Frances McDormand gave an electrifying speech Sunday as she accepted the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
While the majority of winners did not address gender disparities on the red carpet or during the ceremony, McDormand used her time on stage to call for more opportunities for women in Hollywood.
After the perfunctory Oscar thank-yous, McDormand placed her gold statuette on the floor and asked all the female nominees in the room to stand up. When she was finished cackling, she said that all those women needed financial backing for their own projects. At the end of her speech, the actor suggested that more powerful people should include language in their contracts demanding diversity and equity.
“I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider,” she said.
After giving a shoutout to Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim and thanking her fellow filmmakers, among others, the actor set her Oscar down and said:
If I may be so honored to have all the female nominees in every category stand with me in this room tonight. The actors. Meryl, if you do it, everybody else will. Come on. The filmmakers, the producers, the directors, the writers, the cinematographer, the composers, the songwriters, the designers. … Okay, look around, everybody, look around, ladies and gentlemen. Because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed. Don’t talk to us about it at the parties tonight. Invite us into your office in a couple days, or you can come to ours, whichever suits you best. And we’ll tell you all about them. I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.
Notably, some of the categories she gestured to — Best Director and Best Original Score — had only one female nominee or no female nominees this year. She did correctly refer to the single female cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, who became the first female nominee in the category this year.
It had been seven weeks since Austin Rick started telling his story, and he was angry. In October 2017, Rick posted on Facebook that in 2008 Kirt Webster, who represented some of country music’s biggest stars, repeatedly coerced him into sexual acts. Rick said this continued until one day the 21-year-old singer woke up naked in bed next to Webster with no memory of how he’d gotten there.
When Rick posted his story on Facebook Oct. 27, in the midst of #MeToo, he wanted to make sure the prominent publicist never abused anyone again. Although Webster, 43, claimed through a representative that his former client’s story was “untrue,” he stepped away from his firm almost instantly after it hit the local press. In the weeksthatfollowed, more than 20 former employees came forward with stories of workplace sexual harassment and unwanted touching. Speaking with BuzzFeed News, three more described a hellish work life with a boss who constantly made crude jokes and talked about his employees’ bodies, pantomimed masturbation in the office, and bragged about trading access to his biggest client, Dolly Parton, for nude photos; one said Webster invited him and another man to a “sleepover.” The total number of people who have come forward with stories of Webster’s workplace sexual harassment is now well over two dozen.
Webster retreated from his firm, but his representative released a statement saying he had done so “to focus on combating the egregious and untrue allegations made against him.” He did not respond to multiple requests for comment on a detailed summary of this story, and has stayed out of the public eye since November.
As the number of voices swelled, Rick hoped that the national reckoning with sexual assault and harassment would hit country music too.
He’s still waiting. Rick said one thing distinguished Nashville’s sidestep from the eruptions in Hollywood, media, and government: A vast majority of country artists and executives have refused to even acknowledge anything is wrong.
Former employees said they wanted Webster roundly condemned, and what they got was a sprinkle of tepid disapproval. Many simply wanted Webster’s former clients to say “I believe you.” “Dolly Parton hopes that we’re all lying,” Rick said with a scoff, referring to the statement she put out following Rick’s allegations, that she was “hoping” the stories weren’t true. “Thanks, Dolly, that’s great.” Parton did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
Parton and Kid Rock, among others, dropped Webster as their representative. Kid Rock released a more sharply worded statement than Parton’s, but nonetheless said that he too hoped the allegations were false. Most people associated with Webster said nothing about the allegations, including his firm’s second-in-command, Jeremy Westby, who was announced as Webster’s successor before leaving to start an independent firm on Nov. 2. Westby is Webster’s long-term romantic partner, 12 former employees told BuzzFeed News; public records show the men living at the same address from 2013 through November 2017. Westby did not comment on the allegations against Webster or whether they were still a couple. “Kirt has not been and is not involved in my new company,” he said.
There was no pronounced support for the people who said Webster hurt them, and thus, unlike in other industries, there was no signal to other victims that now was the time to start naming names.
“I’m afraid it’s all gonna go away.”
