Rape Culture in Hollywood is Systemic, and We Have To Start Treating It That Way.

Another week and the scum in the Hollywood pond continues to rise to the surface. Accounts of sexual assault continue to reach our screens, and as the momentum continues to build, it’s hard not to sit back and wonder… just how far will this go?

I mean, it’s not exactly a big secret that the industry has a seedy, rotten core. A dark, misogynist infrastructure that has operated to oppress and objectify women since its very inception. Rape culture is present from the very foundation blocks to the cloud-nestled penthouses, and while we are understanding it in an aptly broad behavioural sense – ranging from inappropriate language, and whispers in the ear, to groping, and exposure all the way through to violent rape – this must also extend to the normalisation of misogyny manifesting in script language, costumes, roles and storylines. As Lizzy Marvelly recently noted:

I can’t help but wonder whether the image of a woman as a passive and pretty object plays a significant role in both unbalanced but consensual couplings and non-consensual crimes. When the societal image of a woman is an ornament that will yield to male desire, irrespective of her own sexual wants and needs, what women actually want (and what they don’t want) has become moot point.

If this goes as far as it should go – it has to address the entire industry. And without a doubt right now, industry executives are shunting undies and meeting to strategise the best way to take the wind out of these sails. Entire legal firms will be bankrolled to destablise claims. Media will be engaged to capitalise on any retractions. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if purposefully false accusations were tabled JUST so they could be rescinded/disproven. Anything to sow the seed of doubt in this tsunami of believing women.

Already, we see employers minimising the acts of men, like Lena Dunham, who, even in her apology for launching to the defence of her employee, couldn’t help but try to cast doubt on Aurora Perrineau’s claims.

And then of course we have Disney’s John Lasseter. I mean to be honest – if you are shocked at any of the sexual assault allegations then you have not been paying attention to how Hollywood operates – and the fact that sexual assault is normalised within this infrastructure is demonstrated perfectly by the societal shrug given to casting couch tactics since, well, since Hollywood WAS.

But particularly, for Disney, we should not be surprised that they too harbour sexual predators like John Lasseter. Their refusal to grant gender or race parity in their production and creative crews is infamous. Of 109 major writing credits across Pixar’s films; just 11 have gone to women or people of color. I mean – this is Disney’s version of a 15 year old Arab princess:


They not only hypersexualised her – they did so using slave references. 15 year old sex slave Jasmine for your viewing pleasure.

If we ever needed proof of Disney’s structural misogyny, it’s this:

Disney have reportedly financially settled on at least one allegation of sexual misconduct against John Lassiter. According to Vanity Fair, Disney executives MET in 2010 to discuss the problem of John Lasseter’s continued sexual assaults upon young women. We can safely assume the concern was more centered around the liability he posed the company than the safety of young women. What was the decided course of action? Nothing. They continued to allow this creep to work alongside young women, making our children’s entertainment, and make millions in doing so. Disney knowingly placed young women at risk, because John gave good film.

And when John Lasseter is finally added to the list of powerful men being called to account for their ways – how does Disney respond?

6 months paid leave and thanking him for his “sincere apology”.

An apology that didn’t even accept responsibility for his actions, but instead characterised 20 years of complaints as “missteps” and “unwanted hugs”.

To give you an idea of what that means, financially – Disney has reportedly paid Lasseter $6billion for his creative services. His net worth is over $100million. His salary back in 2001 – 16 years ago – was already $2.5million a year.

Over the next 6 months, Disney will pay millions out to a sexual abuser – who will, no doubt, then return to his position of power, privilege, and influence. This, apparently, because his talent is more important than keeping women in this industry safe. It bears mentioning that, of course, there are many talented, respectable people in this industry who DON’T pose a risk to young women but this just makes the crime that much worse that their good work is put at risk by the enabling of sexual transgressors. The assumption that there is not enough talent to replace the likes of Lasseter flies in the face of the disposable manner in which creative talent below the Hollywood bottleneck are treated.

We can’t look at their depiction of an Arab child princess as a sexualised slavegirl and pretend there aren’t a few creeps behind the Disney wheel. Likewise, we can’t consider the way Disney behaves AS A CORPORATION towards these issues and fool ourselves that Lasseter is an isolated case within Disney – after all, like Hollywood in general, it is an empire built upon misogyny and white male entitlement, and like all empires, it has set out to expand, through consumption, co-option and commodification of native property, and at the expense of native bodies, and native lives.

And I am purposefully specific in speaking about native bodies and property here because we CANNOT let this call for justice stop at high profile white women. That would the most patriarchal version of feminism. Cartoon Brew have been rigorously reporting on the treatment of women and people of colour by Disney Pixar. We must take this opportunity to expose the distinctly compounded consequences of Hollywood’s racism and sexism upon women of colour – and discuss how the financing, the storylines, the languaging, the casting, the costumes have all bled through to a social expectation of women of colour to sit in the background and quietly allow things to be done to them.

Blackfeet actress Misty Upham was raped by a Weinstein Executive at the 2013 Golden Globe Awards ceremony. You literally cannot get a stronger readout of rape culture in this industry than the fact that a woman was raped in front of men during the industry awards – and they cheered it on.

The following year Misty’s life was ended, another under-investigated death of a bright, creative Indigenous leader. No reira e Misty – noho atu ra i te taha a o tipuna, e kō. Nei ano ngā mihi aroha ki to whānau kua ngaukino i te mamae nei – koutou hoki ko ngā whānau pani o ngā kōtiro, wāhine taketake a Abya Yala kua tahaetia, kua kōhurutia – nui ngā mihi aroha kia koutou. E hine ma, e moe, e moe, okioki atu.

Indigenous women have a distinct experience of the patriarchy that is being called out in Hollywood right now. Colonization begins with the destruction of the sacred and this is primarily through the deliberate sexual defiling of women. This is as true of storytelling as it is of military invasion. The squaw mentality, perpetuated through western fiction and certainly Disney tropes, directly contributes to sexual assaults, violence, abduction, and murder of Indigenous Women. It contributes directly to the lack of police investigation into their cases. The hypersexualisation of Pacific women through Tiki Lounge culture – recently reinvigorated by the platforms of fantasy based tourism provided by Disney and compounded by the militarism through our region – objectifies and endangers us. We pay the price of our commodification with our bodies.

We can’t continue to fool ourselves that Disney are unaware of these consequences for women of colour, or that they care – and we cannot let the industry get away with individualising these men as aberrations, when in fact they are perfect archetypes of a sick structure. We must demand justice OF THE SYSTEM, not just from these men.
If there is anything that has given me heart, in this, it’s that this drive has come from the public. Media have been complicit in suppressing the horrors of this industry – but their monopoly on the truth is disappearing like a bullettrain in the distance – and in its place are social media movements like #MeToo that have spilled over into real life action, real accountability – and we must keep pushing for it to extend to justice at a structural level. #MeToo did not spill over because people stopped at the hashtag, but because they took action.

The story surrounding Misty’s disappearance is currently in production by her father, Charles Upham, in the form of the documentary 11days. This is a vital opportunity for Indigenous voices to tell our own stories about the structural injustices that lead to underinvestigation of crimes against Indigenous women. Please support it if you can, and share the GoFundMe page so this story can come to its fullest light.

Keep speaking about Misty. Keep supporting the brave women who speak out. Keep demanding that justice extend to women of colour – and most importantly – keep calling out THE SYSTEM.

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