It Takes A Village to Hide Sexual Misconduct

In case you missed it, Hollywood bigwig executive Harvey Weinstein has been hit with some major allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault by over 30 women. These allegations have been ongoing for decades, but were only recently unearthed thanks to two major investigative reports, one from Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey at The New York Times and the other from Ronan Farrow at The New Yorker.

One pervasive theme throughout all this is that it was apparently an “open secret” in Hollywood for years. Members of his company told Farrow there was a “culture of complicity” in his company to help hide the allegations. In 2004, The New York Times reporter Sharon Waxman had a story in the works about Weinstein’s sexual harassment before it was gutted, after Weinstein reportedly visited the Times office, and after actors Russel Crowe and Matt Damon called Waxman to vouch that Fabrizio Lombardo, an Italian film executive whose actual job, according to several sources, was to secure sex workers and escorts for Weinsten, was really a film executive and nothing more.

Many actors who reacted to the news admitted to having heard rumors about him for years but they never publicly discussed them. Kate Winslet, for one, wrote in a statement that she had heard of such rumours but “had hoped that these kind of stories were just made up rumours, maybe we have all been naïve.”

Actress Rose McGowan, one of the many who have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct

There’s a bitter irony in hearing Winslet say that Weinstein’s behavior is “reprehensible and disgusting”, considering that she had this to say about Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, an alleged child molester and a convicted child rapist respectively: “I didn’t know Woody and I don’t know anything about that family. As the actor in the film, you just have to step away and say, I don’t know anything, really, and whether any of it is true or false. Having thought it all through, you put it to one side and just work with the person. Woody Allen is an incredible director. So is Roman Polanski. I had an extraordinary working experience with both of those men, and that’s the truth.” Hey, I bet lots of people could say the same about Weinstein! What’s all the fuss about? He’s an incredible executive producer (he’s had a hand in classics like Good Will Hunting and Pulp Fiction). Why can’t we all just push these pesky rape rumors aside and work with these men! (Oh, and here’s a fun fact: back in 2009 Weinstein wrote an article in defense of Polanski and called his rape conviction a “so-called crime”. I guess sexual abusers stick together?)

Winslet isn’t alone in this utter hypocrisy. Ben Affleck released a statement on Twitter condemning Weinstein, but has neglected to say much about the allegations of sexual harassment against his younger brother Casey Affleck, and has some harassment allegations of his own.

Actress Ashley Judd has also accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct

Weinstein got away with these kinds of bahavior for so long because an army of fellow executives, PR managers, lawyers, and famous Hollwood types kept it from getting out. Because of willful silence on the part of other powerful players in Hollywood, and because of the deliberate intimidation of anyone who would be open about this, especially the victims of harassment and assault.

I’m not surprised to hear about Weinstein, but I am surprised that he seems to be facing actual consequences. He’s apparently been fired from his company, his wife Georgina Chapman is leaving him, and police in London and New York are looking into investigating him. While it’s good that something is happening to Weinstein, I can’t help but think about the women who had to watch his enormous success, all too aware of what he did to them in private. I can’t help but think about how it took this long for us to talk about this. Or to think about the fact that if comedian Hannibal Buress didn’t bring up the Bill Cosby allegations back in 2014 during a comedy routine, Cosby’d probably still enjoy the same reputation he had before, even as the rape allegations were of public record for years. And I also can’t help but consider how many other Hollywood bigwigs aren’t facing such scrutiny. Polanski is still a free man. Allen is still making movies with top actors. Casey Affleck got an Oscar for Best Picture. Christian Slater was convicted of assaulting his former girlfriend Michelle Jonas back in 1997 and currently stars in the critically acclaimed TV series Mr. Robot. Johnny Depp “allegedly” verbally and physically abused his now ex-wife Amber Heard and is still set to be a major part of the Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them franchise, among other upcoming projects. And despite the fact that there is literally a section of director/producer Bryan Singer’s Wikipedia page entitled “sexual abuse allegations”, almost nobody discusses this about him and he has multiple upcoming film projects, including many in the X-Men franchise.

Actress Rosanna Arquette also accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct

None of these powerful men, or any others who we don’t know about (including an unnamed film executive who sexually assaulted actor Terry Crews, as Crews bravely revealed over Twitter recently), could possibly keep their abuse under wraps for years without some help. It takes a village to keep sexual abuse, assault, and harassment allegations from getting around.