Victims saw this hush as a sign that sexual misconduct was not taken seriously in Nashville, and that Webster might catch himself midfall. Some also said this sent a chilling message to other victims on Music Row: If they came forward, no one would take up their cause. In Hollywood, hundreds of women signed on to the Time’s Up initiative to combat sexual abuse, whereas country had a smattering of critical voices that never quite became a chorus. After a DJ sued Taylor Swift for saying he groped her, she won her countersuit and later donated to Time’s Up, and artists like Kacey Musgraves and Maren Morris have criticizedharassment in the industry. But Rick and the former employees, for the most part, felt utterly alone.
And as Webster dropped out of headlines and local police determined that the allegations were too old to pursue a case, it was unclear what the actual consequences for the publicist would be. A former employee said, “I’m afraid it’s all gonna go away.” It’s a strain of unease that’s sinking in all across the country. The question of what happens after #MeToo haunts Rick and the dozen former employees who spoke to BuzzFeed News.
“Anyone who wants to see legitimate change, this is our window of opportunity right here,” Rick said. “If no one else will stand up and help me, then I will just keep at it.”
Nearly all of the 23 artists, writers, and workers at publicity firms, a record company, and an agency interviewed for this story said country music remains a small, insulated industry where reputation is everything and there are more whistleblowers on the blacklist than predators. And while Webster may be gone, women and men in Nashville say a culture of silence remains. One former Webster PR employee said that her current boss approached her after the allegations against Webster broke and told her to stay out of it. “He kept repeating, ‘You have nothing to gain by coming forward,’” she said.
There’s ample evidence that sexual harassment in Nashville is not up for discussion. Reached this week, Danny Nozell, Parton’s manager and Webster’s longtime friend and associate, said he did not know about any sexual harassment allegations before they became public and declined to comment further on the allegations against his colleague. When BuzzFeed News asked 12 firms that previously worked with Webster or his clients whether they would work with him in the future, only two, Kicker Country Stampede and Reviver Entertainment Group, said they would not work with him again. “We have no plans to work with him again in the future, despite this matter, and certainly now wouldn’t consider working with him again because of this matter,” said Reviver’s president and CEO, David Ross.
“He kept repeating, ‘You have nothing to gain by coming forward.’”
Time Life and the Country Music Association answered indirectly, both saying they were not currently planning to work with him, while Big Machine Label Group, which worked with Webster through his clients, said, “It’s not the culture of the Big Machine Label Group to condone this type of behavior at any level from anyone we associate with.” The other seven entities — Sony, the Academy of Country Music, L3 Management, Vector Management, Outback Concerts, Neste Entertainment, and Country Thunder Music Festivals — did not respond at all or declined to comment.
On Feb. 5, Country Radio Seminar revoked press credentials for NewsChannel 5 reporter Jesse Knutson and asked him to leave the premises after he told the event’s public relations representative that he planned to ask questions about how CRS was addressing the sexual harassment and misconduct in radio recently documented by Rolling Stone. On Wednesday, after NewsChannel 5 reported on the debacle, CRS officials agreed to an interview with Knutson. CRS did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ multiple requests for comment.
It was reported just last week that the disgraced country music DJ David Mueller — who a jury decided groped Taylor Swift — was hired at a radio station in Mississippi. And as a parade of men in film and TV were being outed as harassers and publicly castigated, one of the only people in the country music industry to speak openly about sexual misconduct found herself embroiled in a lawsuit. In October, singer Katie Armiger said she was groped by radio DJs multiple times throughout her career — and was blacklisted for openly complaining about it. Two weeks later, Armiger was sued by her former label, Cold River Records, for allegedly breaching her nondisclosure agreement.
Armiger declined to comment directly on the ongoing lawsuit against her, but said that in country music, victims are still expected to keep quiet about sexual harassment. “If you’re a female artist and you speak out, that could limit your chances of being played [on the radio] when they’re already slim to none,” she told BuzzFeed News.
And if women are expected to endure objectification, the rules are even less clear for men who report abuse by other men.
“If you’re a female artist and you speak out, that could limit your chances of being played.”
Alex Caress, the lead singer of Little Bandit and one of the few out musicians in country, rattled off a list of queer artists that was so short he said it made him feel sad. Caress thinks the industry by and large refused to address the allegations against Webster because “in order to do that, you sort of have to acknowledge that gay people exist, and that doesn’t seem to be something that they’re interested in.”
And Music Row’s squeamishness was evidenced by the way Webster conducted his own life.
