#MeNext: One Year Later
By Andie Newell
One year ago at the Golden Globes, the red carpet was stained with black. Funereal silk and dark chiffon swallowed the flash of the cameras as stars spoke about power, sex, and abuse, juggling their excitement to be recognized for their work with the knowledge that their industry was a powder keg. “Time’s up,” they said.
Alfred Hitchcock explained that unlike surprise, suspense is derived from prior knowledge: a bomb under the table only creates tension if the audience can see it but the players don’t know it’s there. People who were surprised by the allegations of sexual assault against Hollywood heavyweights like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey were either privileged enough to be sheltered from the blast or busy covering up bombs of their own. But on these sets, everyone’s memorized the script, the twist, the bomb-under-table trope; both actresses hit their marks and try to pretend like they aren’t scared, the gears tick away, the big bang, “The End.”
A year later bombs are still going off, but for a shell-shocked audience. Opening Twitter to read about the latest accusations is now a fact of life, as is the path to redemption bushwhacked by the accused. Although the #MeToo movement has made incredible strides in calling out the problem, and has been since its founding in 2006 courtesy of Tarana Burke, the problem is still given a chair in the boardroom and a fifteen minute comeback set at the Comedy Cellar.
Despite this – and because of this – it’s more important than ever for the rest of us to climb out the rubble and keep working. According to a recent study by Vox, the Time’s Up Legal Defense fund has funneled just shy of six million dollars into seventy-five court cases and eighteen outreach grants. Frances McDormand championed inclusion riders to guarantee diversity on set, and Regina King vowed to produce projects that were fifty percent female.
On screen, stories of sexual harassment are being told with a growing sense of urgency. Reese Witherspoon’s production company Hello Sunshine has found critical and mainstream acclaim as it “celebrates women and puts them at the center of the story” with hits like Big Little Lies, Gone Girl, and Wild. In all three, women stare down their abusers (or push them down the stairs – just watch Big Little Lies, please). It’s refreshing to see depictions of female trauma that aren’t inserted for the shock value, although these productions feature white protagonists while the majority of survivors are people of color and members of other gender or LGBTQ* minorities. Seeing these stories in pop culture is powerful, but at the end of the day, they don’t always represent reality.
At the 2019 Oscars, a dose of reality won the Documentary Short category: Period. End of Sentence, an encounter with the struggles faced by menstruating women in rural India. Girls giggle around the word “pad” and explain how often they miss school to change their rags and clothes while the older women in town launch Fly, a fledgeling sanitary napkin business. “We had our reason behind the name Fly,” said Shabana, one of the women spearheading the endeavor. “We installed this machine [to make pads] for women. So, now we want women to rise and fly.”
Revolution for this corner of the world didn’t sweep in draped black couture or detonate like a bomb; instead, it was carefully assembled, one day at a time. While the #TimesUp movement may be a hypervisible representation of change, it’s grassroots organizations like Fly that have found a way to deliver lasting local results. Even with all of the money, op-eds, and lawyers mobilized in Hollywood, not a single female director was nominated in the Best Director category at the 2019 Academy Awards. But at one point in Period., a women working at Fly pulls back a tarp and reveals eighteen thousand pads in neat, white rows. Eighteen thousand chances for someone to go to class, to get a job, to tilt the scales towards balance.
“I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!” cried Period. director Rayka Zehtabchi, raising her gold Oscar statue, surrounded by the majority-female creative team on the stage of the Dolby Theater. With any luck, this short will become the first of many Oscar-winning stories about periods and what it’s like to move through the world as a woman. With nearly one hundred films directed by women slated for release in 2019 (and even more being released internationally or still under wraps), people like Shabana and the other founders of Fly will be claiming their rightful time in the sun regardless of the Academy’s decisions. As the #MeToo moment demonstrated, where one person steps forward, thousands follow. That step can be as big as a black ball gown or as small as donating a box of pads to a local shelter before heading out to one of those hundred movies. It usually won’t be glamorous. But it’s a way to break the cycle – to look at the woman sitting across from you at the table and say, “You wanna get out of here?”