Anita Hill-Led Survey Finds Widespread Bullying Toward Hollywood Assistants

But a majority of workers have seen a rise in respect from employers since #MeToo

The Assistant Julia Garner
Bleecker Street

The latest results of the Anita Hill-led Hollywood Commission survey found that bullying and abusive behavior toward assistants and underlings is not just anecdotal among some bosses but is widespread in the industry. The survey asked over 9,630 respondents working in entertainment how frequently in the last 12 months they were bullied or experienced abusive behavior by superiors, and assistants, nearly two-thirds of them women under 40, reported being abused and bullied at two to three times higher rates than their peers. The report adds that gender and sexual harassment often occurs in areas where uncivil conduct is rampant. However, a majority of respondents to the survey found that the industry has grown more respectful in the years since #MeToo began, with at least 65% of all workers saying they’ve observed moderate to a lot of progress. Fewer women (59%) compared to men (74%) saw the same progress, and assistants who worked in talent representation (53%) said they saw the least amount of progress when compared to other sectors of the industry. “In Hollywood bullying is condoned as part of ‘paying your dues’ on the way up and has been openly displayed in films like 1994’s ‘Swimming with Sharks’ and 2019’s ‘The Assistant,’” Hill, chair of The Hollywood Commission, said in a statement. “Bullying may once have been an accepted norm, but in 2020 workers understand the harm an environment rife with humiliating insults and sarcasm and swearing throwing objects in anger causes. And belittling, vulgar and demeaning language and behavior is a gateway to sexual harassment and other abusive conduct. It’s time for Hollywood to commit to treating all workers with basic humanity and dignity.” The Hollywood Commission, which is led by Hill and founded by Nina Shaw and Kathleen Kennedy, has now released three reports that have derived from an industry-wide survey it conducted over the course of three months. Prior reports focused on accountability and bias, and the next report to be released will look at the overall progress the industry has seen with sexual harassment and assault since #MeToo. The survey specifically asked respondents how often within the last 12 months they experienced someone at their job excessively or harshly criticizing their work, using insults, sarcasms and other gestures to humiliate them, were yelled at, sworn at or were physically aggressive. It found that women were twice as likely as males to report experiencing abusive behavior, and younger workers were far more likely to be bullied and to report such behavior. Further, direct supervisors were most frequently bullies, and for assistants in particular, their bullies were nearly always someone who could influence their ability to get a job (77%), influence their ability to keep a job (81%) or could influence their reputation in the industry (78%). In addition to the 9,630 respondents to the survey, over 3,000 of those respondents also wrote detailed narrative answers detailing their experience with bullying and abuse in the workplace. “There are many power-hungry individuals who have very little concern about people. There are many bullies who continue to create unsafe and difficult work places,” one respondent wrote anonymously. “And if you don’t put up with it – they will hire someone who will. Simple fact. It’s the way the film industry has always operated.” “I’m tired of working for assholes, and assholes covering for other assholes, and assholes enabling assholes. I just wanted to work in this industry to tell stories and collaborate with other creative people,” another said. “I know so many assistants who are in therapy and have diagnosed PTSD and anxiety disorders because of the abuse they endure on a daily basis,” a third added. “The power dynamics are horrible, and it is accepted ‘Hollywood’ behavior to manipulate and abuse assistants.” In response to the third report, The Hollywood Commission recommended a previously announced plan to promote bystander intervention training, a pilot program that would equip 450 entertainment workers with training on how to teach others to respond when they witness abuse. And these training programs and workshops would be tailored specifically to those supervisors working in TV, film, casting and production. However, the Commission is also recommending that, because abusive conduct is not considered illegal, all industry companies must strengthen their code of conducts in regards to bullying and must put in place specific policy to address complaints of bullying and abuse. Companies are also expected to adopt the Commission’s bystander training program or establish their own. The Hollywood Commission over three months between Nov. 2019 and Feb. 2020 conducted an anonymous survey of entertainment industry workers. Last month, the first of the five reports found that two-thirds of respondents think there’s little or no accountability for powerful people who sexually harass or abuse subordinates. Last week’s report on bias found that less than half of industry workers actually believe higher-ups truly value diversity and inclusion. Additional reports will be released in the coming weeks. Also check out TheWrap’s interview with Anita Hill and Nina Shaw discussing the Commission’s findings and agenda.


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