Ms. Representation: Weinsteins of our world
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week we take a look at sexual assaults in the industry and beyond
Last week, American media blew the lid on one of Hollywood’s biggest sexual predators--biggest simply because of the power he wielded as a producer associated with films that routinely made it big and won Oscars (81 of them no less), and who was friends with all the ‘right’ liberal types. Harvey Weinstein’s assault stories came tumbling out one after another, and with it, the rape culture that normalises assault on women, with the silence of men who look the other way so as to gain access to the old boys’ club as well as the silence of women, both victims and others, who anyway have little or no power in the system.
Every time something like this happens, the outrage lasts a day and then news cycle and Twitter trends look the other way. But this particular news kept staying in the headlines for days. And brought out the ways in which women, beyond the cinema industry, are systemically not only assaulted but also silenced. Actress Rose McGowan was among his most vocal critics on Twitter and also created a Twitterstorm when she revealed that Weinstein had raped her. She called out Hollywood elite and participated in the #Womenboycotttwitter hashtag, where women stayed out of Twitter for an entire day on Friday, October 13, protesting Rose’s account being silenced. Twitter apologised and restored her account. By the 14th not only had Twitter avowed to put in place better policies to help women deal with sexual harassment (including routine rape threats) on the platform, but also to ensure that their genuine voices weren’t muzzled. As I write this column, a new hashtag called #metoo has been doing the rounds across social media, where women write about their accounts of sexual harassment.
Closer to home the news isn’t any brighter. The abduction and sexual assault of a popular Malayalam actress and the eventual arrest of actor Dileep in connection with the case has left audiences of the south Indian film industry shaken. Although, it appears that fans of the actor gave him a hero’s welcome as he came out on bail and his image is already being rehabilitated as even those who condemned the assault prepare to work with him. This isn’t to say that we must pronounce him guilty even before the courts do, but to just show how easy it is for men to return to routine after something like this, even as victims of assault take years to return. Women in Cinema Collective was born as a result of this incident and this is perhaps a movement that needs to spread to other industries from Kerala, even as women vie for more space in the industry.
Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, who is the daughter of actor Sarathkumar, and hence people would assume must wield some power on account of her privilege, wrote a long Facebook post recording how the head of a television channel asked to meet her outside for ‘other things’. She also met the Tamil Nadu CM (much like the WCC which met the Kerala CM), and asked for the setting up of a Mahila Court in every district to ensure speedy justice in cases of assault. As women clamour for better working conditions in the world of glamour, men who are silent are complicit in this culture.
A new book by Gautam Chintamani, titled Pink, The Inside Story, throws light on how the film, which had the famous 'No means no' line, the first in India, perhaps, to talk so openly about the importance of consent, came about. The book has interviews with the writer-director of the film, Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury. It lays bare how men, even those in the creative field, who make movies on it with the best of intentions, are able to grasp the intensity of violence towards women only when they see it from close quarters. It talks about the director/producer's aha moments that led to the film--jibes at friends or daughters, views from wives, etc. The resistance to the idea and then the reception.
What women have been saying for long is, let us not wait for it to happen to one of us to talk about this topic. Let us be aware. Let us not be silent.