Friday, April 27, 2007

Sexism and Racism

We've learned a lot about racism and sexism in the entertainment biz the last few years, and it isn't just the unfortunate Don Imus who's taught us. Since I started in the business, I have seen the "acceptability" bar raised higher and higher.

Yesterday in The Hollywood Reporter there was this:

The IATSE has accused an executive producer of "Law & Order: SVU" of repeatedly making racist and sexist remarks, claiming studio inaction on the situation is traceable to attitudes displayed in the recent Don Imus fracas.

The union, which through IA Locals 52 and 600 represents various stage and camera crew professionals on the show, said it has complained to NBC Universal Television in three instances involving allegations against exec producer Ted Kotcheff over the past three years. Kotcheff is accused of referring to a black crewmember as Stepin Fetchit.

When I came into the biz in the mid-seventies, boundaries were a lot wider and wilder than they are today. Suggestive cartoons were pinned on walls and doors. Photographs of scantily clad women, prominently displayed, were commonplace. A Playboy Playmate (wthout staples) was visible in the window of a New York skyscraper as Bernard and Bianca flew past.

In the late seventies, Ward Kimball recounted to me the leering antics of Disney animation director Clyde "Gerry" Geronomi:

Gerry was a crude man. I had a woman assistant named (blank) who was very well constructed. She drove Jerry crazy and finally he couldn't stand it. And one day he came up behind her and he went "Rhhhrr!"... I heard this scream and the chair flew back and the desk got knocked over. And I went running in there and said "What the hell?" I knew Gerry had just left my room... Vince said that Gerry had grabbed Mary... I mean, that's terrible. That's not a class act.

Geronomi was ultimately fired from Disney, but it was decades later. And it wasn't for assaulting women. It was because none of the lead animators would work with him.

Would any of that kind of crapola slide by today? Most likely not. In the last decade, companies have become sensitized to sexual harrassment in the workplace. As a business rep, I've been pulled into meetings where charges of sexual harrassment have been filed by one employee against another, and I can tell you that companies take the allegations real seriously. Company lawyers are always present. Notes are taken and consequences meted out.

Drawings that could be construed as sexually harassing aren't tolerated on doors and in hallways anymore, although I still see the occasional Sports Illustrated Swimsuit calendar in discreet locations.

But it wasn't always this way. Ten-plus years ago, I wandered into a work area of one of our larger animation studios to find naughty drawings plastered to various walls, and R-rated mobiles hanging from the ceiling. (An executive called one of the supervising artists who was responsible "a lawsuit waiting to happen." Happily, no lawsuits did.)

I seriously doubt that companies would tolerate those types of visuals today, even for an hour. Because the legal and career risks -- as Mr. Imus recently discovered -- get greater all the time.

Which isn't to say that all employees are dealt with in the same manner or that we've reached some egalitarian, harrassment-free nervana. Star employees and powerful execs can still get away with lots more than ordinary mortals. I found this paragraph of the HR piece telling:

"The latest accusation comes from a member of the show's crew, who has reluctantly refused to file charges against Kotcheff for fear it will be career-ending," the IA said.

All farm animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.

18 comments:

republican said...

"All farm animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others."

This is true of more than just sexism or racism, though.
For instance, there are no less than 5 people on the floor of the big studio I work at that have anti-Bush slogans, posters, etc. displayed outside their cubicles. Makes me feel really uncomfortable.
Bigotry, unfortunately, runs rampant in our industry and it takes all forms.

Anonymous said...

for some reason, that is considered okay. I'm not exactly comfortable with that either, but what are you going to do? People go ballistic if you say something.

Anonymous said...

that's because liberals will fight for your freedom of expression as long as it's 100% in agreement with the liberal fascist agenda.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Gerry was a jerk, but we've had jerks for decades. Nothing new. Walt eventually booted him out on his butt.

In any case, back in the "old days" most adults knew how to take care of themselves and didn't need "Big Brother" to do it for them. This includes young women decking a jerk if he deserved it. You can be sure he didn't press charges either.

In my opinion, we're all way, way too serious about this stuff. In many ways, I feel the younger generation continually behave like children. "Wah, wah, wah," as my grandson would say.

You can bet there were all kinds of incidents back in the old days at Disney. I heard sexist remarks, racial remarks, and much, much more. However, we didn't go running to management to solve our problems. We were adults. We dealt with it.

Yeah, the world is full of jerks. Always will be. And, if the jerk is your boss -- you'll probably have to seek employment elsewhere. But, that's life, right?

Anonymous said...

For instance, there are no less than 5 people on the floor of the big studio I work at that have anti-Bush slogans, posters, etc. displayed outside their cubicles.

So...prop up a pro-Bush slogan, poster, etc. on your cubicle. Fight free speech with more free speech.

If your workplace FORBADE you to put pro-Bush material on your cubicle, yet allowed people to put anti-Bush stuff on their cubicles, I could see discrimination. However, you did not state that this was the case, so I do not see any discrimination here.

Steve Hulett said...

...there are no less than 5 people on the floor of the big studio I work at that have anti-Bush slogans, posters, etc. displayed outside their cubicles. Makes me feel really uncomfortable.
Bigotry, unfortunately, runs rampant in our industry and it takes all forms.


Uh, stating one's political belief isn't bigotry. It's like, an American tradition.

I live in a Republican neighborhood. George Bush signs all around. Doesn't make me uncomfortable in the least. They've got their POVs, I've got mine.

I suggest you toughen up those tender sensibilities of yours.

One more thing: if the studio is okay with anti-Bush posters but not your pro-Bush signs (should you decide to put one up), I'm happy to make a stink about it.

Steve Hulett said...

that's because liberals will fight for your freedom of expression as long as it's 100% in agreement with the liberal fascist agenda.

