For members of an industry that's long seemed more inclined to talk-the-talk than walk-the-walk, Hollywood's new anti-harassment initiative is substantial.
Announced Monday, the initiative will be organized under the banner of Time's Up, a recently-formed group that reportedly includes "300 prominent actresses and female agents, writers, directors, producers and entertainment executives." Among the many members are top names including Reese Witherspoon, Ashley Judd, Kerry Washington, Emma Stone, and Michelle Obama's former chief of staff Tina Tchen.
Cara Buckley of the New York Times sketched an outline of what's included in the organization's efforts on Monday:
— A legal defense fund, backed by $13 million in donations, to help less privileged women — like janitors, nurses and workers at farms, factories, restaurants and hotels — protect themselves from sexual misconduct and the fallout from reporting it.
— Legislation to penalize companies that tolerate persistent harassment, and to discourage the use of nondisclosure agreements to silence victims.
— A drive to reach gender parity at studios and talent agencies that has already begun making headway.
— And a request that women walking the red carpet at the Golden Globes speak out and raise awareness by wearing black.
Buckley described Time's Up as "leaderless, run by volunteers and made up of working groups." One of those working groups has already formed a commission (led by Anita Hill, a choice that was met with understandable skepticism from conservatives) focused on devising a plan to end the entertainment industry's problem with sexual harassment. Other groups are working on crafting legislation to address abuse and nondisclosure agreements, achieving "gender parity" in the top ranks of entertainment companies, and amplifying the voices of minorities.
Led by Tchen and administered by the National Women’s Law Center’s Legal Network for Gender Equity, the group's legal defense fund seems especially impressive, slated to redistribute donations from the likes of Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg, and Shonda Rimes to women of less financial privilege with little access to the corridors of power.
The industry's overwhelming liberalism clearly and substantially informs the project, from its personnel to its rhetoric. For conservatives (myself included), that doesn't inspire much confidence given, for instance, the Obama administration's dangerous, ideologically driven approach to Title IX investigations on college campuses.
(On a positive note, Time's Up uses surprisingly restrained language on its website, trading Hollywood hyperbole for a heightened sense of seriousness.)
But, for now, it's probably better than nothing. There's plenty of room for nonpartisan collaboration when it comes to workplace sexual misconduct — tackling nondisclosure agreements and focusing on economically disadvantaged communities are just two examples — though time will tell whether this group of wealthy coastal progressives is actually capable of producing agreeable solutions to those problems.
Furthermore, Time's Up's membership should be advised the public won't take their participation in the campaign as a license to sermonize on red carpets this winter. Hollywood's moral credibility remains shattered in the wake of Harvey Weinstein's downfall, though substantive, good faith measures to make improvements are steps in the right direction. Time's Up is behind the blackout protest scheduled for the Golden Globes on Jan. 7th, urging attendees to wear black in solidarity with victims of harassment. I've written recently to argue the appetite for such gestures this awards show season will be even further diminished, though I should also concede it's helpful this particular one is part of a much larger effort.
For celebrities hoping to regain trust and favor, restraint will still be the hottest accessory on red carpets this winter. But this unusual demonstration of substance is at least commendable for urging the entertainment industry to put its money where its mouth has been for decades.