So what do we do? I’ll tell you what: look this stuff up. Most of the allegations are public information. Next time you hear a rumor about a beloved actor or director, google them. And if it checks out, talk about it. I know, it’s easier to say nothing. But we owe it to the survivors of abuse, assault, and harassment to not let their stories fall through the cracks.

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Final Girls and Distressed Damsels: Portrayals of Women in Horror

A few weeks ago I went to see It with some friends. While I greatly enjoyed (or rather, was completely terrified by) the movie, I was struck by the more problematic portrayal of its sole female lead, Beverly (played by Sophia Lillis). Beverly spends much of her time in the movie being sexualized against her wishes (also keep in mind she’s supposed to be around 13-15 years old). She’s a victim of sexual abuse by her father. Surprisingly, this story thread is handled relatively well, at least compared to some other portrayals of sexual violence, especially those related to young teenage girls. On the other hand, Beverly is made to flirt with an old male pharmacist so the boys can steal supplies and escape. Rumors are spread about her sexuality, and, in the end (spoiler!), she becomes little more than a damsel in distress for the boys to rescue; in the most inexplicable and frustrating part, she is kissed against her will by one of the boys to bring her back to reality.

While this was a disappointing element of an otherwise good movie, it did make me wonder about how women typically get portrayed in horror movies, and it’s usually not great. Women are often sexualized objects, or treated as little more than passive victims. While many great horror films make way for otherwise ordinary men to rise to the occasion and become heroes, women rarely get such an opportunity. If women get to fight, which they rarely do, it’s typically as a supporting effort, or chalked up to them being different than other girls.

Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh in It

Or, we get what’s referred to as the final girl. The term was coined in 1992 by film theorist and professor Carol J. Clover. Essentially, the trope goes like this: the killer plows through a whole bunch of victims, usually teens or young adults. The victims are typically sexually active or drug users, or both, contrasted with the final girl, who is innocent, virginal, and more masculine or androgynous than her other female counterparts, and always smarter and more resourceful. Maybe she has some expertise in science or battle, maybe she goes from being meek to being able to stand up for herself and fight. In any case, after the killer goes through all the victims, we are only left with the final girl, who is the one to face the killer, and live (usually) to tell the tale. There are countless examples of the final girl in classic slasher films: Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in Halloween, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Alien, Alice Hardy (Adrienne King) in Friday the 13th, and so on. While it may seem exciting to have a female protagonist in horror, it’s important to note that the final girl’s power comes from her turning away from femininity, and from contrasting her to other female characters, often by pitting them against each other. The final girl is a virgin where the other women are promiscuous, smart where the others aren’t.

Of course, this trope isn’t quite as troubling as the classic damsel in distress. Already a tired, frustrating trope, it only gets worse when put in the horror genre, and often isn’t necessary for the plot. Selena (Naomie Harris) and Hannah (Megan Burns) are kidnapped and almost raped in 28 Days Later before being rescued. Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) needs to get rescued by Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) in the 2014 remake of Godzilla. And, as previously mentioned, Beverly is reduced to the trope when she gets captured.

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Alien

Women are also often given one specific role: mothers. There are so many films showing anxieties about pregnant women (Inside is a some good example), or women who find their bodies being used merely as tools for pregnancy. Many horror films also reduce women to only being mothers, with no other role or identity. Fathers are sometimes portrayed in horror, but it’s rare to see a male character’s motivations being solely or at least mostly about the safety of their children. Examples of this include Renai (Rose Byrne) in Insidious and Carolyn (Lili Taylor) in The Conjuring.

And of course, there’s the constant sexualization. Women who get kidnapped are almost universally threatened with rape, or have their clothes taken away, or so on. Women are usually put inside a romantic relationship, or they are sexy villains who seduce the hero or make him do something stupid. In It there’s a scene where all the kids are in their underwear while swimming near rocks, and the boys ogle Bev’s body. The original version of A Nightmare on Elm Street has a scene of sixteen-year-old Nancy Thomson (Heather Langencamp) in the bathtub, nearly attacked by Freddy Kreuger. And, of course, there’s the famous shower scene in Psycho. And in the critically acclaimed movie Ex Machina we get a sexy robot named Ava, played by Alicia Vikander. Don’t get me wrong, I love Ex Machina, but I wonder how seriously anyone would have taken it had the roles been reversed. Sexy female robots are the stuff of thrillers and moral questions, but I’m guessing sexy male robots would be the stuff of comedy.

Alicia Vikander as Ava in Ex Machina

And that’s exactly the problem. Some of the movies I listed are really great, or at least movies where the actions and depictions of female characters make sense. But it’s frustrating that women are limited to just a small handful of tropes in horror movies. Women are more than these films portray them to be, and it’s past time for the genre to expand.

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Diversity in Kid’s Cartoons

It was announced recently that the new version of The Powerpuff Girls would be introducing a fourth member, Bliss (voiced by Olivia Olson), and that she would be black. Reactions were mostly positive, with a few noting that the way she was characterized in the show made her out be a stereotype of an angry black girl and some also saying that her inclusion felt a bit like tokenism. It’s a fair criticism.

I was, like most people my age, a huge fan of The Powerpuff Girls growing up. It was rare to see female cartoon characters who got to run around, fight villains, and save the day as they navigated girlhood. For me, it was a really big deal to see such representation. But I’m white, so I never really felt that I couldn’t be like them, nor did I lack cartoon characters who look like me. So for all her faults, it is something that a major kid’s cartoon is choosing to include a dark-skinned black girl who will also run around, fight villains, and save the day, even if her portrayal is a bit problematic.

I think now, more so than before, creators of children’s cartoons have realized the importance of diversity and inclusion. Representation is especially important for kids, as they start to form their sense of self, and especially for kids who aren’t white, who are disabled, who aren’t straight and/or cisgender, or are otherwise marginalized.

The Powderpuff Girls: Bubbles, Bliss, Blossom, and Buttercup

Take a show like Steven Universe. The show revolves around its titular character, Steven (voiced by Zach Callison), who is being raised by three female humanoid jewels (known as the Crystal Gems), and spends his time saving the world and subverting masculinity. There are numerous characters of color, and the show has been widely recognized for its multiple portrayals of queer characters and relationships, non-binary characters, and its ability to frankly discuss consent, gender roles, masculinity, maturation, and anxiety. And yet, the show never really veers into the territory of tokenism, instead letting the identities of its characters simply be a fact of the show. It’s one of the few shows on TV for children that has multiple queer characters, and doesn’t bother with the same tired tropes that most adult shows still haven’t stopped using.

For even younger audiences, there are also shows like Doc McStuffins. The show premiered in 2012 and has been going strong ever since. The premise is that the main character, a young African-American girl named Dottie McStuffins (currently voiced by Laya DeLeon Hayes), who hopes to be a doctor like her mother and practices on her toys that come to life from her magic stethoscope, and who she treats injuries and illnesses each week.

Doc McStuffins

Comedian W. Kamau Bell explained the importance of a show like Doc McStuffins on NPR last year, saying: “And so that’s the thing. It’s not a fantasy…Like, it’s not about wouldn’t it be crazy if I was a doctor? It’s clearly a little girl who wants to be like her mom who is a doctor. And they go to her – and there’s episodes where they go to her mom’s private practice and shows that she’s the leader of this practice, and there’s other black women there…And the dad, who we also see, Marcus McStuffins, he’s always at home, so he looks to be a stay-at-home dad…These are things that break down stereotypes and traditional narratives with, like, yeah, that’s what black dads do. We have gardens of vegetables, and we hand out strawberries. That’s what we do. That’s what black dads do.” 

Or, take the show Elena of Avalor, which revolves around a teenage Latina named Elena Castillo Flores (voiced by Aimee Carrero), who rules over a magical kingdom called Avalor. The show is notable not just for having a young Latina protagonist, but also for putting her in a position of leadership, and giving her power, agency, and some cool magic powers. If you’ve ever doubted the power of representation, I’d like to point to this incredibly sweet clip that was floating around Tumblr recently of an actress at Disneyland playing Elena speaking to a little girl in Spanish.

That’s why all this representation matters. It’s not for me to write about it (although that’s a nice bonus), or for people to argue about political correctness or identity politics. Diversity isn’t just some grand idea or social justice buzzword. It’s a real and important way to ensure that young children get to see themselves in media, in positive portrayals, even if they aren’t always part of the majority.

