That’s How It Works

One day, when I was 19 years old, I was in the middle of a photo shoot for a Miramax film when I was suddenly told it was time to leave. I was wearing a little black dress, showing a lot of cleavage, lying seductively on my side and looking slyly at the camera. The part I had played in the movie, Guinevere, could not have been more removed from this pose. My character was an awkward girl, bumbling, in fact, who wore sweatshirts and jeans, and had little sense of her sexual power. But this was how they were going to sell the movie, and at a certain point, I was tired of being a problem, which is how a female actor is invariably treated whenever she points out that she is being objectified or not respected.

I was pulled out of the photo shoot abruptly. The publicist stories-we-tell---sp-and-mp-snowmansaid that we needed to be in Harvey Weinstein’s office in 20 minutes.

“Are we done here?” I asked. “No” was the answer. “But Harvey wants you there now.”

In the taxi, the publicist looked at me and said: “I’m going in with you. And I’m not leaving your side.” I knew everything I needed to know in that moment, and I was grateful.

When I got there, Mr. Weinstein wasted no time. He told me, in front of the publicist and a co-worker beside him, that a famous star, a few years my senior, had once sat across from him in the chair I was in now. Because of his “very close relationship” with this actress, she had gone on to play leading roles and win awards. If he and I had that kind of “close relationship,” I could have a similar career. “That’s how it works,” I remember him telling me. The implication wasn’t subtle. I replied that I wasn’t very ambitious or interested in acting, which was true. He then asked me about my political activism and went on to recast himself as a left-wing activist, which was among the funniest things I’d ever heard.

I indicated that he was wasting his time. We probably wouldn’t be friends or have a “close relationship.” I just didn’t care that much about an acting career. I loved acting, still do, but I knew, after 14 years of working professionally, that it wasn’t worth it to me, and the reasons were not unconnected to the tone of that meeting almost 20 years ago.

Shortly afterward, I started writing and directing short films. I had no idea, until then, how little respect I had been shown as an actor. Now there were no assistant directors trying to cajole me into sitting on their laps, no groups of men standing around to assess how I looked in a particular piece of clothing. I could decide what I felt was important to say, how to film a woman, without her sexuality being a central focus without context. In my mid-20s, I made my first feature film, Away From Her.

While working on Away From Her, I had the privilege of working with Julie Christie, who, while maintaining her vision for her character, was deeply committed to collaboration and could shift her performance on a dime when given direction. It was an amazing gift for a director, still learning the ropes. I realized that in the past, whether I’d known it or not, some part of me had been afraid of direction. I vowed to go back to acting with my newfound understanding of collaboration. I would be more pliable. I was excited to give my whole, unfettered self to a director, the way Julie Christie had done for me.

But I had forgotten a key ingredient of the acting process. Most directors are insensitive men. And while I’ve met quite a few humane, kind, sensitive male directors and producers in my life, sadly they are the exception and not the rule. This industry doesn’t tend to attract the most gentle and principled among us. I had two experiences in the same year in which I went into a film as an-A20 actor with an open heart and was humiliated, violated, dismissed and then, in one instance, called overly sensitive when I complained. One producer, when I mentioned I didn’t feel a rape scene was being handled sensitively, barked that Dakota Fanning had done a rape scene when she was 12—“And she’s fine!” A debatable conjecture, surely.

Several years ago, I approached a couple of successful female actors in Hollywood about an idea I had for a comedy project: We would write, direct and star in a short film about the craziest, worst experience we’d ever had on a set. We told our stories to one another, thinking they would be hysterically funny. We were full of zeal for this project. But the stories, when we told them, left us in tears and bewildered at how casually we had taken these horror stories and tried to make them into comedy. They were stories of assault. When they were spoken out loud, it was impossible to reframe them any other way. This is how we’d normalized the trauma, tried to integrate it, by making comedy out of it. We abandoned the film, but not the project of unearthing the weight of these stories, which we’d previously hidden from ourselves.

Harvey Weinstein may be the central-casting version of a Hollywood predator, but he was just one festering pustule in a diseased industry. The only thing that shocked most people in the film industry about the Harvey Weinstein story was that suddenly, for some reason, people seemed to care.

I want to believe that the intense wave of disgust at this sort of behavior will lead to real change. I have to think that many people in high places will be a little more careful. But I hope that when this moment of noisy sisterhood dissipates, it doesn’t end with a woman in a courtroom, being made to look crazy, as these stories so often do.

Sarah Polley

Advertisements

0 Responses to “That’s How It Works”



  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




When I Worked

October 2017
M T W T F S S
« Sep   Nov »
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

%d bloggers like this: