Hollywood is ingrained in the American DNA. It is a part of us, the message we send to the world about western culture. Even though Hollywood itself is not a pretty area of town (as only locals know), it’s the idea that comes with the name that sells it. The world funds this place, this concept, this crazy idea. And it all goes under a brand that lives on a hill in Griffith Park.
For those of us in the greater Los Angeles area, we live Hollywood more than the rest of the country. It surrounds us and gets under our skin, both the good and the bad parts. There is a sense of dreaming out here under the bright golden sun that can’t be replicated as well in other parts of the county. It’s why people come from all over the country on Greyhound buses, as the cliché goes. They want to be a part of this. And honestly, I can’t really blame them. It’s kind of amazing.
In the greater Los Angeles area, we’re all really a part of this industry, whether we’d like to be or not. I grew up with my dad bringing home editing bays for me to play on and Variety magazines to read. I swam in the lake at Skywalker Ranch as a kid and rode around the Universal backlot on a golf cart as a teen. My first term paper in high school was on the technical aspects and history of Citizen Kane (my idea). My parents encouraged my creativity. I was a part of Hollywood without being in the industry. But those of us who were raised in Los Angeles and its surrounding suburbs had similar experiences.
We knew celebrities growing up before they got famous, and often they were insufferable then too (trust me — ask anyone who knew Kim Kardashian when she was young. They all have the same story). We know people who have met celebrities or worked with them, and we all have stories if we have run across them. There are nice stories in there, as in, “I once had martinis with George Clooney at the Smokehouse and he was the coolest guy in the world” stories. But more often than not it’s the bad behavior, ranging from crazy coke parties to the numerous women shipped in like party favors, that most Angelinos remember.
In the past, it used to be that these people would be shrugged off. It was show business, and for the people involved in it, if you didn’t put up with the crazy antics that people with money would create, someone else would. We would nod at them during the day and at night share our insane stories with friends, not thinking anything about it. After all, it was the way it was. How could we change it?
It hasn’t been an immediate change, but the tides have been starting to turn over the years as to how the industry deals with bad behavior. And Cosby is the clearest evidence.
Bill Cosby was a part of the very fabric of our lives the idea that Hollywood shipped out for the world to see of American life. He had been a part of this entertainment industry for almost 50 years, telling jokes and creating sitcoms, hosting television programs among other such things. Here and internationally, he was a star.
As we know now, that entire time he was sexually assaulting women. It was a take on the famous casting couch myth: Beautiful young women wanting to make it in Hollywood, and he would offer to mentor them. He would make them a drink and they would black out. They would stand up for themselves, and he would ridicule them. When they wanted to talk about it, people would shrug it off and let it go; after all, who would believe them when this man had not only a squeaky clean image, but more money and power in the industry than most people had?
I wish I could tell you that Cosby was alone. It’s a lie. How many women have I talked to over the years that are actresses — serious actresses — who had higher-ranking men try to take advantage of them? How many Hollywood men have used their power to get women into bed with them, and the women went because they felt like they didn’t have a choice in the matter? And it has never stopped — to the point where the other day, one of my comedian friends was in an elevator and accosted by a guy who wanted to have drinks with her. He claimed to be a high-end producer and said that this was “a relationship business.”
Meanwhile, it seems to translate into what we see on screen. When casting calls go out, you read offensive language that no one bothers to correct, particularly aimed towards women. We are reduced to types: “ugly,” “girl next door,” “hot,” and “too big to be a woman, but there she is.” And then these roles get minimal exposure, maybe a line or two, if that actress is lucky. Meanwhile, the stories that are told are mainly male stories, and if they’re male stories, white male stories. There’s has never been room for anyone else. People have wanted to fight the system from the inside, but the inside has laughed it off and tried to push them off as if they were “little people” who didn’t know, couldn’t know. After all, this was Hollywood.
Over Thanksgiving, I spoke with my uncle about the Cosby case. He recalled visiting a friend in Vegas who was working with Bill Cosby. “Women were just lined outside the door. He was always a philanderer,” he said. “I don’t believe he raped women, though. He could get anyone he wanted.”
My dad and I sat there flabbergasted, trying to explain to him how the evidence was stacked against him, from 20 different women testifying to Cosby’s own comedic bit about Spanish fly. We had to remind him that rape wasn’t about sex, but about the power Cosby had as an individual with money. Rape was just one of the many abuses of it.
There, laid out in front of me, were the three generations of Hollywood: My uncle, who would shrug his shoulders and turn away from unacceptable behavior, pretending he didn’t know; my father, who would stand up against it but be shunned by people in higher positions of power; and me, who sees the change occurring and is willing to stand up and wants to be a part of it.
The social media age given people who don’t normally have a voice one that resonates and can make the world shake. It gives a rallying cry to voices that weren’t as loud before. It has allowed us to gain more information than we could in the past and make more informed decisions in media, and able to shun unacceptable behavior publicly.
Women are responding to harassment and fighting back against the Hollywood status quo, whether it’s by using the Bechdel test in trying to give more of a voice to women, responding to sexist casting calls or even putting their money more into movies with female lead characters than other movies. It’s incredible to watch us the power shift.
We still have a long way to go — women only hold three percent of decision-making positions in Hollywood and there are still improvements to be made in helping women advance in post-production, direction and more. But we are starting, and we will only grow. The Cosby case is a reflection of how far we have come. I keep reading in articles that people believe the story will die soon enough when there is a new focus. But it’s not going away. Bill Cosby is being held accountable, and while he thinks he still lives in that Hollywood age where celebrities can hide their bad behavior and make up for it in other ways, it doesn’t work that way anymore. This is a new era that will not put up with it.
When we make Hollywood a safer place, imagine the creativity that can come to the screen from everyone — men, women, black, white, Latino and more. When we keep deconstructing, we break down the walls so that the world can see us. And they need to see Hollywood, the real one — the grit and the love, the passion, sweat and tears by people who understand the responsibility we have as artists. It’s the reason why we love this place. It’s how we have ended up calling Hollywood home.