Fall has officially arrived, and while the season is marked in Hollywood by a flurry of film festivals, it also marks the anniversary of the explosion of #MeToo across this industry. While the power brokers with skeletons in their closets hoped that this would be a passing fad, six years later this is our new normal. You never know where, or when, a shoe is going to drop — as it did in a big way this month for Russell Brand.
The extraordinary evolution of #MeToo is that not only is it surfacing harassment and assault, but it’s also challenging the power structures that have forever benefitted cis white men. It’s about bringing stories that have been diminished by those in power to light, as is the case with the buzzy new documentary “Copa 71” that I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The documentary tells the story of a women’s World Cup soccer tournament that took place in Mexico City in 1971. Historically, we have been told that the first women’s World Cup took place in 1991. Brandi Chastain, who came to fame in 1999 as part of the US women’s winning team, was also under that impression, and when shown newly unearthed footage of the 1971 event, she was furious she’d never heard of it. How did a game with 110,000 spectators just disappear from history? Power and misogyny, of course.
FIFA, the governing body of world football, would not allow this tournament to be sanctioned because they did not believe that women were good enough to play in a World Cup (in the UK, women were barred from playing from 1921 to 1970). Yet women from six nations including Denmark, Argentina, Mexico, England, France and Italy all showed up to play in 1971.
When it was over, some of the athletes didn’t speak about this experience for 50 years. These pioneers buried this life-changing accomplishment out of shame and fear.
But FIFA noticed. The organization was so concerned that women could potentially tread on its sacred game of football that it threatened national federations who considered supporting women’s football. Even when they were finally forced into a sanctioned Women’s World Cup in 1991, the winner would get the M&M’s Cup, not the World Cup trophy.
The 2023 Women’s World Cup ended last month with Spain as the newly crowned champions, proving how far we have come but also how far we still have to go. The victory was overshadowed by an assault and a blistering display of corrupt power when Luis Rubiales forced himself on one of the athletes. Women across the globe could relate to the lack of accountability and complete tone-deafness of the Spanish Federation. How could women at the top of their game be treated like this? In the media fallout, men seemed to be more shocked than women — for many of us, watching men in power act like they know everything and can do whatever they want is par for the course.
We are in a push-and-pull moment where women, trans people and people of color are challenging the power structures, and while the structures are wobbling, they are still holding. Progress is not linear. The women soccer players in Spain are using their leverage to demand structural changes in the system that was never created for them. They refuse to be silent.
On a different side of this conversation is the story of Louis CK, which is featured in the new New York Times-produced documentary “Sorry/Not Sorry” which addresses the question of when a problematic person gets to come back. Directed by Caroline Suh and Cara Mones, this is the story of what happens when a problematic man admits he’s problematic, then gives zero f–ks and uses his problem to make some serious money. In the comedy world, it was an open secret that Louis CK made inappropriate comments (just like it was well known about Russell Brand). He said things that made women uncomfortable. He made women feel unsafe. But he was the king, and as they say, if you come for the king you better not miss.
When the Louis CK allegations came out almost on top of the Harvey Weinstein allegations in 2017 it sent more shock waves through a culture that was already reeling. No one is pretending that what Louis did is equivalent to what Harvey did. But Louis ruined women’s lives. During his comeback stand-up tour, a huge neon sign read “SORRY” behind the performer on stage (the stand-up film was also called “Sorry”).
So where is the line? Why can he come back and not others? That is the ultimate unanswerable question being grappled with throughout the culture. Louis CK is a reminder that we are still in the early phase of this rebalance of power. But it’s also a reminder that you can’t hide.