A timely and powerful piece written by Sabrina Furminger for the Westender this week. Proud to be in the company of these women warriors.
Seems like an appropriate time to revisit a post from a few years back.
I hardly know where to begin with this…but I do know that something must be said.
Sexual harassment in this business is a dangerous subject. It feels like great courage is required to call it out and take on the lecherous among us. I recently worked with a man who….who…well, ugh…like I said, where do I even begin? Beyond his initial greetings with every woman on the crew being a comment on their looks, which is staggeringly sexist, objectifying and patronizing, he subsequently made the rounds grabbing women’s asses. Fortunately, my Mama raised me to call that shit out….so when he hugged me and grabbed my ass I called him on it and made it known that it wasn’t cool…thereby establishing that I was not a woman to be fucked with. But even more disturbingly, on multiple occasions, he took the hands of young women on our crew, pressed them up against his pants and rubbed his penis. With their hands.
Now, beyond the obvious, here’s the trouble: many young women don’t feel empowered to be able to say ‘No dude, not okay.’ In this case, the production was dependent upon this man delivering a performance in a short period of time. Having proven himself to be argumentative and problematic on multiple fronts already, the women who spoke to me didn’t feel like there was anything they could do about it…because they didn’t want to create waves, risking him not doing the job he was being paid to do.
This sickens me. It sickens me on a level I cannot adequately describe. That they would even think of such a thing makes me ashamed to be a part of this industry. Yet, I totally get why they felt powerless to do anything. It’s super important to point out that the producers in this case did EVERYTHING in their power to both protect the crew and limit this person’s access to the women on set. They tried to keep women away from him and had someone by his side 24/7. This isn’t about villainizing them. This is about the bigger picture of sexual objectification and harassment that our culture is so deeply steeped in that women often don’t even recognize what is happening as not okay…that’s how normal it is. The list of things I have witnessed over the years is too long to recount….inappropriate conversations, homophobic slurs, men whispering their previous night’s sexual adventures while we’re rolling, cock jokes, producers bringing their young one night stands to set, shooting nude scenes without the required closed set being observed, a producer trying to kiss me…someone once asked me on a date while I sat in a robe waiting for them to set up the next shot on a love scene. At this point in my career, although I could cease working tomorrow for all I know, I no longer feel I can sit by quietly and let this shit go. More accurately, I no longer feel like I have to. It is the responsibility of ALL OF US to ensure that no one, man or woman, feels that dark ball of shame in their stomach because of a situation they’re put in at work.
So, to the young women and men out there: if you ever feel like something is not okay, or that you’re put in a position where you feel violated and powerless, please find the closest ‘Chelah’ on set. Which is to say, find someone assertive, older and less concerned about possible professional consequences. Or call your union. Or your agent. Please do not think it is your responsibility to ‘let it go’ or ‘forget about it.’ We will stand up for you and be the one to take the hit. Furthermore, should you witness an act such as this, and you’re unsure whether it’s okay, ask yourself this: If the very same thing were being done to your young son or daughter, would it be okay? No? Then put a goddamn stop to it and prove that you value human beings, dignity and respect more than the bottom line of your production.
*I was shocked by the number of stories that were relayed to me after this was published the first time. Although I did my best to address all of them, it was a stark reminder of the sheer volume of abuses that are happening out there on a regular basis. We can ALL do better.
I saw a woman beating a younger woman on the street in front of UBCP today. I intervened when woman 1 started kicking woman 2 while ripping her phone, money & wallet away from her. Woman 1 then marched away, dragging her young daughter by the hand.
After ensuring the young woman was physically okay, albeit an emotional wreck, she told me woman 1 was her mother, and mom was angry because the young woman of 17 had made a mistake on her student visa application for attending University in the states (a repairable mistake, it turns out). So she beat her on the street and then abandoned her child.
I’m writing about it for a few reasons.
First, it was upsetting…and sharing sometimes helps (although I’m not writing in order to elicit any sort of pat on the back or rah-rah, to be clear).
Second, as soon as I stepped in, half a dozen other people who’d been watching, also stepped in…which is great, but when you see someone in physical danger, I encourage you to be the first. You don’t need to put yourself physically between two people, but letting your voice be heard loud and clear will make a difference.
Third, statistically I must know someone who beats their children….so the next time you feel yourself welling with rage or so frustrated that you consider beating your child as an option, I beg you to just pause for a few seconds and think about the potential consequences. I know that sounds new agey and hard to swallow in the moment of pure reaction, but I beg you, just take a breath and think.