Former employees told BuzzFeed News that Webster lived with one foot still in the closet; several said that the publicist expressed surprise when people ascertained that he was gay. When he worked for especially conservative clients — one source remembered Mitt Romney, another remembered the Academy of Country Music Awards — Webster would actively conceal his sexuality, booking two hotel rooms for himself and his boyfriend, Westby, on a business trip instead of one.
When Rick was still trying to make it as a country music artist, fear that Webster could destroy his fledgling career kept him quiet. After he left the industry, he stayed quiet in part because of shame, enhanced by the stigma of being a male victim. “I felt like a disgusting excuse for life, and so I didn’t tell anybody,” he said.
“I felt like a disgusting excuse for life, and so I didn’t tell anybody.”
Shame kept Webster’s male staff feeling trapped too. One former Webster PR employee said he would only speak to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity, in large part because most of his family doesn’t know he’s gay, and he hasn’t told them that Webster pinched his nipples in the office and repeatedly showed him a dildo he kept in his desk and talked about another employee “sitting on it.”
That shame, mixed with fear of retaliation, has kept people who say they were harassed by Webster from identifying themselves even after his name has become synonymous with abuse allegations. And that, in turn, has made it easier for Nashville to follow its impulse to ignore a potential controversy until it goes away, without any serious reckoning.
Webster himself relied on a system of explicit intimidation, sources told BuzzFeed News, counting on the small size of the industry — and his stature within it — to motivate people to stay in his good graces. Two former employees recalled an incident from around 2015 where a job posting appeared in an industry newsletter, Country Aircheck, without listing the firm; several days later, Webster informed his staff that he himself had written the ad, calling it a loyalty test. It made one woman who worked there think any job posting could be a trap.
“If no one else will stand up and help me, then I will just keep at it.”
And Rick said when he was still trying to make it as a country star, Webster would gesture in his office to the many photos of himself with powerful people and suggest that he could give Rick that kind of career. Rick believed him. He also believed that Webster could take that career away. In a small industry, those in Webster’s circle were convinced the word of one powerful man who felt wronged could derail your Nashville hopes. Now, watching people like Armiger publicly flail makes them think they were right.
But the mechanisms that keep people quiet don’t apply to Rick anymore: “The problem with Kirt is he picked on someone, he victimized someone … who has nothing to lose,” he said. He was determined, and strengthened by the supportive emails and messages he’s received from other victims — both men and women— in the industry. Rick continued, “If no one else will stand up and help me, then I will just keep at it. I will keep at it so that every time [Webster] shows his head, that he is going to be confronted about it. I represent a lot of people now.”
Because he said so many were still silent or nameless, Rick added the inverse of #MeToo: “It’s not just me.” ●
Ariane Lange is an entertainment reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
The creator of The Handmaid’s Tale ended his speech on a somber note after the dystopian series about women forced into pregnancies under a totalitarian Christian state won Best Drama Series at the Golden Globes Jan. 7. Accepting the award, he concluded by saying, “To all the people in this room, and this country, and this world who do everything they can to stop The Handmaid’s Tale from becoming real, keep doing that.”
Earlier in the evening, series lead Elisabeth Moss won Best Actress in a drama series. Like many actors that evening, Moss was wearing black in solidarity with the newly formed Time’s Up coalition to fight sexual harassment and assault; she, too, invoked the fitting subject matter of the show. At the end of her speech, she quoted Margaret Atwood, author of the novel on which the series is based:
“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edge of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”
After reading the quotation, Moss said, “Margaret Atwood, this is for you, and all of the women who came before you and after you who were brave enough to speak out against intolerance and injustice and to fight for equality and freedom in this world. We no longer live in the blank white spaces at the edge of print. We no longer live in the gaps between the stories. We are the story in print, and we are writing the story ourselves.”
When the Hulu show premiered in April under a loudly anti–reproductive rights administration, it seemed timely. Women’s rights activists had already started dressing up as Handmaid’s Tale characters as part of their protests. Now, in the midst of a national reckoning with sexual harassment and assault, the show — which depicts the loss of women’s bodily autonomy, including rape and forced pregnancy — is more pertinent than ever.
