Popsugar Reading Challenge category: A book about or set in Hollywood
Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood, by Maureen Ryan
Burn It Down shines a harsh light on how Hollywood gets a pass on all the normal rules for an acceptable workplace, and how little has changed despite decades of the same issues being raised.
Ryan pokes at some of the myths that Hollywood runs on, including the myth of “necessary monsters” and “toxic creativity.” Someone powerful and successful can get away with verbal abuse, harassment, screaming and throwing things, and demanding that underlings do anything from giving massages to picking up drugs for them. Some hide behind excuses about how this bullying is “part of their creative process.” There’s no way to guess how many people have been driven out of the industry because their own creative process requires being treated like a human being.
Aside from a few high-profile takedowns of the worst offenders, #MeToo hasn’t made nearly as much headway as one might think after seeing endless articles suggesting “Has #MeToo gone too far?” (Not coincidentally, many of the same media outlets running those articles had their own #MeToo scandals.) If a studio has any process to deal with harassment, it’s mostly focused on making the victim go away.
The problems are structural. When the gatekeepers are mostly white men, the stories they tell will mostly be about white men, and the aspiring writers/directors/etc with the connections to get hired will mostly be white men. Too often, “diversity and inclusion” has meant one woman and/or POC being the only one in the writers’ room or the cast, with that person not feeling safe (and often not being safe) speaking up about anything problematic.
In discussing solutions, Ryan references Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s book On Repentance and Repair, and the Al Capone Theory of Harassment, both of which I’ve written about before. In addition to Ruttenberg, Ryan spoke with a therapist who works with convicted sex offenders, and with a screenwriter who used restorative justice after her own experience with sexual assault. The solutions they discuss are unsurprising: meaningfully vet people hired into positions of power, quit making excuses for harassers, don’t retaliate against people who report problems, get unions involved when needed. The book was written before the recent writers’ & actors’ strikes, but it’s nice to see unions fighting for their people.
An occasional frustration with the book is that she was given a lot of information off the record, so she'll mention some unnamed person in the industry who would "say horrible things" or "act abusively," but it's unclear what they did or how bad it was.
One of the many anonymous stories Ryan quotes involved a director who had his budget padded in anticipation of payoffs to women he would harass. As Ryan notes, a well-run , respectful workplace is not only healthier for everyone — it’s also more cost-effective. Waiting to see if the studios ever figure that out.