Time's Up - or is it?
Has the #MeToo movement made any real difference outside of Hollywood?
by Gavin Steven
At last year’s Academy Awards ceremony, the prizes took a back seat. As ever, statuettes were doled out for best cinematography, screenplay and, of course, overly reverential portrayal of historical figure. But attention was firmly focused on the Academy’s response to the #MeToo movement. It was the theme of the evening, actor after actor marched to the stage to pay the movement lip service: excitedly, obliquely, sometimes hypocritically. #MeToo was indirectly painted as already being a success. Of course, it seemed that way: by the end of 2017, abusers across all industries had been chastised in a torrent of independent articles and social media outrage. Harvey Weinstein was facing the start of a long legal battle, Louis C.K. had stepped away from comedy indefinitely and Kevin Spacey’s career seemed all but over. Twitter was lighting up every day with new accusations, new headlines, new problems to solve. The media saw this as not just a movement for actors, but a turning point for sexual assault on the whole. We were now living in the post-#MeToo world.
However, many are already looking beyond this new world. Recently, a friend-of-a-friend told me that Kevin Spacey was too talented to never be seen on screen again. Is it really fair to give our favourite actors a life sentence? Studios seem to think not: after digitally erasing Spacey from his new film, director Ridley Scott admitted that the decision was purely business. If it were not for fear of box office backlash, Spacey would have remained in the film. This year, one studio was already willing to place a bet on Spacey. The actor was allowed to star, unedited, in Billionaire Boys Club. This Christmas, Morgan Freeman, whose female co-workers felt they could not wear a low-cut top in his presence, is top billed in a children’s adaptation of The Nutcracker from Disney. Yes, the same Disney that hastily canned James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy director, following a right-wing manufactured backlash to years-old tweets. Last month, Louis C.K. made an appearance at New York’s Comedy Cellar. His performance featured what the Cellar’s owner called “typical Louis C.K. stuff”: parades, tipping culture, rape whistles - all without mention of his allegations. As expected, the media responded with widespread condemnation, echoed by most of social media. On the night, however, his act received a standing ovation. In California, a sexual assault charge carries a minimum sentence of 24 months. Only 9 months after his apology, it seems that the I Love You, Daddy star is already on the road back to the public’s good books – not quite a life sentence.
Outside of la-la-land , things aren’t looking much better. This week, McDonald’s workers across the US staged their own #MeToo-style protest, demanding the company address the rampant problem of sexual abuse within the company. Forty percent of female fast food workers have been sexually harassed at work, of which McDonald’s employs 912,000 worldwide. This number eclipses those working in Hollywood. Yet, you probably didn’t hear about the McDonald’s movement on social media. At home, we all regularly hear of sexual harassment involving our friends, but there is no widespread outcry. To move the needle on social media requires an inordinate amount of public outcry, an amount which cannot be accrued by individual victims of sexual assault, or even hundreds of thousands of low-wage employees. #MeToo is only viable for the elites of our society.
So, what do we do? First, we must stop seeing social media outrage as a marker for change. Our social media is too open to manipulation, we have witnessed it in our most recent elections, and we will continue to see it for the foreseeable future. Companies will fire people at the slightest hint of a controversy spiralling out of control, and bury anything that they can still manipulate. Second, we must follow up on those accused, continue to speak out against them, and boycott their work. This year, I hope those outspoken at last year’s Oscars can continue to be outspoken; this year using their platform to draw attention to those who are already making a comeback, and those who are too small to have a voice.