Members of the cast and crew have said they did not expect the TV adaptation of Atwood’s 1985 novel to be quite so relevant. The director of the first three episodes, Reed Morano, told BuzzFeed News that with the surprise election victory of Donald Trump, “everything that was already a powerful statement was way, way, way amplified.”
Trump campaigned on an anti–abortion rights platform, and chose as his vice president Mike Pence. During the campaign, he promised: “We’ll see Roe v. Wade consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs.”
News broke Tuesday that Disney/Pixar’s chief John Lasseter was taking a six-month leave of absence because of “missteps.” Immediately following, reports in The Hollywood Reporter, Vanity Fair, and Variety revealed allegations of unwanted kissing, hugging, and touching of his female colleagues. In Los Angeles, women who work in TV animation told BuzzFeed News that although outsiders perceive animation is as a wholesome industry, sexual harassment is pervasive and has long gone unchecked.
“I don’t think that should come as a surprise to anybody who’s spent any time in animation,” said Ashley Long, a director who works on adult-oriented shows. “Abuse of power by men — I don’t want to say it’s part of the territory, because that makes it sound like you have to put up with it — but it’s extremely common.”
Lasseter’s departure, although temporary at the moment, followed the revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s decades of alleged sexual harassment and assault, which were first reported by the New York Times Oct. 5 and The New Yorker Oct. 10. The accusations against Weinstein spurred countless women and men to come forward with stories of their own experiences of harassment. Under heightened scrutiny, many prominent men, including some in animation, have been punished. “It was always the law, but suddenly people woke up and realized it’s the law,” Long said.
Still, it was unclear to the women who spoke with BuzzFeed News whether the surge of accountability for sexual harassment in the animation industry would lead to lasting change. Even publicly criticizing Lasseter, who has admitted to making his colleagues uncomfortable, was seen as risky by Elise Willis, a 29-year-old storyboard artist. Calling Lasseter “revered,” Willis was hesitant to be quoted, saying, “I’m still not 100% on using my name, because like I said, things are looking good now, shitty dudes are getting fired now, but I don’t know what it’s gonna be like in the future.” She then added, “The people that allowed his behavior to happen are still there.”
As Vanity Fair reported, Disney executives discussed Lasseter forcibly kissing and fondling a colleague at a party in 2010; the magazine’s source called him a “crazy-horny 13-year-old” they had to “keep in check,” but then went on to praise him as a “genius.” Willis was irritated by that thinking. “He can be replaced!” she said.
Disney did not immediately respond to a request for a comment Wednesday, but on Tuesday, they released a statement saying, “We are committed to maintaining an environment in which all employees are respected and empowered to do their best work. We appreciate John’s candor and sincere apology and fully support his sabbatical.” Lasseter’s representative did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.
Animation is a small industry, Long told BuzzFeed News, and there’s “fear” of formally reporting incidents or communicating discomfort with a colleague’s behavior: “You don’t want a bad reputation,” she said. “As a woman, the feeling is you want to go in with absolutely no marks against you because you’re afraid that any little thing could give them an excuse to not hire you. … A lot of women are very afraid of being seen as troublemakers.”
Ashlyn Anstee, a 28-year-old storyboard artist, said that she’d reported verbal harassment by male colleagues at three of six jobs and was brushed off by producers. “A lot of producers are women,” she said. “Women making excuses for men. It’s a frustrating message for young women: If it bothers you, it’s because you’re not strong enough, or you don’t get the joke. … Because this is a boys’ industry, any woman is just kind of visiting, and the men are gonna keep doing what they’re doing and you have to be cool with it.” Younger women, she said, are challenging the status quo, but change has been slow.
Anstee found the term that many used to describe Lasseter’s reported unwanted hugging and kissing — “touchy-feely” — frustrating. The inherently sexual undertone of hugging a female colleague for too long, or kissing her, was obscured by “touchy-feely,” she said.
Marie Bower, a storyboard artist also in her twenties, told BuzzFeed News she was happy Lasseter’s behavior had “finally” resulted in consequences. Although Bower said she had never interacted with Lasseter directly during her brief time working at Disney in 2015, his unwanted touching was joked about in the workplace. Bower remembered a male colleague told her that Lasseter would sometimes go in for a kiss when he hugged women. Although that male colleague didn’t recall the exact conversation, he confirmed that Lasseter’s hugs and kisses in the workplace were openly gossiped about. Neither Lasseter nor Disney responded to a request for a comment on this.
