Sarah Jessica Parker Comes Forward to Recount Her Own Experiences with Sexual Harassment
National news and social media has been abuzz recently regarding a recent interview with the iconic and much-loved actress Sarah Jessica Parker. In that interview, Ms. Parker spoke about being subjected to sexual harassment during her many years in the acting industry. The interview began with Ms. Parker referencing a specific instance of sexual harassment by what she described as a “very, very big movie star” (whom she did not identify by name). Ms. Parker’s revelation came up during the interview within the context of a greater discussion about the #MeToo movement, and how that movement has caused Ms. Parker to reflect on and reevaluate many of her experiences with inappropriate behavior on movie and TV sets. Ms. Parker stated, during the interview, “It really wasn’t, I would say, until about six or eight months ago that I started recognizing countless experiences of men behaving poorly, inappropriately, and all the ways that I had made it possible to keep coming to work or to remain on set, or to simply … just push it down, push it away, find a little space for it and move on.
Ms. Parker stated that even as her fame and earning potential grew, she still felt powerless to speak up about the harassment that occurred on set. Ms. Parker said, with respect to the power structures that often serve to silence victims of sexual harassment, “There were plenty of occasions where it was happening and I was in a different position and I was as powerful. I mean, I had every right to say, 'This is inappropriate.’ I could have felt safe in going to a superior.” Sarah Jessica Parker has won numerous Emmys and Screen Actors Guild awards for the roles that she has played. Sarah Jessica Parker’s character from Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw, was named by The Hollywood Reporter as one of the greatest female television characters of all time. Sarah Jessica Parker, creator of her own shoe line, her own wedding dress collection, and her own perfume collection—has amassed a fortune and has earned the respect of many as a consummate businesswoman and a real power broker. That Ms. Parker—even as her star rose higher, and her fame grew—did not feel empowered enough to report being harassed truly illuminates the difficulties in upending the statistics regarding sexual harassment incidents that go unreported.
Also worth noting within Ms. Parker’s story is the way in which the issue with the harassment from the “big movie star” was resolved. Ms. Parker recounted that she went to her agent and informed them of what was going on, at which time Ms. Parker’s agent notified the movie bigwigs of what had occurred, lobbing a very specific demand—“Within hours everything had changed. … He (my agent) said to them, ‘If this continues, I have sent her a ticket, a one-way ticket out of this city' — where I was shooting — ‘and she will not be returning.” The agent’s swift and definitive handling of the issue is certainly commendable, and exactly how it should have been handled. One does wonder, however, if an actress with not quite as much star power as Ms. Parker would have had her complaints handled in the same manner.
Hollywood is currently undergoing a time of soul-searching and reckoning with respect to inappropriate behavior on movie and television sets. Numerous studios and productions are making noticeable steps towards making these sets an inclusive and protected space. On the set of the new James Bond movie, for example, an ‘intimacy coach’ was brought onto the set, in an effort to make sure that all the participating actors did not leave their comfort zones during sex scenes. Alicia Rodis, Co-Founder of Intimacy Directors International, is currently at the forefront of developing standards and a code of ethics for shooting love scenes or scenes of sexual violence on film sets. What makes film sets especially difficult to manage in terms of misconduct is that it is one of the most untraditional workspaces imaginable— a space where actors and actresses, within the context of their performance, are perhaps using what otherwise would be offensive or unacceptable language, or are acting out vivid sex scenes or scenes involving sexual violence. Creating a space where the actors feel both encouraged and inspired, but also safe and protected, has become a priority for the film industry.
What also makes the process of monitoring behavior within a film set difficult is the lack of a Human Resources “door” to go knock on—as Ms. Parker shared, she herself did not feel comfortable making an actual complaint about the misconduct to movie executives, and instead chose to go to her agent. It is important, within nontraditional workspaces (i.e.,: film sets, restaurants, etc.)—to have a behavior policy that all persons involved in the filming are informed of, and to which they have agreed to abide. Additionally, as there is no traditional human resources outlet on a film set, there must be in place, either through an actors’ guild, a talent agency, or within the movie’s own practices, a consistent and reliable reporting mechanism for actors and actresses making complaints about misconduct.
Three cheers are definitely in order for Sarah Jessica Parker’s coming forward to share with the story of her experiences with sexual harassment. Through her courage and transparency, hopefully the changes happening within the film industry will greatly cut down the number of “countless” men, as she described it, engaging in harassing and inappropriate behavior.
The Triangle Takeaway: Changing standards regarding conduct in nontraditional workplaces, like film sets, require specific, well-written behavior policies that apply to persons on film sets. Additionally, film sets absolutely must have a consistent and easily accessible reporting mechanism for persons making complaints and misconduct, with a thorough investigative process to follow said complaints. Triangle offers policy-writing services for a wide range of workplaces, both traditional and non-traditional. Triangle also offers its clients the use of the Telli app, Triangle’s own app, that works as a reporting mechanism for persons making reports about misconduct within their workspace. When Triangle receives a complaint submission via the app, Triangle comes in and conducts the necessary investigation.