Does Canadian Film & TV Have its Own Hollywood-Style Sexual Predators?

(I originally established this blog primarily to write about Canadian film & TV. In recent months I’ve diversified, both to pontificate about other topics of interest to me, and also because most of my Canadian film/TV musings were going to Huffington Post Canada. As well, I’ve been writing less and less about the topic (the reasons for that probably a topic for another essay). Anyway…this is a piece I wrote back in November for Huffington Post…but it’s ended up back here. I’ve added a post-script at the end to expand upon that. For the moment, here is my thoughts on the recent explosion of sexual harassment revelations coming out of Hollywood…and asking about Canada…)

Weeks ago American movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, was publicly outted as a sexual predator. His fall has been swift and dramatic. And the floodgates seem to have been wedged open as more abusers are being outted in an industry in which stories of sexual harassment (and rumours of the “casting couch”) are as old as the industry.

It’s hard to know how pervasive will be any cultural changes. Some have cynically noted even as Weinstein and actors like Kevin Spacey have been condemned for their behaviour toward white victims, a musician like R. Kelly seems largely unaffected despite a chronicled history of allegations by black women and girls. Stand-up comics who vociferously ripped Hollywood for its complicity are now being asked how long they knew about Louis CK. And comic book creators were (initially) subdued when similar stories arise in their industry. And American president Donald Trump was elected despite his own boasts of inappropriate sexual behaviour!

Ever since the Weinstein stuff blew up, I hummed and hawed about whether I should write anything. I blog about Canadian film & TV from the peripheries: I’m not a journalist. I’ve never been molested or assaulted and have never molested or assaulted anyone. If one has nothing to say, one should probably say nothing. But now that it’s been a few weeks, I figure I can tentatively start to wade in.

Canadian film & TV often flies below the public radar. Reasons range from reporters more focused on Hollywood, to the fact that Canadian movies just don’t do very well (although that’s less true of Canadian TV in recent years) to, I suspect, a cultivated insularness on the part of the industry itself.

But my question is: what’s going on in the Canadian industry?

Is there any reason to think things are better/different here? It’s possible — but is it likely? After all, one of the stories that arguably put the snow ball at the top of the hill was the Jian Ghomeshi scandal. The very fact that the industry flies below the radar might make it even more vulnerable to predators. A Canadian reporter trying to expose a filmmaker who makes movies most people haven’t even heard of might have trouble convincing their editor it’s a headline-grabber. (Significantly, when scandals break — such as the Claude Jutra revelations — they come from Quebec, where entertainers enjoy a higher profile).

There have been a few cracks. Actress-turned-director Sarah Polley went public with some of the dirty linen. Actress Ellen Page wrote a Facebook post calling out Hollywood director Brett Ratner for abusive behaviour. But Page also makes cryptic references to groppings and assault when she was a teenager. Page is a Hollywood actress these days (even using American spelling in her Facebook post) but she began her career in Canada.

Nor is it hard to infer Hollywood scandals bleed over into Canada. I seem to recall Harvey Weinstein’s name in a few articles about Canadian movies over the years (Weinstein having been a key to international distribution at one stage). While harassment allegations have been reported against Andrew Kreisberg who oversees some American series filmed in Canada.

Sexual harassment and assault should and must remain the focus for now. But arguably it’s part of a wider issue of unchecked egotism and narcissism in an industry where the powerless are worried about landing that next job.

So now I’m gonna cite a story. It’s a minor story mentioned in an interview an actress did some years back (but has stayed in my mind). I’m not going to say who because I can’t find it to link to, and I don’t want to put the actress on the spot. Suffice it to say it was a well known Canadian actress (depending on the type of TV shows you watch) telling an anecdote about a busy Canadian director.

This director (apparently) loves strip clubs. When he wasn’t on a set, he was at strip clubs. So if you went to lunch or dinner with him, you knew he was going to take you to a strip club. The fact this director likes strip clubs is absolutely his business. But most women aren’t going to be comfortable at a strip club (as the actress made clear in the interview) and, frankly, neither would a lot of guys. But if you want to hang out with this director (if only to show what a good sport you are, in hopes he’ll remember you when he’s casting his next project — or even to discuss your character’s motivation) you have to do so while he’s ogling naked women.

To be clear: I’m not saying this guy was accused of doing anything illegal. I am saying it seems, well, creepy. At best narcissistic, at worst a deliberate display of dominance.

Now half the people reading this are going to roll their eyes and snort: “Dude, you’re insane conflating dragging co-workers to a strip club with sexual harassment!” And the other half? I think they see what I’m getting at when I talk about power dynamics. Maybe if the people with power were a little more sensitive to those without, it’d be harder for the blatant predators to get away with what they do.

I’m not a journalist, not a reporter. After years of writing about Canadian film and TV, I stepped back from it a while ago. I began to accept that I wasn’t contributing much to the discourse, and even those in the biz — people who frequently lament their lack of media coverage — would be happy to see the back of me. But I still believe there needs to be more coverage of Canadian film and TV — especially now when sister industries are attempting some much needed house cleaning and soul searching.

But where will that coverage come from? Major papers or networks — who barely cover Canadian entertainment at all? There’s TV, Eh? — an invaluable resource, but mostly light information and linking to other articles. There’s Canadaland — the website that helped break the Ghomeshi scandal; but their focus is more media/journalism (I suspect most of their staffers have only a peripheral awareness of Canadian movies and TV shows). And, of course, there’s Huffington Post Canada itself, which might provide a forum for industry folk looking to turn any lights on the shadows.

But above all it needs a public willing to listen and industry folk wanting to be heard.

Post-Script: I wrote this originally intending it for Huffington Post Canada. Between 2013 – 2017 I wrote probably close to a hundred op-ed pieces for that site — sometimes almost twice a week! Basically my intent was just to keep Canadian film/TV in the public eye by writing about it as much as I could (some pieces I think were good and thought-provoking…some just filler). This is the only one that I recall that was not published by them. And I don’t really know why. The most likely explanation is they simply were done with my services, or I had fallen off the roster (I’d been writing infrequently: my last posted piece for them was in April, 2017). Or maybe they worried I had written something actionable. But it does seem curious optics that I write a piece specifically saying we should be talking about this in the public sphere…and that’s the essay they decide NOT to post.

Unfortunately my blog gets only an infinitesimal amount of traffic compared to Huffington Post Canada. But I figured it was worth getting out there. If only to inspire other, better writers and bloggers to pick up the gauntlet.

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