“All of this was not hidden information,” Bower said. “The misogyny runs deep in animation, and a lot of it has gone unchecked because it’s been a boys’ club for so long.”
Bower was concerned by Lasseter’s memo — and, like Willis, she worried that Lasseter could still be forgiven. “It’s so weird that he’s like, ‘Oh, in six months, I’ll be back,’” Bower said. “Ugh, I hope not.”
Since sexual harassment and assault allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein spurred a torrent of other claims against men in Hollywood this fall, it’s felt like profound change was in the air. The industry has a track record of standing by powerful men who’ve allegedly or admittedly harmed women: Roman Polanski won an Academy Award 26 years after he pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 and then fled the US; Bill Cosby signed a development deal with NBC in 2014, well after he’d been sued for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, and 13 other women agreed to testify against him in the lawsuit; Mel Gibson pleaded no contest in 2011 after he was charged with battering the mother of his child, and he’s currently starring in a Christmas film. But almost overnight, it seemed, men were being held accountable for sexual misconduct.
Among female directors and producers in Hollywood, there’s an unfamiliar feeling about all this: hope.
“It’s very empowering,” Haifaa Al Mansour told BuzzFeed News. Mansour became the first Saudi woman to shoot a feature-length film in that country with 2012’s award-winning Wadjda. Her film Mary Shelley premiered this fall at the Toronto International Film Festival. Mansour said that with so much gendered harassment and abuse becoming public, producers in particular are more consciously positioning themselves on women’s side. “I think people are considering me more,” she said. “And considering not only me — considering other female directors more.”
Shadi Petosky, the creator and showrunner of Amazon’s animated series Danger & Eggs, heard about the decades of sexual harassment allegations against Weinstein almost immediately after the New York Times published them Oct. 5. She was disgusted by the report but did did not expect much fallout. “You see this news all the time,” she said. “Nothing really happens.”
Although Petosky was initially skeptical, she quickly decided the moment is “incredibly hopeful” as more women began to come forward with their own experiences and Weinstein was fired.
“It feels a little bit how the Women’s March feels,” Petosky said. “There’s a lot of solidarity, and people are meeting behind the scenes, and creating these Facebook groups, and really working on specific tasks, which is pretty amazing. … Outside of the people that are famous getting fired, there’s people all over Hollywood in different jobs who are finally getting let go to create safer spaces.”
Janicza Bravo, a writer-director and Sundance alumna, was “excited” that her younger female colleagues refuse to put up with as much mistreatment as she has over more than a decade in the industry. Still, she warns against a movement that reinforces another strain of inequality in Hollywood: “What I do hope is that we’re not gonna replace all the white guys with white gals.” She added, “In our business, when we talk about women, we tend to be talking about white women. Women of color are sort of ‘and also.’”
Although Bravo was encouraged by male colleagues initiating conversations about the sexual harassment news during episodes of HBO’s Here, Now and Netflix’s Dear White People she’s directed since Oct. 5, she noted critically that she had never seen such a widespread response to racism. Bravo thought the national conversation has persisted so long because most of the women coming forward with stories about Weinstein are white. “It’s tied to white women, and whatever our perception is about the delicacy or fragility of white women,” she said.
For women who have loudly railed against misogyny in Hollywood for years, the weeks after the Weinstein revelations have been strange. Brenda Chapman, the writer-director who won an Oscar in 2013 for her Pixar film, Brave, described herself as “hopeful with a very large dash of cynical.” After years of working on the film she conceived and directed, Chapman was fired from Brave in 2010; she kept her credit, and has been outspoken since then about the double standards women are held to in Hollywood. Her own story left her feeling “mixed” about the current traction women’s stories are getting.
“It’s incredibly frustrating that is has taken this damn long,” Chapman said. “But at the same time, it seems to be finally happening, so maybe this kind of predatory behavior will finally be looked on by society as it should have been centuries ago — with the disgust it deserves.”
Like Chapman, heavy hitters in the industry have expressed skepticism. Kathryn Bigelow — the only woman to ever win an Academy Award for Best Director — told the Los Angeles Times that Hollywood still needs to undergo “a tectonic shift.” Ava DuVernay told Vanity Fair on Oct. 14 that she wasn’t sure whether this moment would lead to real change.
