When the news broke about the allegations of sexual harassment made against former Screen Junkies employee and Honest Trailers creator Andy Signore on Friday, October 6, I felt a twist in my gut. As the news poured out over the day, as women who had worked for him over the years came forward on social media with their accounts of how yet another man in the film industry had used his power and privilege to take advantage of them, it felt like a familiar process and one I'd learned to numb myself to.
But before I could numb myself that Friday, I felt compelled to do something: thank my boss. The first male boss I've ever had (astonishing, I know) got a Slack message that thanked him for being a genuinely great, thoughtful and supportive person who was just that and not, in fact, one of the harmful male types in this industry. He warmly received the statement and said something to the effect of, "I shouldn't have to be thanked for that," which I know he meant in a caring way because (I hope it's okay to say this, boss) he's a good guy who treats his female co-workers like they're co-workers, not opportunities. For that I am grateful.
He didn't know it, but at the time I was thanking him, I was trying not to cry. I had begun thinking about how very easily my first male boss in a professional workplace in an industry I love to absolute pieces could have easily been cut from the same cloth as Signore or Harry Knowles or Harvey Weinstein or Devin Faraci or someone else we women in film covertly warn each other about. My heart, which broke for women who did have that kind of boss, felt relieved of that burden and doubly so because it was only recently that I'd processed my own sexual assault.
Survivor's panic, the specific stab in the abdomen where I myself had been punched when I was attacked, coupled with a complete failure to breathe or focus. And what's worse is I knew that I wasn't the only female journalist, critic, director, actor, writer, technical worker, assistant, public relations rep and the like that was sitting there, frozen in her chair and trying to push back her own horrific memories as she watched the news unfold and other brave women speak up. Yet again, on that Friday, our industry collectively wondered:
How could this happen?
The Film Industry Is In Turmoil After A Slew Of Sexual Assault Allegations
Signore was merely the most recent in a slew of older, privileged men who had steadily risen in the ranks of various outlets in the industry. Signore, like Devin Faraci and Harry Knowles, worked predominantly in film criticism, journalism and media. He oversaw Screen Junkies, known for its Honest Trailers video series, which endeared itself to the pop culture-loving populace who wanted their movies with a dash of acerbic wit.
He also was accused of sexually assaulting and harassing some of his female employees, most visibly former Screen Junkies employee April Dawn. In her statement, posted to Twitter, Dawn alleges that Signore once attempted to force her into an uncomfortable and allegedly non-consensual sexual situation.
On Monday, October 9, Signore was fired from Screen Junkies by parent company Defy Media. This came on the heels of the uncovering and subsequent swift firing of Weinstein, who was named by actor Ashley Judd in a New York Times exposé. The behavior oft-whispered about by women in the film industry for years was laid bare, where details of Weinstein's actions included inviting female actors and female assistants to hotel rooms to allegedly discuss business while trying to coax them into massages or watching him shower.
The allegations about Faraci and Knowles have been pored over, but what's clear from their respective stories is that it aligns so closely with Signore's and Weinstein's: these abuses of power were kept quiet and dealt with internally, whether settled out of court or whispered about and glossed over. Complicity has been the modus operandi for years and finally, with a chance to break free of it, we as an industry should indeed break free.
Something Is Rotten In Our Industry And It Needs To Change
In an industry that brings dreams to life — technicolor confections of escapism you unwrap and savor — the notion that film had a seedy, shitty and problematic approach toward women and their equal treatment was not unknown; it was just ignored.
We discover tales of women in this industry who have been taken advantage of like we're not also living under the same conditions. The film industry both breeds predators but we're simultaneously breeding them out ("That used to happen, but it doesn't anymore") so what is there to worry about? We used to treat women in film horribly in the '80s, the '70s, the '50s, the '30s — see where I'm going with this? How is it that we've built a thriving industry that admittedly still problematically deals in the superficial beauty and accessibility of women's bodies and minds but we've convinced ourselves that as time passed the industry has changed? Where is the proof of that? Because if the burden of proof from the testimonials of countless women working twice as hard to get half as much power and notice as their abusers isn't enough, if the celebrities calling out the injustice isn't enough, and if firing Weinstein and Signore from their roles immediately after the allegations emerged doesn't prove to be enough, then the film industry as a whole has some serious reckoning to do.
The polite hivemind of the film industry will tell you this is what working in film means as a woman: endure, accept, persevere. We're told that change is coming. We get fed the "Don't worry, we hear you and we see you and we empathize with your trauma" line more times than we can count and across generations. This industry can rage and then promptly forget as good as any other. We try to support the women who come forward and risk breaking open old wounds, touting their stories with a "Never again!" mentality, only to be met with anticlimax.
Hollywood Can't Capitalize On Fictional Stories Of Abuse While Ignoring The Real Ones
Film journalists and critics often speak in our work about the ways in which film acts as a mirror to the world. We have no problem dramatizing the pain and the true stories of women who have been sexually assaulted, but we have a notorious blind spot for our own industry. If we are going to change, if men in this industry are going to stop acting shocked and start helping women who have been victimized, shamed, quieted or forced out of this industry which pushes so actively for equality, then it's got to stop. The power dynamics need to shift.
Women who have been sexually assaulted, whether in the film industry or without, are always processing what happened to us. We don't forget; we forge ahead. It is deeply horrific to be faced with this news repeatedly — especially when it's finally coming to light after knowing about it for years — but to relate to it and feel helpless to stop fosters a cruel and unusual workplace existence.
Change. And Soon.
If you've experienced sexual assault or know someone who has, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or visit RAINN.org.