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Led by Anita Hill, Hollywood executives are uniting to fight sexual harassment

Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP
Anita Hill speaking about sexual harassment in early December.
  • Leah Fessler
By Leah Fessler

Reporter, Quartz at Work

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Anita Hill first brought sexual harassment into the national spotlight in 1991, when she testified against then-US Supreme Court nominee Clarance Thomas during his confirmation hearing. Now she will lead a group of entertainment executives as they confront their industry’s recently unveiled culture of sexual harassment.

Hill’s 1991 allegations—that Thomas sexually harassed her while she worked for him at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—were ultimately denied. But she has continued to lead the fight against workplace sexual harassment as an activist, lawyer, and professor at Brandeis University. The new organization she will lead, the Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, is a task force funded by entertainment industry executives who say they are committed to eliminating sexual harassment and advancing equality in the workplace. The commission made the announcement on Dec. 15, following a meeting led by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, Nike Foundation founder and co-chair Maria Eitel, Nina Shaw, and venture captialist Freada Kapor Klein.

Funded by entertainment executives from nearly every major Hollywood studio, TV network, and record label, the Commission was established in response to the recent wave of sexual harassment allegations against top industry executives, including Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, Brett Ratner, Louis CK, and Russell Simmons. Attendees of Friday’s meeting included Disney CEO Bob Iger, Paramount CEO Karen Stuart, Universal Music Group CEO Sir Lucian Grainge, and CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, among others.

“The Commission will not seek just one solution, but a comprehensive strategy to address the complex and inter-related causes of the problems of parity and power,” said Kennedy in a statement on Friday. “The fact that so many industry leaders—across film, television, music, digital, unions, agencies, ATA, AMPAS, television academy and guilds—came together, in one room, to explore solutions speaks to a new era.”

Hill, who has chaired the Human Rights Committee of the International Bar Association, and is a member of the Boards of Directors of the National Women’s Law Center as well as the Boston Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, echoed a similarly hopeful sentiment in her statement, on Friday, as reported by Variety:

“I’m proud to be leading this newly-formed Commission on a long overdue journey to adopt best practices and to create institutional change that fosters a culture of respect and human dignity throughout the industry,” Hill said.

“We will be focusing on issues ranging from power disparity, equity and fairness, safety, sexual harassment guidelines, education and training, reporting and enforcement, ongoing research, and data collection … It is time to end the culture of silence. I’ve been at this work for 26 years. This moment presents us with an unprecedented opportunity to make real change.”

Earlier in December, Hill addressed a crowd of entertainment professionals at the Beverly Hills offices of the United Talent Agencies, saying that she sees the wave of sexual harassment allegations as part of the “arc that had been bending toward justice,” the Washington Post reports. “I’m not entirely surprised that we got to this moment,” said Hill. “I am impressed with the velocity of it.”

The Commission will add to this velocity, reconvening early in 2018 to define its mission, scope and priorities. And, according to actress Meryl Streep, this commission isn’t the only united front fighting discrimination in Hollywood. “Right now I’m getting together with bunch of actresses—actresses you all know very well—and we’re going to make a set of non-negotiable demands,” said Streep at the Massachusetts Conference for Women on Dec. 7.

These demands, Streep clarified, will be targeted at preventing sex and race-based discrimination in Hollywood, especially at the executive level, given so many production company boards are entirely (or almost entirely) composed of white men. “Equal means equal,” said Streep, “and that’s what we’re after: 50-50 gender representation by 2020.”

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