Actor and director Amber Tamblyn said she sees a long road ahead. “You can’t undo a hundred years of the entertainment business in a week,” Tamblyn told BuzzFeed News. “We have to keep speaking about all of the stories. I mean, bombarding them. People are tired of hearing them? Great. Keep talking.”
Alanna Bennett contributed reporting to this story.
Louis C.K. has been accused of sexual misconduct by five women, according to a new report published by the New York Times on Thursday, with two women telling the paper the comedian exposed himself to them in 2002 and masturbated.
“We were paralyzed,” Dana Min Goodman told the newspaper of the time she said C.K. invited her and her comedy partner, Julia Wolov, to hang out in his Aspen hotel room before asking if he could taking out his penis.
“He proceeded to take all of his clothes off, and get completely naked, and started masturbating,” Goodman said.
Another woman, Abby Schachner, told the Times she could hear C.K. masturbating during a phone call with her in 2003.
“I definitely wasn’t encouraging it.” Schachner said. “You want to believe it’s not happening.”
Lewis Kay, the comedian’s publicist, did not respond to a request for comment on the Times story from BuzzFeed News. However, he told the Times that C.K. “is not going to answer any questions.” In the past, C.K. has dismissed gossip similar to the allegations reported by the Times on Thursday as just “rumors”.
Rumors that the Times was working on a story investigating C.K. have been widely shared in media circles for weeks.
The scheduled Thursday night premiere in New York City for C.K.’s controversial new film, I Love You, Daddy, was abruptly canceled just hours before the story was published. His scheduled appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert was also axed. William H. Macy will take his place Thursday night.
The Times story comes just weeks after the newspaper and the New Yorker revealed multiple allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein spanning back decades. More than 60 women have come forward about their experiences with the producer, inspiring a surge of women — and somemen — to start publicly telling their own stories of harassment and abuse with other celebrities. (Reporter Jodi Kantor worked on both the C.K. and Weinstein pieces for the Times).
Gawker posted a blind item in 2012 thatsomebelieved was about C.K.. “We’ve heard from several sources that this shameless funnyman whips it out at the most inopportune moments, often at times when his female companions have expressed no interest in watching him go at it,” the blind item said. When Gawker reached one of the female comedians who was the subject of the rumor, they reported she said the “facts were wrong” and she didn’t want to be part of the story. In 2015, Gawker’s sister site, Defamer, published an anonymous secondhand account from a man who said he confronted C.K. on behalf of two women C.K. allegedly preyed on. But the anonymous source declined to name the women and C.K. did not comment to Defamer.
The closest thing to a firsthand allegation seemed to be made by comedian Jen Kirkman on her podcast in 2015. On the podcast, she said “a very famous comic” who was “lauded as a genius” was “a known perv.” She did not get into specifics, but she said, “This guy didn’t rape me, but he made a certain difficult decision to go on tour with him really hard. Because I knew if I did, I’d be getting more of the same weird treatment I’d been getting from him.” She said she knew she couldn’t talk about it openly because it would damage her career.
About a month later, journalists beganspeculating that Kirkman had been talking about C.K., and as a result, she deleted the episode. In August of 2015, she told Nerdist that the media had blown things out of proportion, and then in 2017, she publicly denied she had been referencing C.K. “There are rumors out there that Louis takes his dick out at women. He has never done that to me,” she told the Village Voice in September 2017. “I never said he did, I never implied that he did.”
Some powerful female comedians have addressed the rumors about C.K. over the years.
Tig Notaro told the Daily Beast in August 2017 that he needed to “handle” the sexual misconduct rumors, “because it’s serious to be assaulted. … It’s serious to be harassed. It’s serious, it’s serious, it’s serious.” (C.K. executive produces Notaro’s Amazon series One Mississippi, which featured a storyline in which a character is accused of sexual misconduct and masturbates in front of a woman in his office.)
Notaro told the Times that she believes C.K. released her 2012 comedy album to “cover his tracks.”
“He knew it was going to make him look like a good guy, supporting a woman,” she said.
“Sadly, I’ve come to learn that Louis C.K.’s victims are not only real,” Notaro told the Times, “but many are actual friends of mine within the comedy community,” citing Goodman and Wolov, who Notaro said confided in her.
