A Harvey Weinstein Accuser Speaks Out: Why Aren’t Silence Breakers Getting Hired? (Guest Blog)

Hollywood Silence Breakers “have seen virtually all work or even auditions dry up for a year, two years, and counting,” actress Sarah Ann Masse writes

harvey weinstein silence breakers rosanna arquette saran ann masse rose mcgowan
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On October 11, 2017, I became one of the first women to come forward publicly about being abused by Harvey Weinstein. This week, I stood with my fellow Silence Breakers and watched as he walked into court to stand trial for his crimes. While we celebrate seeing our abuser finally held accountable in court, we’re also reminded of the sacrifices we’ve made in coming forward.

The doctor’s eyes bulge and their jaw noticeably drops: “Well, yeah, I’d say that is an example of unusual stress.” In the past two years, I have seen too many doctors to count about my chronic pain, cardiac issues, severe migraines, digestive difficulties and a nearly constant state of hyperarousal in my autonomic nervous system, which one doctor described as being “permanently chased by a bear.”

I explain to these doctors that, since coming forward about Weinstein, I have become a lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit and have faced severe career setbacks (I haven’t gotten an audition in over a year and a half), all while my health gets worse and worse. They immediately put two and two together: After almost 12 years, the stress, trauma and pain of first being abused by, then being terrified of, and lastly being slowly destroyed by Harvey Weinstein has taken a tangible and lasting toll on my health.

Before I met Weinstein, I was a young theater actor, eager to break into film and TV in New York City. I love kids so I worked as a nanny to make ends meet. It was in my capacity as a nanny that Weinstein’s assistants, unbeknownst to me at the time, spent an entire month grooming me in fancy restaurants over expensive breakfasts, repeating the importance of “discretion” before throwing me into the lion’s den to be sexually assaulted by one of the world’s most powerful men, wearing nothing but boxers and a grimy undershirt, locked behind a door, and the gates to his mansion.

As I tried to maintain composure and professionalism, he quickly went from attempting charm to screaming like a maniac to trying to talk to me about my acting career to asking if I’d ever use sex to get ahead and then ultimately grabbing me and pressing himself, including his nearly naked crotch, against me while whispering he loved me. It was one of the most shocking and unexpected moments of my life. It felt unreal, like I wasn’t even in my own body. (Editor’s note: A rep for Weinstein has not responded to requests for comment on Masse’s accusations.)

I was terrified. I never wanted to be in this situation ever again. I felt disempowered to protect myself. I pulled away from my promising career and stopped pursuing film and TV. I stuck with indie theater that I produced myself, with my friends, in environments I could control. All that time I invested in my career, starting young and ahead of the game, was wasted.

Several years later, I met my husband, Nick Afka Thomas, who became my closest collaborator, and suddenly I was making art, finding some independent success (getting millions of views with my sketch comedy duo We Are Thomasse), and felt my hopes for my career coming back to me. Upsettingly, it took having a man by my side to feel protected from potential predators.

Then, nine years after Weinstein abused me at that job interview, and days before I began rolling on my short film “Tristan & Kelly,” I read the first headlines exposing Weinstein and breathed a sigh of relief but also a gasp of shock. I wasn’t alone, thank God, but also how horrifying… This evil man spent three decades abusing countless women while the world around him either turned a blind eye or actively gave him a helping hand. Stories of agents knowingly sending young women like me to be abused, of him hiring spies and destroying careers, came to the surface and I realized my decade-long fears of having my life ruined by him were entirely warranted.

Surely now, though, things would be different? Weinstein lost his job. Powerful men were being toppled all over Hollywood. Everyone was saying #MeToo and Time’s Up! I thought the industry would finally be on the side of survivors.

Alas, that was not to be. Two months after coming forward publicly, I started getting threats: I better shut my mouth… Casting Directors are calling… They’re angry… I’m being blacklisted. Things slowed down for a few months. I tried to brush it off. Then, despite the threats, I got an audition from the team at “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” a dream project for me. I put myself on tape and heard the feedback was good, but nothing came of it. That’s OK. Rejection is routine in this industry, so this wouldn’t be significant except that it ended up being my last audition. That was over a year and a half ago.

This is not normal. And I am not alone. In the two years since coming forward, I have met many fellow Silence Breakers and survivors from all walks of life. What I can tell you for certain is that all of us are facing damage to our health and most of us are experiencing damage to our careers. The Hollywood Silence Breakers — both household names and unknowns like me — have lost jobs, lost agents, been taken off of projects, had negative stories planted in the press and seen virtually all work or even auditions dry up for a year, two years, and counting.

In an industry that, on the surface, prides itself on being progressive and inclusive, it is clear we still have a long way to go. We’ve made strides in better racial and gender representation but the numbers are still staggeringly disappointing. The same goes for representation of those in the LGBTQ+ community or for those with disabilities (another area I am passionate about as an artist with invisible disabilities). But there is another group of underrepresented people that no one wants to talk about: survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Most of us have made huge sacrifices of our personal health, livelihoods and safety to prevent this violence from happening to others, for example by changing laws and pushing our unions to codify more protections. Yet, no one is asking what those of us who have already gone through this private and public trauma need in order to thrive rather than just survive.

For me, as an actor and award-winning writer and filmmaker in Hollywood, I have a simple answer that can apply to every industry: Hire us.

We are professionals. We are passionate. We are talented. We are ethical. We are brave. We are not “difficult” or “trouble makers.” The only people we make trouble for are abusers so only abusers should be afraid of hiring us. So I urge you, if you have any sort of power or platform or funding, bring us in for auditions, meet us for generals, give us pitch meetings, watch our directors’ reels, put us on your shortlists, interview us, pay us to consult on your projects that are based on us. Hire us. We have already suffered at the hands of our abusers. Do not punish us further for refusing to stay silent.

Our stories — not just of our abuses but the ones we have inside of us, bursting to get out, filled with creativity, humor, drama, and pathos — will make the world and the art we create better. We will make you lots of money and you will be doing the right thing. Instead of articles about the comebacks of our abusers we should be reading announcements in the trades with our names attached to new and exciting projects. Most of us have had our opportunities stolen from us either directly or indirectly by our abusers and their cronies. It’s time to right this wrong, to lift up those who have sacrificed so much, and to take tangible strides to clean up our industry while still cleaning up at the box office.

Justice comes in many forms. As we await the results of these criminal proceedings, let’s take action to create a more equitable world for survivors now. Join me in saying #HireSurvivorsHollywood and #HireSurvivors. This is a movement. Hollywood, and the world, cannot ignore our united voices.

I will continue to promote the skills and talents of myself and my fellow survivors because no one else is going out on a limb to help us reclaim our careers. We should never be ashamed of our skills and hard work. Lord knows our abuser was never humble or ashamed.