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Star Trek: Discovery Review

If you’re a science fiction geek like I am, you’ve probably noticed that there’s two types of fans. First there’s those who want it to be totally apolitical. If it were up to these guys (and it’s almost overwhelmingly guys, but not always), sci-fi would be composed mainly of spaceships, explosions, cool technology, and a whole lot of straight white cis guys and sexy aliens/robots. Then there’s fans who see sci-fi for the tool that it can be: the ability to show us more futures and possibilities, or to point to our own problems and shortcomings, and some solutions.

No offense to the former kind, but Star Trek, throughout its many TV series and movies, has always been political and meaningful in the best way possible. Sure, there have been plotlines that focused more on the cool futuristic technology and gadgets, or battles with Klingons or Romulans. And yes, there have been more than a few missteps, from the short skirt uniforms on female members of Starfleet in the first series to an almost complete lack of LGBT representation. But mostly, Star Trek has always been about giving us a different possibility, one where bigotry and prejudice were outdated, and has always been about addressing modern issues with a thoughtful, nuanced perspective. Star Trek has touched on race, gender, identity, humanity, truth, justice, war, and diplomacy.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Commander Michael Burnham on Star Trek: Discovery

On September 24th, the first two episodes of the latest Star Trek incarnation, Star Trek: Discovery were released to the world. In many ways, Discovery is quite unlike previous series. For starters, the main character is not a captain, but instead First Officer Michael Burnham (played terrifically by Sonequa Martin-Green). Michael is human, but she was raised as a Vulcan by Sarek (played in this version by James Frain), and her struggle between her human emotions and the Vulcan adherence to strict logic makes for a unique acting challenge, one where Martin-Green shines. Instead of using an episodic format for storytelling, the story will play out in a serialized narrative. And, perhaps most intriguingly, the show will depart most from other versions of Star Trek by allowing for more conflict between people on the ship. I should say here: spoiler for the beginning of Star Trek: Discovery.

Allowing for conflict between officers plays out quite well in the series’ first episode, “The Vulcan Hello”. Michael, recalling a prior Klingon attack that killed her parents, urges her Captain, Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) to fire at Klingon vessels first, believing they are gearing up for war. When Philippa dismisses this, Michael attacks her with a Vulcan nerve pinch and assumes command of the ship briefly so she can order the attack, however Philippa comes to just in time to stop the attack. The damage is already done, however, and the series makes it clear that one of the main focuses of this season will be the profound affect that causing a war will have on Michael, and how she will handle the enormous brunt of trauma and guilt. And since this is a serialized narrative, we will get to see how these choices play out, instead of discarding them by the next episode.

Michelle Yeoh as Captain Philippa Georgiou in Star Trek: Discovery

It’s also worth noting that this is a wonderfully diverse cast of characters, even more so than other Star Trek worlds. Our main character is a black woman. Another character, Lieutenant Ash Tyler, is played by British actor Shazad Latif, who is partly Pakistani. Anthony Rapp, who is also gay in real life, plays openly gay Science Officer Paul Stamets. And while it’s incredibly disappointing that Michelle Yeoh’s character is (spoiler!) killed off in the second episode, it’s still worth something that the show chose to portray a ship captain as a Chinese Malaysian woman, with Yeoh keeping her own accent and her character shown as having Malaysian artifacts in her ready room.

There’s a lot we’re still waiting to see about this version of Star Trek, but based on the show’s beginning, I think we’re in for all the best parts of Star Trek, from the hopeful vision of humanity’s future without racism, sexism, or homophobia and the penchant for asking the deep questions, along with some new and exciting elements and possibilities for storytelling.

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The Rebel and Canada’s Alt-Right

Around this time last year, when Trump winning the election seemed like an absurd possibility, many people made the brash claim that they were moving to Canada if he did ever win. Of course, when the results came in, most who said they would move had their bluffs called out and stayed put.

Most, but not all. And Canadians have certainly staked their claim as being the friendly Northern safe space, complete with free healthcare and a pretty prime minister. Cape Breton in Nova Scotia even advertised themselves as an option for Americans looking to flee Trump. American applications to my university, University of Toronto, increased by 70%. 

