’t easy. After calls and emails, I was granted a sit-down meeting with the head of a production company. It felt very much like lip service, but an apology was given. The actor involved was never reprimanded, as far as I know; he seems to be the one person who didn’t suffer any repercussions of his actions after those first comments were made. I’m still picking up the pieces.

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