Sarah Solemani has called for discussion on what female actors can be allowed to be asked to do in auditions, after revealing a series of disturbing experiences in the TV and film industry.
As the Harvey Weinstein allegations continue to make waves across Hollywood and prompt discussion on sexual assault and harassment in society in general, Solemani has written a piece for The Guardian, in which she recalls being asked to undress in a director’s home.
The unnamed man, in his 50s at the time while Solemani was aged 19, invited the actor to dinner at his home, before asking her to ‘prove’ how comfortable she was with nude scenes by getting undressed there and then.
She recalls that she ended up telling him, “I’ve got a little bit of period left” and was left “feeling responsible” for the resulting uncomfortable atmosphere and apologising.
“I did that thing women do, when the shame of an inappropriate proposition gets dumped on our doorstep and we feel compelled to clear the steaming mess up. Don’t feel embarrassed! I said. I don’t care! I’m a free spirit! I’m sorry I’ve got a bit of period left! […] It was a decade before it occurred to me what an abuse of power this had been.”
And the writer-actor – star of Him & Her, Bridget Jones’s Baby and Bad Education – says the toxic culture begins in the audition room, “often with a female casting director supervising.”
She writes: “If an actress’s heart doesn’t sink at the words, ‘There’s no script, this audition is going to be improvised’, it will thud into her guts upon hearing, ‘And this is Adam, he’s playing your boyfriend, Simeon.’ [...]
“For the next hour he can do pretty much whatever he likes, because this is a test to see how relaxed and spontaneous you are, how free – which in acting, for women, means how little you flinch when a stranger runs his hands over your body.”
Solemani continues: “I spent a lot of the Nineties rolling around west London flats with men I had just been introduced to, who could have picked any scenario in the world to re-enact, but picked the convenient one that we were having relationship issues, and needed to sort them out by spooning on a futon.
“I wouldn’t think twice when grown men filmed me, and never contacted me about the project again.”
Solemani goes on to say that the industry needs a “consensus on what constitutes professionally unacceptable conduct” in castings and meetings.
“Equity could push for there to be no kissing or sex scenes in auditions, and protection for actresses when they are asked to meet for parts.”
Calling for the Weinstein allegations to signal an industry-wide change, from giving women a seat in writing rooms more often to channels commissioning women-led projects, Solemani says she believes TV and film is at a “crossroads”.
Producer Weinstein has been accused of rape, sexual assault and harassment by several women, and is facing police investigations in LA, New York and London.
Read Solemani’s article in full here.
Image: Rex Features