After she refused any money or a ride home, I hugged this young woman close as she cried, and assured her that as she moves out into the world she will find people who greet her with kindness and are not as quick to anger as what she was currently experiencing. I promised her that one day she’d look back and feel relieved to no longer be subjected to such rage. She gave me a beautiful, wide smile through her tears. It was a pretty profound experience.
Her name was Nancy. She owned a house in Kerrisdale. 17 years ago I moved into her garden suite. She was a 42 year old semi-retired dentist who worked because she enjoyed it, not because she had to. She began teaching at UBC for the same reason. She was an incredible gardener, creating an oasis that we both enjoyed tremendously in the summers. She had many friends whose laughter would drift in my windows. After I’d been living there a couple years, her partner Andrew moved in. A couple years after that, she gave birth to a baby girl, who they called Gemma. Nancy was 47 at the time. She was kind, really funny, incredibly smart….a joy to be around and share space with. Once, when I was starting a new work venture and was short of dough, she didn’t charge me rent. That’s just the sort of person she was. When Gemma was 2, Nancy decided to take up running, and she ran a marathon in her 50th year. I lived below her for 10 years. I only ever left that home because I was flooded out. Literally.
In January she was diagnosed with cancer. Fucking cancer.
She kept the many people her life had touched updated by writing about her struggles, triumphs, wellness, illness, spirit…her whole journey. It was beautiful to read. Her hope. Her pain. Her positive yet realistic outlook.
Yesterday she kept popping into my head over and over and over. I knew that meant she was very likely making her way out of this life with pure love. Today Andrew emailed that Nancy Johnson nee Scott passed away beautifully and consciously yesterday afternoon. She was a young 59.
So, I’m sitting in my new garden, surrounded by just the kind of beauty she loved, and raising a glass of chenin blanc to this wonderful woman who was a force in my life and the lives of so many others.
Go ahead and love your people today.
I’ve been super conflicted all week. As per the standard in this business, I’ve been encouraged to promote Candiland, for which we go back to shoot our second block in 2 days, through social media. Now, the notion of promoting anything is already a struggle for me. I don’t do real well with pushing my product. Never have. But that’s not the part that’s conflicting. It’s the discussion about process for this film, and in particular, the 6 week weight loss we’ve been tasked with in service of the story. Publicly discussing, and thereby endorsing, either speedy weight loss or weight loss in general is a tricky one for me. I’ve taken a very clear position on the tyranny of our culture when it comes to women and their bodies. On top of which, 6 weeks is a very short period of time for dramatic weight loss…and I won’t ever encourage anyone else to set it as a goal. I’m incredibly cautious and sensitive to the risk of contributing to someone’s negative feelings towards their own body.
However, as the story requires it, I’ve gone on this journey in the healthiest was possible. One thing I knew from the outset is that I was going to be safe and smart about it. I’m not wiling to sacrifice my health or organs for storytelling. Matthew started losing his eye sight. Christian took up smoking & lived on a can of tuna & and apple a day. There is conflicting research about cleansing and detoxification. I choose not to state a position on the subjects as it is a very dangerous and provocative issue….people will hear what they want to and often use statements of others to justify their own neuroses. I will say this: I’ve been eating a lot of grilled white fish, leafy green vegetables & chick peas. No sugar, dairy, processed foods, simple carbs or oils. I’m sweating at the gym every day, as specifically directed by my fitness genius, Garfield Wilson. I’m getting lots of sleep & walking Gaffer as usual. These are all things I’m comfortable inspiring anyone to try. I’ve changed my body as significantly as I am able in a 6 week period. My organs are healthy (had them checked) and my vitamin, mineral & electrolyte intake are closely monitored. I have moments of doubt. Is it going to be enough? Have I met the challenge? But these are toxic thoughts…and I’m choosing to let them pass through without clinging to them. The bottom line: I am healthy.
Something that struck me: In researching this work-required-transformation, when I googled ‘transformation’ or ‘actress weight loss’ no women came up. It’s all men. The implication being that for women it is such a normal and expected standard that we be thin, that it doesn’t gain coverage. Conversely, if a man loses a significant amount of weight for a role, it’s celebrated as brave, impressive and outside the norm in this profession. Transformations for women are generally reported on when a beauty has been ‘brave’ enough to be made a wall flower…or even more revolutionary: put on weight! This contrast is shocking and, sadly, not at all surprising.
