Ever since the publication of a damning report two weeks ago, revealing the decades-long history of sexual harassment and abuse accusations against producer Harvey Weinstein, several women have spoken out about their own experiences of abuse at the hands of Hollywood’s male heavyweights.
So when many of the industry’s women came together on Monday (16 October) at the Elle Women in Hollywood Celebration in Los Angeles, it is no surprise some of them, including Reese Witherspoon and Margot Robbie, took the opportunity to speak publicly about their own experiences of sexual abuse and discuss the wider issues that women face across the film industry.
Elle’s editor-in-chief Nina Garcia opened the evening by paying tribute to “every woman who has suffered sexual harassment; every woman who has stood up to a powerful man and said that what he is doing is wrong.”
When Witherspoon took to the stage to introduce Laura Dern – who has herself shared her experience of sexual assault – she spoke about how she was assaulted by a director when she was 16 years old and reflected on how it had been “a really hard week for women in Hollywood, for women all over the world”.
Jennifer Lawrence, meanwhile, revealed some of the “degrading and humiliating” experiences that she has been subject to, while Kristen Stuart applauded those who had been brave enough to share their stories and continue the conversation.
And forgoing the usual speech, Margot Robbie read aloud an open letter to Hollywood that she had been compelled to write after watching The Breakfast Club ahead of the event, elle.com reports.
In the letter, inspired by the fictional students’ assignment to write a 1,000-word essay on “who you think you are”, Robbie questions the way that women are perceived in Hollywood and how that holds them back, claiming that despite women spending the previous week sharing stories and standing up for their rights, those in power “still see as you want to see us: in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions.”
She expresses dismay at the fact that “degrading situations” and “chauvinistic roles” are par for the course for women in Hollywood and that even those who make it to the top are “still in the shadows of the big trees, constantly reminded that we only grow in the sunshine they allow us.”
Recognising that these difficulties extend far beyond the reach of Hollywood, Robbie finds solidarity with women all around the world “who struggle for the right to earn a living, the right to be heard, and even the right to be safe from harm.”
She then moves on to praise women as the heroes of their own story, claiming that despite the popularity of superhero films over recent years, there have been no superheroes defending us “against the villains in government, in the workplace, in the entertainment industry, and even in the most basic human interactions.
“Their bravery and courage to speak truth to power has made a powerful impact that can be the start of real change. It is our decision, and those of us that have a platform can choose to use it for those in the world who do not.”
Rallying those in the room to continue the fight to end inequality and injustice by sharing their stories and encouraging the use of their “talents and intellects and privilege to help a new chapter of women”, Robbie closes with a final empowering call to action, celebrating the strength of women when we come together.
“So thinking about being a woman in Hollywood reminded me that when you take away Hollywood, we are all just women, all facing the inequalities that being a women brings with it. And, what I’ve come to understand is that, though we are unique and powerful as individuals, we are invincible when we come together.”
Read the full letter here.
Image: Rex Features