In 2016, Roseanne Barr was very upfront with the Daily Beast: “Some of the biggest comics, males, are doing some terrible things. And they’re about to get busted.” She went on to specify, “It’s Louis C.K., locking the door and masturbating in front of women comics and writers. I can’t tell you—I’ve heard so many stories.” She said she didn’t have firsthand knowledge, but had heard whispers of the behavior “for years.” Barr herself had tweeted about these stories before.
C.K., for the most part, has not addressed the allegations over the years. In September of 2017, when he was promoting his forthcoming film I Love You, Daddy, he tried to avoid the question from the New York Times, saying, “If you actually participate in a rumor, you make it bigger and you make it real.” He then denied that the stories were true. “They’re rumors, that’s all that is.”
He responded similarly in 2016, when Vulture asked him whether the column Gawker posted in 2015 was part of “click-bait and what you see as online misinformation.” He responded: “No. I don’t care about that. That’s nothing to me. That’s not real.”
When pressed further about the secondhand allegation that he had masturbated in front of women without their consent, he said, “Well, you can’t touch stuff like that. There’s one more thing I want to say about this, and it’s important: If you need your public profile to be all positive, you’re sick in the head. I do the work I do, and what happens next I can’t look after. So my thing is that I try to speak to the work whenever I can. Just to the work and not to my life.”
His new film, I Love You, Daddy, which opens on Nov. 17, shows a respected auteur with a reputation for sexual impropriety. In the film, C.K.’s character grapples with his daughter’s relationship with the filmmaker, who is a figure in the mold of Roman Polanski or Woody Allen: lauded as a genius, and dogged by allegations of sexual abuse and assault.
On Thursday, 217 women and gender nonconforming people in animation sent a letter to more than a dozen studios demanding an end to sexism and sexual harassment in the animation industry. Recipients included executives at Disney, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, DreamWorks Animation, Bento Box, OddBot, Paramount, Shadowmachine, Sony Pictures Animation, Stoopid Buddy, Titmouse, and Warner Bros.
Though there are very few women with creator credits on TV shows, several among that small group endorsed the letter’s message — among them are Rebecca Sugar, the creator of Steven Universe; Shadi Petosky, the creator of Danger & Eggs; and Lauren Faust, the creator of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. There are also multiple Emmy winners on the list.
The letter began to take shape last week after a swell of harassment stories were exchanged publicly and privately, moving the group into collective action. In the letter, they explicitly call for clear and uniformly enforced sexual harassment policies from studios; stronger action from their union against harassers; and more support from their male colleagues. “This abuse has got to stop,” they said.
Women have long noted the lack of gender equity in animation, a fact that is often overlooked both within the industry and by mainstream media outlets. In December, for example, the Hollywood Reporter infamously published a roundtable discussion “on avoiding ethnic stereotypes and how to ‘break the mold’ of princesses” featuring Seth Rogen and six other white men: The article was met with widespread derision online and eyerolls offline.
Harassment in particular has received even less attention: As the letter points out, it was only in the last few weeks that conversations about harassment started to happen more openly, and the letter writers were “struck by the pervasiveness of the problem.”
In interviews with more than two dozen women in the industry this year, women repeatedly told BuzzFeed News that animation is “a small industry” and thus they feared that speaking out about gender-based mistreatment would negatively affect their careers. In these interviews — which were conducted before the sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein prompted a reckoning among women in the industry — a majority of women said they had a suspicion that nothing would come of any allegation they made about harassment; many said they worried making such a report would make them seem “difficult” or “not fun.”
But this letter seems to mark a shift. More than 200 women and gender nonconforming people have now publicly called an end to their silence.
Read the letter in full:
An Open Letter to the Animation Community
We, the women and gender non-conforming people of the animation community, would like to address and highlight the pervasive problem of sexism and sexual harassment in our business. We write this letter with the hope that change is possible, and ask that you listen to our stories and then make every effort to bring a real and lasting change to the culture of animation studios.
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, many of the women who work in animation have begun discussing more openly issues that we have dealt with quietly throughout our careers. As we came together to share our stories of sexism, sexual harassment and, in some cases, sexual assault, we were struck by the pervasiveness of the problem. Every one of us has a story to share, from tossed-off comments about our body parts that were framed as “jokes” to women being cornered in dark rooms by male colleagues to criminal assault.
