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#MeToo Starts 2019 With Milestones, From ‘Surviving R Kelly’ to Kevin Spacey’s Charges

”I couldn’t have imagined this,“ #MeToo founder Tarana Burke tells TheWrap

After suffering a few setbacks in 2018, the #MeToo movement is starting 2019 with a run of milestones, from the new attention paid to R Kelly to the criminal charges against Kevin Spacey.

This year has already seen Spacey going to court to face a criminal charge; CBS choosing veteran producer Susan Zirinsky to be the first woman to lead the its news division; prosecutors in Chicago and Atlanta investigating accusations raised in Lifetime’s “Surviving R Kelly” documentary, and new sexual harassment protection laws, inspired by #MeToo, taking effect in 11 states.

The victories provide new inspiration to activists who suffered through Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court in the fall, despite accusations of sexual misconduct. (He denied them.) Activists were also disappointed and angry after The New York Times reported that Asia Argento, one of #MeToo’s most prominent voices, paid $380,000 to a young man who accused her of sexually assaulting him when he was 17. (She also denied any wrongdoing.)

“There have been moments that have not been helpful to the movement, and I have no doubt there will be more,” Alyssa Milano, who helped popularize #MeToo, told TheWrap. “There is not going to be a perfect movement. S— is going to get broke and I think there will be some small moments that we see as setbacks.”

“Surviving R Kelly” detailed accusations of abuse and sexual misconduct against the singer starting in the ’90s. It also looked into the circumstances surrounding his acquittal on 2002 child pornography charges. Kelly’s attorney, Steve Greenberg, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but denied the accusations in an interview with The Associated Press.

Some radio stations have stopped playing R Kelly’s music, and an Illinois concert was canceled.

“Lifetime took a risk that was brilliant and brave,” said #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, who was featured in the docuseries. “It was exactly what we need to bring this to the attention of the masses.”

The year began with a huge, systemic victory for the #MeToo movement, but also a sign that activists still  have differences to iron out.

Besides the new anti-harassment laws that took effect Jan. 1, California has passed a new law requiring women to be on corporate boards by the end of this year.

“What we’re seeing is a sisterhood forming all around the world,” actress Rosanna Arquette, who was one of the first to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, told TheWrap. “We have #MeToo in India now.”

But some #MeToo activists were puzzled by a video released by TimesUp on New Year’s Day. Hollywood activists started TimesUp in part to respond to the issues raised by the #MeToo movement, which caught fire in 2017 after numerous women accused Weinstein of offenses ranging from harassment to rape. (He has denied any non-consensual sex.)

The TimesUp video raised eyebrows because it failed to include a single Weinstein accuser. A TimesUp spokesperson said in a statement: “The cultural reckoning we’re experiencing today would not be possible without the brave survivors who came forward and told their stories through the #MeToo movement.”

Some news has contained positive and negative elements for #MeToo. Last week, former Pixar boss John Lasseter, who was ousted over accusations of inappropriate touching and kissing, scored a high-profile job with Skydance Animation. (Lasseter admitted to “missteps” that made employees feeling “disrespected and uncomfortable”).

TimesUp said in a statement that the hiring “endorses and perpetuates a broken system that allows powerful men to act without consequence.”

Women in Animation president Marge Dean said on the group’s Facebook page: “The single biggest effect of the events last year is that we saw men experiencing consequences for their bad behavior. The Lasseter decision seems to have weakened that giant step forward, and I felt panic that our progress was being undermined.”

But Skydance’s handling of the situation indicated it was at least aware of the problems raised by Lassiter’s hiring. The company held town halls to address it, and Skydance CEO David Ellison released a statement that promised, in part, that Lassiter had “given his assurance that he will comport himself in a wholly professional manner.”

Spacey also attempted something of a comeback near the start of the New Year: On Christmas Eve, on the same day Massachusetts officials announced he would face a felony assault charge — he is accused of groping an 18-year-old’s genitals in a restaurant — Spacey released a video of himself as his “House of Cards” character, Frank Underwood.

He chided viewers not to believe he was guilty of anything, adding: “You want me back.”

But the video was widely condemned, and Spacey’s next public appearance was at a Massachusetts courthouse on Jan. 7. Spacey entered a plea of not guilty.