So, here we are, 2 days away from shooting the second block of Candiland, roughly the remaining 35 pages of the script. I’m scared. Which is one of the reasons I had to do this movie. When I first read the script, I said no. There are a few scenes and circumstances, having nothing to do with the weight loss, that I was, and am, incredibly uncomfortable with. Putting images of sexual violence out into the Zeitgeist remains something I’m struggling with. Though after sitting down with Rusty and Clayton and hearing out their vision for a heavily stylized film, I came around and got behind the vision. They also agreed to make me a producer, thus allowing me to feel a little safer in the creative control of what we’re putting out. But this process has been dark and messy and imperfect for me. I have moments of fearing I’ve made a mistake by agreeing to tell this story. I have great compassion for Tess, the woman I play…but I have a hard time respecting her. And this is, hands down, the darkest material I’ve ever worked on. Honestly, I’m kind of dreading parts of what we have to shoot this week. But if I’m not scared every now and then…well…I’m not artistically pushing myself.
To be continued…
This is going to come as a shock to some: we actors are not the characters we play. In fact, usually, those characters are straight up make believe (I can hear the collective gasp). I have played a hooker, a murderer, a pilot, a mother, a bigot, a wife, a tarot card reader, a lesbian, a teacher, a surgeon, a gun-slinging land baroness, an asshole and a saint. People have never seemed to have a problem with me professionally pretending to be any of these things. Yet I find myself on the receiving end of some intense judgement because I play a woman who, among many other things, happens to be a Christian and I, Chelah, have the audacity to be my-potty-mouth-self on Twitter. Now, first of all, let me point out to the uninitiated that Twitter is a free service on which you can choose who to ‘follow’ and, important to note, who you do not ‘follow.’ Complaining about the content of someone’s tweets is akin to barging into a strangers house and complaining about what they are eating for dinner.
The more important issue this brings up is the choice to remain closed to an opinion with which I currently disagree. To only support artists who affirm your own beliefs is a very narrow way of being in the world. All art is an opportunity to open our eyes to differing view points WITHOUT it having any adverse affect. We can choose to let it change our minds or not. Simple as that. I choose to read, watch and listen to people with whom I may not agree on many issues….but I sacrifice the possibility of learning something that may even shift my perspective if I choose not to take in new information. I find the alternative asinine.
Tweeting has been a super fun creative outlet for me for years. Occasionally I tweet something work related, though generally I aim to entertain, provoke & basically brag about my dog. If you are a fan of a show I happen to be on, or even a fan of the work I do, I’m glad it brings you some joy. But don’t ever think that I’m going to censor my true self for your comfort. I will not. Ever. I say this with a deep, still and unapologetic confidence.
**Spoiler Alert** Johnny Depp is not a pirate.
Peace out, f***ers. (as I laugh off into the night…)
Fame is a game. Straight up. A game with no true substance or worth. It doesn’t exist as a tangible thing….making the game all the more absurd.
- Take an hour of your precious life and sit down with a financial planner now. Just one little hour. I promise it’s worth it.
- Have one credit card. Each time you use, pay it off before bed. Make this a habit.
- Start a good things jar. Everytime something lovely happens, write it on a piece of paper and put it in your good things jar.
- Put cream on your feet and hands each night when you climb into bed.
- Sit in the shade.
- Learn to love smoothies.
- Put lemon in your water. It alkalines your system. Disease doesn’t like alkaline.
- Fuck diets. Eat what makes your body feel good, not your emotions.
- Start therapy. Now. Trust me. Not everyone needs it, but everyone can benefit from it.
- Dance. Whenever possible.
- Sing. Same applies.
- Dare to just experience a moment instead of take a picture of it.
- Put your phone away during meals. Or visits. Or walks. Actually, just put your phone away whenever possible.
- Cry if you need it. You’ll feel better.
- Generally, the same applies to throwing up. (also, see next)
- Never have another drink if it’s after midnight.
- If you have an opportunity to say something kind to someone, say it. Don’t worry about being embarrassed. Your kindness will have an effect.
- Ask for help when you need it.
- Play with your dog.
- Friends don’t make friends do shooters.
- You should never have to convince someone to love you. It also won’t work.
- Fuck high-heels.
- Do 5 minutes of stretching every morning.
- If you have the chance to be in the woods, go.
- Start to learn an instrument. Now.
- Always leave the party when you’re still having fun.
- Don’t drive after even one drink. Just make it a rule for yourself.
- Go for a bike ride.
- Do the dishes before going to bed.
- If you want to say ‘I love you,’ say it. Only truth will result.
- Always wait 2 days before sending an angry email.
- Know what your 5 favourite books are.
- Don’t text someone after 1:AM. Unless it’s a cab.
- Dive into the water whenever possible. Wading in is no way to live.
- Get your hair wet and let your mascara run. It’s worth it.
- Have the courage to be wrong. Even when you’re certain you’re right.
- Listen three times as much as you talk.
- Forget this list. Forget other lists. Make your own list.
Let people help you.