Fifteen survivors of alleged sexual abuse by disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein gathered at TheWrap’s Power Women Breakfast in Los Angeles on Thursday to share their experiences and urge the entertainment industry to change its culture.
In a morning filled with intense emotion and determination, Hollywood’s leading women executives, actresses and creative figures came together to condemn recent revelations of sexual misconduct and offer solutions.
“I’m astounded how differently women in power are treated,” said actress Claire Forlani, who has described being harassed by Weinstein on five different occasions. “We’re second class citizens and that needs to change.”
Zoe Brock, who wrote a powerful essay about her encounter with Weinstein at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, said she was angry that Weinstein attacked her, and equally angry at the people who let him be alone with her in a room.
“I have spent the last 20 years thinking that I was lucky for not understanding how dangerous he was,” she said Thursday. “I spent 20 years thinking he was a pathetic douchebag — nothing that dangerous.”
Nearly 300 leading women in the entertainment industry came together at the Montage hotel in Beverly Hills to talk about combatting sexism and creating inclusivity.
The 15 survivors of alleged Weinstein harassment and assault wore teal ribbons to signify their experiences. They were: Katherine Kendall, Sarah Ann Masse, Jessica Barth, Chelsea Skidmore, Alice Evans, Larissa Gomes, Louisette Geiss, Melissa Sagemiller, Louise Godbold, Kendall Rhodes, Venice Cusumano, and Lauren Sivan, as well as the aforementioned Forlani and Brock.
Many of them said they had thought they were the only ones, and were reluctant to come forward and bear the consequences. Forlani said she spoke out because she was upset at herself that she did not participate in The New Yorker piece.
“I was afraid. My conditioning was, ‘Carry on. I handled it, I’m now 45 years old, I’m safe,'” she said. “I didn’t want to deal with legal fees, I thought, Harvey is going to come after me, Harvey is going to kill anyone in his sight and I didn’t want to deal with that, so I just abstained — thinking I was being smart. The article came out and I felt shame. I thought, ‘Jesus, I’m not supporting the women.’ I was a part of this — this all happened and it’s time to join forces. It’s time to speak out.”
Lauren Sivan, a Fox 11 reporter, described why she went public with a shocking story about Weinstein masturbating into a potted plant while asking her to watch in 2007. She was disappointed when she shared the story privately.
“Whenever I told that story, anyone that knew him, they said, ‘yep, that’s Harvey.’ No one was ever shocked and it’s time to be shocked,” she said. “That’s not normal behavior. I don’t care what era you were born in.”
But, she added: “Casual harassment has been going on all the time. It doesn’t get those shocking headlines, but it doesn’t mean we don’t experience it all the time.”
Sivan said she was relieved to see an outpouring of women’s support hoping to make a change: “The Harvey Weinstein situation was so empowering to me — to see this tight-knit Hollywood be taken down by powerful women.”
Also at TheWrap’s Power Women Breakfast, Kelly Bush Novak, founder and CEO of ID, called for gender equality in entertainment — setting a deadline of three years from now.
“Let’s demand that our representation and inclusion in all aspects of our industry be 50/50 by the year 2020,” Bush Novak said in a fiery speech Thursday at TheWrap’s Power Women Breakfast L.A., crediting the idea to her client, “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway.
“Equal representation in our executives, directors, writers, showrunners, department heads, the DGA, WGA, PGA, IATSE and SAG-AFTRA. On boards of directors,” she said.
“We need to hold the studios, production companies and individuals complicit in these crimes accountable — legally and financially,” she said. “We need to boycott those who refuse to cooperate and perpetuate this abuse of power.”
With longstanding gender inequality in Hollywood and a renewed focus on cases of rampant sexual harassment, Universal Television head Pearlena Igbokwe said there is a secret weapon to changing the industry’s male-dominated culture.
“The key is, you need to have incredibly conscientious men and more women in control,” Igbokwe said.
Igbokwe was joined by “Friday Night Lights” executive producer Jason Katims, “Midnight Texas” producer Monica Owusu-Breen and NBC Entertainment President Jennifer Salke on a panel titled “Embracing Inclusion: Telling Stories That Champion the New Narrative.”
Brooklynn Prince, the seven year old star of “The Florida Project” delighted the room by proudly stating that after being the first “little girl director,” she’d like to one day be the first female president of the United States.
IWMF Courage in Journalism Award-winner Saniya Toiken, Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty, from Kazakhstan, was also a featured speaker, who spoke with TheWrap’s Founder and CEO Sharon Waxman about the constant threats in her career as a Kazakh journalist, but said she tells stories because it’s hard for women to “to get in any position.”
TheWrap in 2017 has brought its successful Power Women franchise to Washington D.C., San Francisco, New York, and now Los Angeles, building a broad network and community of professional women who are decision makers, mothers, leaders, wives, innovators and activists.
For the record: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified an attendee as a Harvey Weinstein accuser.