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A Year After #MeToo, Hollywood’s Got a Malaise Money Can’t Cure

Category: Art & Culture,Arts

Hundreds if not thousands of Fox employees may lose their jobs under the Disney merger. Disney managers, meanwhile, are bracing for the difficult job of smoothly integrating the Fox people who will remain — the “feral foxes,” as one Disney-associated producer put it. The Disney culture is almost militaristic in its respect for hierarchy and focus on its family-friendly mission. Fox is known for openly warring executives, particularly in its film division, and embrace of coarse movies (“Deadpool”) and series (“American Horror Story”).

Prompted by #MeToo and earlier controversies like the #OscarsSoWhite outcry, there has been a stark shift toward greater diversity in casting, crew staffing and storytelling. There are new rules for auditions (no more hotel rooms) and zero-tolerance responses to offensive jokes on Twitter, as the director James Gunn discovered in July when Disney fired him from the “Guardians of the Galaxy” series. New human resources chiefs have been hired or will soon be at CBS, Sony Pictures, Viacom, Pixar and Endeavor, which owns Hollywood’s largest talent agency, W.M.E.

“It used to be more difficult to secure protections for actresses who are not household names — for actresses with the least power,” said Jamie Feldman, an entertainment lawyer whose clients range from A-listers (Viola Davis) to rising stars (Juno Temple). “If you pushed back on nudity, for example, there was often this cavalier tone about her needing to understand the price of entry. That has changed completely. People are very conscious about not wanting to be seen as disrespectful.”

Companies are looking for protection, too. Multiple studios are working to include morality clauses in their talent contracts. Some unions prohibit such provisos, but where possible, Fox is considering language stipulating that it can fire anyone whose conduct “results in adverse publicity or notoriety or risks bringing the talent into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule.” Spotted, a start-up that evaluates celebrity endorsement-deal risk, has lately been talking about “disgrace insurance,” which is offered by multiple underwriters and was also the subject of a panel at the most-recent Producers Guild of America conference.

“Brands have become more leery of aligning themselves with actors because of #MeToo,” said Janet Comenos, Spotted’s chief executive. “That means potentially millions of dollars not flowing into the Hollywood ecosystem — the managers, the agents.”

It is impossible to know, of course, whether such changes will end or even dramatically reduce the abuses of power that have made Hollywood the center of the #MeToo revolution. There is clearly a palpable difference in behavior. But will an out-of-control business culture that operated for decades be permanently transformed? It will take years to find out, and there is a growing disillusionment among some of those on the front lines.

“Generally speaking, I still don’t see a real willingness to do what it takes to change a troubled culture,” Ms. Gulas said. “It takes investment, and it takes a lot of stamina to see it through. Most of these companies want a quick solution. They want a Band-Aid.”

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