Our business has always been male-dominated. Women make up only 23% of union employees, so it’s no surprise that problems with sexism and sexual harassment exist. Sexual harassment and assault are widespread issues that primarily affect women, with women of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups affected at an even greater rate.
As more women have entered the animation workforce, it seems that some men have not embraced this change. They still frequently make crass sexual remarks that make it clear women are not welcome on their crews. Some have pressed colleagues for romantic or sexual relationships, despite our clear disinterest. And some have seen the entrance of more women into the industry as an opportunity to exploit and victimize younger workers on their crews who are looking for mentorship. In addition, when sexual predators are caught at one workplace, they seem to easily find a job at another studio, sometimes even following their victims from job to job. We are tired of relying on whisper networks to know who isn’t safe to meet with alone. We want our supervisors to protect us from harassment and assault.
This abuse has got to stop.
The signatories of this letter demand that you take sexual harassment seriously. We ask that:
1. Every studio puts in place clear and enforceable sexual harassment policies and takes every report seriously. It must be clear to studio leadership, including producers, that, no matter who the abuser is, they must investigate every report or face consequences themselves.
2. The Animation Guild add language in our constitution that states that it can “censure, fine, suspend or expel any member of the guild who shall, in the opinion of the Executive Board, be found guilty of any act, omission, or conduct which is prejudicial to the welfare of the guild.” To craft and support the new language, we ask that an Anti-Harassment and Discrimination Committee be created to help educate and prevent future occurrences.
3. Our male colleagues start speaking up and standing up for us. When their co-workers make sexist remarks, or when they see sexual harassment happening, we expect them to say something. Stop making excuses for bad behavior in your friends and co-workers, and tell them what they are doing is wrong.
It has not been easy for us to share our stories with each other. Many of us were afraid because our victimizers are powerful or well-liked. Others were worried that if they came forward it would affect their careers. Some of us have come forward in the past, only to have our concerns brushed aside, or for our supervisors to tell us “he’s just from a different era.” All of us are saddened and disheartened to hear how widespread the problem of sexual harassment still is in the animation industry, and how many of our friends had been suffering in secret.
It is with this in mind that we resolve to do everything we can to prevent anyone else from being victimized. We are united in our mission to wipe out sexual harassment in the animation industry, and we will no longer be silent.
Chris Savino, the creator and executive producer of Nickelodeon’s popular cartoon series The Loud House, was suspended last week after several reported instances of harassment, according to Cartoon Brew. Variety also confirmed the suspension.
When asked for a comment, Nickelodeon did not confirm the suspension, but sent this statement: “Viacom is committed to the safety and well-being of our employees, and to fostering a workplace free from harassment. As a matter of policy, we do not comment on specific employee matters, but we take all allegations of this nature very seriously, investigate them thoroughly and take any necessary actions as a result.”
The Loud House premiered in 2016 and centers on the life of a boy who lives with 10 sisters. It is in its second season; Nickelodeon greenlit a third season in October last year.
Savino’s manager did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
In the wake of the sexual misconduct allegations lodged against Harvey Weinstein, the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts has decided not to accept a pledged $5 million endowment from the now-ousted executive of the Weinstein Company. Since last Thursday, more than 20 women — including Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Angelina Jolie — have alleged Weinstein made inappropriate, unwanted sexual advances; several women claimed he sexually assaulted them.
The endowment was to fund scholarships for women directors at USC. Just last Thursday, Weinstein touted his gift to the school in a statement he gave to the New York Times. “One year ago, I began organizing a $5 million foundation to give scholarships to women directors at USC. While this might seem coincidental it has been in the works for a year,” he wrote in his statement, which addressed the newspaper’s report about the decades of alleged sexual harassment.
A spokesperson for USC confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the decision to nix Weinstein’s endowment was made on Tuesday (Oct. 10) — the same day The New Yorker published a story that included three women’s stories of being raped by Weinstein and the New York Times published a follow-up story detailing new allegations of harassment and coercion.
Through a representative, Weinstein “unequivocally denied” having nonconsensual sex to the New Yorker.
Weinstein’s representative did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for a comment on the rejected donation to the university. But in the statement last week, Weinstein said he would name the endowment after his mother, adding, “I won’t disappoint her.”