COMICS

Isn't the whole film industry sexual harrassment?

Recently I was working on a film set. As I was setting up the camera, the lighting guys asked a crewwoman to stand in for the actors, who were on break.

Thinking he was funny, one of the crew shouted to me, "Hey! Quit zooming in on her tits!"

Well, I wasn't zooming in on her tits, but since this woman didn't know us, I was mortally embarrassed. Anything I said at that moment could easily be interpreted as sheepish excuses from a guy caught red-handed.

I made some lame retort like, "Guys, guys," too chicken even to single the culprit out from the other lighting guy who merely giggled. Uncowed, he simply said, "What? You're the one who's zooming in on her tits."

Could this incident be called sexual harrassment? Certainly.

But one needn't look farther than that same production to see an example of why the question is quite complicated in the film industry. In another scene we were shooting, it was decided that the camera should sweep across the crew before settling on the hosts - a common "behind-the-scenes" moment. The director asked all the women on the crew to move into the shot. The women seemed uncomfortable but were badgered into place with compliments - "You're so pretty" etc.

This incident might appear to fall into the category of sex harrassment, but could it also be defended the way a strip-club owner defends the hiring of only attractive women? As such, it slides the scales of sexual behaviour on set towards leering and singling out of women much the way they are singled out and leered at in the final entertainment product, like, say, *American Beauty*. In that film, a teenage girl who discovers her stranger-neighbour videotaping her through the window decides to take off her clothes for him. Who could be expected to do the sexual-politics math during that production?

The BC Human Rights Commission defines harrassment to include "ignoring, isolating or segregating a person or group because of their sex, race, sexual orientation, etc.;" However, there are exceptions made for "occupational requirements" and it is within these exceptions that the bulk of filmmaking lies. Actors are hired based on their race and gender in almost every case, due to the requirements of the script.

The list goes on and on. I once witnessed an extra being unexpectedly asked to take off her clothes for a dead-body scene. Is that harrassment or job requirement? On rock videos the women are always dressed pretty skanky. Wouldn't professional courtesy demand leering and lewd comments, letting them know they are doing their jobs properly?

Hollywood casting is, after all, a giant unspoken game of "Show us your tits." I have a friend who began wearing false breasts to auditions and suddenly began getting more parts. Is there a single employer in this case against whom a complaint could be made? What would the complaint be? "I wasn't being cast when I didn't wear fake boobs?" Could a government tribunal order her to be cast? By whom and in what?

It would be interesting to see the decisions which the BC Human Rights Tribunal would make if someone were to challenge, say, the hiring of a woman to play a wife, on the basis that the same role could easily go to a male. Any defensive argument that the script requires the couple to be heterosexual would make entertaining reading indeed.

Similarly, race and age requirements of almost any script could be challenged rather reasonably.

Of course, the stumbling block to all this is the temporary nature of film work. Actors constantly audition for many parts, the reasons for choosing one actor over another can be vague even in the most honest circumstances, and thus an actor who challenges the status quo could quietly slip out of business forever. There is no single employer, in fact companies form and dissolve for nearly every production. Thus, it would be a mountainous feat to prove that one person was not re-hired because of discrimination or in retaliation for a harrassment complaint.

Even worse, we all know that if social concerns and human justice became the determining factors in filmmaking (though it's our most elaborate and massive global conversation), BC would soon become locus non grata to discriminating (pun intended) producers.

(for info on sex harrassment and how to deal with it, check out www.bchumanrights.org)

See a blatantly sexist or racist casting call, script or film produced all or partly in Vancouver? Let me know at [email protected]