News / Vancouver

Women in B.C. film industry strike back against sexual harassment

After sharing their stories, women and their union organized to lobby for change.

Five performers recently went public about their experiences with sexual harassment in the province’s film industry.

Jen St. Denis / Metro

Five performers recently went public about their experiences with sexual harassment in the province’s film industry.

After five film workers went public with their harrowing sexual harassment experiences in B.C.’s film and television industry, they and their union have struck a task force to try to make a difference.

“It’s devastating,” said Lori Stewart, health and safety performer advocate with the Union of British Columbia Performers.

“We have to do more, and this is not going to go unchecked. This needs to be fixed.”

In the wake of revelations about the conduct of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinsten, five B.C. film workers — performers Sarah Deakins, Lisa Ovies, Chelah Horsdal and Enid-Raye Adams and writer-director Jacquie Gould — came forward to share their experiences to Vancouver’s Westender newspaper.

Their stories ranged from persistent propositioning, to constant comments about their bodies, to unwanted physical contact and outright assault.

In response to the Weinstein stories, the women and Stewart got together to start a group dedicated to making change. They’ve met twice so far and hope to lobby WorkSafeBC and provincial politicians for changes to B.C. labour laws that will better protect women working in film.

It’s not just the five women who have spoken out, Stewart said. The Weinstein accusations have unleashed “a floodgate” of women who want to talk about experiences they have long kept silent about.

In 2013, B.C.’s workplace safety authority, WorkSafeBC, began requiring employers to have bullying and harassment policies in place. But the employment conditions of the film industry make it difficult for victims of sexual harassment to complain, Stewart said.

The first step in reporting bullying in harassment is to contact your employer, and that’s something that many performers are not willing to do.

Since performers are contract employees, there is no guarantee of employment, so the fear of losing current and future work is ever-present. The power dynamic tends to be all on the side of the studio, director, producers, casting agents and acting coach — all within an industry that is heavily male-dominated.

Women may put up with sexual harassment, rationalizing that the job will only last a few weeks, but may then encounter the same harasser on the set of another studio’s production.

“If someone was able to track what happened here, here, here and here, and add up all those pieces,” Stewart said. “But because they’re in these silos, the individual studios don’t want to look at those as a cumulative thing.”

Two- or three-week productions also “creates these small windows of reporting and even smaller for (the employer) to do anything about it,” Stewart said.

The task force plans to hold a town hall event soon, where women from all parts of B.C.’s film industry can share their stories.

“There’s not one single easy fix that if we just do this it’s going to be better,” Stewart said. “It’s going to take a movement and I think a movement has started.”

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