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On harassment in the film world: where do we go from here?

Contributed by
Sep 27, 2017

The film world, on the whole, tends to be both insular and widespread. Consisting of writers, critics, journalists, and bloggers, it spans not only the limits of a single city but extends beyond, including a wide range of backgrounds and opinions. No matter what your preferences are (comic book properties, sci-fi and horror, independent films), there's a niche that's been carved out for you to find others who share your interests. Recently, however, the group conversation within the genre movie scene has shifted to something far more complicated -- leaving many who are deeply immersed in the film community both in person and online trying to figure out how best to move forward.

In late 2016, Devin Faraci, a prominent and oft-controversial movie blogger, stepped down as editor-in-chief of film site Birth.Movies.Death following sexual assault allegations made against him. In the immediate aftermath, several women shared their own personal stories about Faraci’s inappropriate behavior, but Faraci had garnered a reputation as a contentious figure within the film community long before any of these allegations surfaced. He was famously, perhaps notoriously known for clashing with screenwriters and fellow critics on Twitter, but as was reported on Pajiba, “the sexual assault allegation was a tipping point for an industry who had tolerated his terrible actions and words for many years.”

When word began circulating at the beginning of September 2017 that Faraci had been quietly rehired by Alamo Drafthouse (which owns Birth.Movies.Death) as a copywriter/editor for genre festival Fantastic Fest, the news was a shockwave reverberating through not only the Austin film circle but the community at large -- especially when in-depth reporting unearthed that Faraci had been included on internal communication as early as one month after his stepping down from BMD. In an online statement, Alamo Drafthouse owner Tim League admitted that re-employing Faraci was done as a means of giving him a second chance, but the fact that it was done under the radar and without notifying his alleged victims was viewed as a deception of the highest level. The following day, League issued a second statement confirming that Faraci had offered his resignation -- but the conversation that ensued over the next several weeks excavated several more harassment allegations against another well-known individual deeply involved in Fantastic Fest, Ain’t It Cool News creator Harry Knowles.

Knowles had previously confirmed that he would not be attending Fantastic Fest (which he co-founded with League, among others) after news of Drafthouse harboring Faraci came to light. However, shortly thereafter it was reported by Indiewire that Knowles had allegedly sexually assaulted a local Austin woman and former Drafthouse employee. Jasmine Baker, who asserted that Knowles acted inappropriately toward her on several occasions, said she had chosen to speak up with the hope of changing attitudes in the film community -- especially insofar as what people consider permissible and professional behavior. In a follow-up to the initial Indiewire piece, more women came forward with their own accounts of Knowles’ harassment. Soon after this, Knowles announced he would be stepping down from Ain't It Cool News.

For the most part, both Faraci and Knowles have remained largely silent in the wake of the controversy that continues to rock Film Twitter. Faraci published a Medium post that was deleted soon after. Aside from dismissing the allegations as “100% untrue,” Knowles has continued to tweet from his personal account, sharing updates from Ain’t It Cool News. But in spite of their reticence, the conversation around the larger issue of harassment within the film community -- especially within the sphere of genre-related and geek media -- has endured, both online and off.

The truth of the matter is that these issues are not endemic to the Austin film scene only, and the Alamo Drafthouse is not the only business in which harassment complaints are swept under the rug or otherwise dismissed in favor of preserving a certain working atmosphere. Along with the Drafthouse, Fantastic Fest was a place for a particular niche of the film community, carving out a space on the internet for a lot of outlets who were devoted to the coverage of genre properties and geek media. Now, in the wake of this latest wave of allegations, many sites are struggling to address concerns about the future -- especially in regard to the pervasive "boys' club" atmosphere that champions pop culture underdogs while neglecting the writers, critics, and film lovers who experience the most toxicity.

But there’s potential for a shift here -- and for positive change to take place. Former Cinefamily employee Suki-Rose Sumakis wrote a powerful essay about attending this year's Fantastic Fest, where she participated in "difficult conversations" and "constructive exchanges" about the last few weeks with many others in attendance. Movie site Slashfilm also issued a statement regarding the recent revelations of past misconduct and pledged a new mission to fight for a positive, inclusive film culture in the future: "We want to learn. We want to be better allies. We are making this a priority moving forward." Fingers crossed that other outlets will soon follow their example.

As the community moves forward, there are ways in which we can take action to combat situations that have up until now enabled alleged harassers to continue their behavior without repercussions -- and, maybe eventually, to stop the cycle altogether.

1. Keep the conversation going.

It’s not enough to talk about it in the short term. The reason that stories of harassment are so prevalent and recurring is that, more often than not, they are the result of individuals who have been permitted to operate largely unnoticed within a sphere. Shining a spotlight on the epidemic of harassment by continuing the conversation, not just within the film community but in the industry at large, is one way to ensure that anyone in attendance at an event -- whether it be a theater employee, a film critic, a journalist, or a blogger -- feels safe within that space.

2. Implement a zero tolerance policy when it comes to harassment.

This isn’t just the responsibility of individuals; it’s also up to companies not only to have clearly stated rules when it comes to harassment, but to enforce them. It is against the law for employees who experience any form of harassment -- and report it -- to face workplace retaliation, and yet there are countless stories of victims who stay silent because they fear that speaking out against a co-worker, peer, or superior will lead to the loss of their job or prevent them from potential employment opportunities in the future. Accountability needs to be present on every rung of the ladder; harassers who have risen up the ranks and achieved certain positions of power shouldn't be permitted to leverage that power against others. And, rather than simply shuffle employees around to curtail the issue, these types of allegations need to be dealt with swiftly so that the company does not become an environment that sanctions inappropriate behavior, even if they don't outwardly condone it.

3. Speak out for those who can’t necessarily speak for themselves.

What this ongoing controversy has made abundantly clear is that the film community harbors too many “open secrets.” There are names that make their way through the grapevine, individuals who others are taught never to be alone with or flat-out avoid altogether. But there are also too many instances of people who have suffered sexual harassment and/or assault and aren’t in a position to speak up about it. That’s where speaking out comes in -- because it’s up to everyone, not just the victims, to offer their voice in order to uncloak wrongdoing and to lend support.

4. Create a better environment through inclusive hiring practices.

Truthfully, a change is already coming within the realm of geek media and coverage of genre properties. More and more diverse voices are being given platforms via which to share their reviews, criticism, and opinions when it comes to the media we all watch and absorb -- and that has to continue. Sites that brag about bringing on a wider range of writers and then hiring more of the same isn't enough to create bigger and better change. In order for everyone to feel truly safe within this particular corner of the media community, they need to know they have a place there and that their voice matters.

5. Listen.

Unfortunately, there’s still a level of mistrust that tends to accompany most stories of harassment, and it happens both in personal and professional realms. Rather than minimizing, dismissing, or otherwise questioning the victim’s recollection of events, we can listen to what they have to say -- which, in turn, may embolden others to share their stories. It’s a small step, but it’s another means of fighting back against the toxic underbelly that persists within the community.

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