Uh, no.

Anonymous said...

Is it against any laws for a studio to disallow political signs of any kind?

Steve Hulett said...

I don't think there is any specific law that applies, but I will check with my legal eagles.

My personal opinion: I'd think it would be better to keep political flyers, posters, signs out of the workplace.

Companies are certainly free to make rules that keep things like that out, but rules often go unpoliced and unenforced.

I'll research this and report back.

republican said...

"I suggest you toughen up those tender sensibilities of yours."

So why not tell women who are offended by pinups in the workplace the same thing?
I'll bet if I had huge "PRO-LIFE" posters up in my cube and someone got offended by them you wouldn't tell them to "toughen up their tender sensibilities"...

I suggest you humble your snide attitude.

Doodlebugg said...

Oh, republican, jumping to a few conclusions, aren't you?

Who said that women get offended by pin-ups, anyway? Most women I know(at least the artists) find pin-ups(as opposed to porn)to be really beautiful. Odds are that a non-artist-type got their knickers in a twist about pin-ups and made studio policy go thusly.

As for "huge PRO-LIFE posters" up in your cube...damn, that would be rather distracting in a non-good way compared to having pin-ups around, wouldn't it?

Jeezus, everyone needs to step back and take a deep breath. Anonymous #3 is correct in that too many adults are acting like kids...and not in a good way.

s.r. hulett said...

So why not tell women who are offended by pinups in the workplace the same thing?

Simple. Because there are specific laws against this kind of thing, and part of my job description is protecting individual members' rights.

You're confusing sexual harassment with political speech. And they are different things. Harassment is against the law. Political speech is a another animal.

I'll bet if I had huge "PRO-LIFE" posters up in my cube and someone got offended by them you wouldn't tell them to "toughen up their tender sensibilities"...


You keep throwing out your hypotheticals (mostly wrong), so let me give you a non-hypothetical. From five years ago. At Warners Animation.

A woman had her office door covered with pictures of women in bikinis. I said to her one day: "You might get into trouble with all of these..."

She replied: "I like them, I'm keeping them up, and the studio hasn't said a WORD to me about them."

I shrugged. "Well, it's an issue between you and the studio, I guess." And I never mentioned it again. Personally, I didn't care about the pictures one way or the other (although I looked at them.)

Ultimately, it was Warner Bros. issue. And if nobody complained about her girlie pictures (and I have no idea if anyone did), I certainly wasn't going to stick my nose in.

Now, if a man or woman had griped to me about the pinups, I would have immediately stuck my nose in and gone and made an issue about them to management, because repping guild members is my job.

And like I said earlier: If you're prohibited from putting up a pro-life poster while others have their pro-choice posters, I'm fine with talking to labor relations about it.

(Just so you know? Over the years I've filed grievances for people I wasn't crazy about, or disagreed with politically, and worked like hell to win the grievance for them. Many times we won, sometimes we didn't. But I always gave it my best shot, because representing members who pay my salary is my job.)

Again. Political posters are different than pictures an employee feels are "sexually harassing." Hope this clears that up.

Stone said...

Someone's opinion on how a country should be run and whether or not someone thinks one race is superior to another or even whether women deserve the same respect as men are VERY different things. You're operating under flawed logic assuming that a pro or anti Bush poster is the same thing. Political opinions like that concern issues that effect everyone and what you think are the correct choices to benefit everyone, even those that don't agree with you. However racism and sexism promotes a POV that only benefits one group over another.

However if you believe politics IS about promoting a POV that only benefits one group over another, then that's not very "American" is it?

Anonymous said...

Republican, in two years Bush will leave office, and the anti-Bush posters will become meaningless.

I, however, will still be a woman, and some of the folks I know will still possess non-white skin.

-+-

Decades from now you might decide that the Republican party no longer represents your views, and you will choose another political party that better suits you.

I, however, will still be a woman, and some of the folks I know will still possess non-white skin.

-+-

It's harder to change your gender or color than it is to change your way of thinking. Stone has a point.

Steve Hulett said...

Now, if a man or woman had griped to me about the pinups, I would have immediately stuck my nose in and gone and made an issue about them to management, because repping guild members is my job.


Ahem. Since I'm repping members, let me amend this event-that-never-happened.

I would first go to the party with the photos and give him or her a heads up that somebody else was unhappy. So please take photos down.

If that didn't work, then I would go to H.R.

Anonymous said...

It is obvious to me that no one gives a hoot about free speech any longer. Everyone seems to just want to hear themselves rant. An exchange of ideas should be debated but no one should degrade another for their views. If there view is proven to be incorrect then the community,as a whole, would move past that point.

Humanity needs to evolve at a much faster rate if we are to survive as a species.

I think we may be doomed.

republican said...

"You're confusing sexual harassment with political speech."

If 'sexual harassment' is defined as anything that makes the opposite sex 'uncomfortable' (which it often is) then the discomfort I feel by being bombarded by a bunch of propaganda should be considered equally inacceptable.

Some people have thin skins about sex, others about politics... if you want the 'playing field' to be truly equal, you can't let your own personal prejudices dictate the rules.

But, of course, that's never how it goes.

"free speech" only applies to you if your speeches go along with the present standards set forth by the "intellectual" (yet often illogical) elite.

Anonymous said...

"Republican, in two years Bush will leave office, and the anti-Bush posters will become meaningless.
I, however, will still be a woman, and some of the folks I know will still possess non-white skin."

golly... you're a woman AND you know some people with non-white skin? how progressive of you!

why do so many people think that being a "minority" (what's that even mean any more?) or knowing a minority is such a badge of honor?

so you have some diversity in your life... what do you want, a trophy or something?

Site Meter