Most of us living here are probably aware that Canada isn’t exactly the paradise Americans make it out to be. We have the same legacy of colonialism as the US, had the same restrictive immigration quotas and internment camps and plenty of other examples of discrimination and oppression. And our present doesn’t look too bright either, with any number of examples from missing and murdered Indigenous women to racism right here in Toronto. Still, even with all that, it’s easy to think we’re at least a few steps up from the US. At least we don’t have the same wave of alt-right extremism, right? Wrong. And our own strain is getting harder and harder to ignore.

Enter The Rebel Media. A paradise for white-supremacists and Islamaphobes. Kind of like a maple-flavored Breitbart, with the same violent xenophobia and bigotry and lack of regard for journalistic standards, but their logo is red instead of orange. Also, they have some shady business practices, allegedly.

First, a brief history lesson for those who are unaware. The Rebel was co-founded in 2015 by Ezra Levant and Brian Lilley after working for several years as correspondents for the right-wing Sun News Network, which closed that same year. Since then, the Rebel has hired several well-known right-wing extremists in Canada and abroad.

The Rebel co-founder Brian Lilley

If you think I’m just some liberal snowflake/cultural Marxist/angry queer feminist/etc and I’m biased against The Rebel, I’d like to point out that Lilley, The Rebel’s own co-founder, said more or less the same thing after he left in August: “What The Rebel suffers from is a lack of editorial and behavioural judgment that left unchecked will destroy it and those around it. For that reason, I am leaving…I am not comfortable being associated with a group that…is being increasingly viewed as associated with the likes of Richard Spencer…I am also not comfortable with the increasingly harsh tone taken on issues like immigration, or Islam. There are ways to disagree on policy without resorting to us versus them rhetoric.” 

Lilley frames his criticism of his former company as if this is a new problem. But The Rebel has always been a haven for the bigots, and has never been one to shy away from promoting a story lacking evidence or truth in the name of their own viewpoint. In January, The Rebel feverishly promoted the conspiracy theory that the horrific shooting at a mosque in Quebec City was actually committed by Muslims (the current suspect, who has been charged with six counts of murder, is a white-supremacist) without any real evidence.

To be fair, following former contributer Faith Goldy’s coverage of the white supremacist rally in Charlottseville last month, in which she portrayed the white supremacists in the most sympathetic light possible, The Rebel promptly fired her. Additionally, following this, Levant reportedly issued a memo to staff asking them to distance themselves from the alt-right. 

Recently ousted Rebel contributor Faith Goldy

But quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter if The Rebel wants to avoid calling itself alt-right or even agrees to dismiss some of its more overtly racist contributors.

At the time of writing this article, The Rebel’s most recent stories included one about how Canada has a “border crisis” and is detaining Mexican nationals. The Rebel stated that Mexican refugee applicants to Canada has tripled since 2016, after tourist visa requirements for Mexicans entering Canada were lifted. Their posted source for this was one of their own articles from April. This article claimed that “Public servants warned…that a lot of these asylum seekers were fake refugees looking to exploit our system. Processing these fake claims also came at a very high cost to Canadian taxpayers.” Their source for that was yet another one of their own articles, where instead of providing any evidence that there were such fake refugees, this article featured a video of Lilley stating that this was true. The “public servant” in question was a Conservative commentator named Michelle Rempel, who didn’t actually say that, but rather raised the idea of Mexicans pretending to be refugees to gain Canadian benefits as a possibility. Besides, Rempel didn’t provide any sources to suggest that this was an issue, and I couldn’t find any data to suggest it was.

A classic pattern for The Rebel. Take the unproven suggestion of an issue and present it as a reality. Along the way, make sure to mention your support for the border wall down south (which one of the articles did), neglect to provide factual sources, and be sure to portray Mexicans as criminals, members of drug cartels, and bent on sneaking into Canada and pretending to be refugees and drain Canada.

Of course, it doesn’t matter to The Rebel if any of their stories are based in fact, so long as they promote a xenophobic agenda. Nor does it matter to their 848,851 subscribers on YouTube, or the thousands of Canadians who view their website every day. If Canada was free of the alt-right, The Rebel wouldn’t have a viewer base. Their existence is, say, the huge red sore on Canada. It’s a big problem, but without the disease of xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, and bigotry lurking underneath, it wouldn’t exist in the first place.

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