The last decade has seen Hollywood push its boundaries further. There is now more sex, drugs and violence shown than ever before, making films a breeding ground for harmful content that carries consequences off-screen and exposes a sordid reality. 

A history of sexual misconduct

According to USA Today, 94 per cent of women in Hollywood have experienced some level of sexual harassment. Harvey Weinstein is just the latest example.

On February 24th, 2020 a jury convicted Weinstein of two out of five charges; one count of sexual assault and one count of rape. He is now serving 23 years in prison but plans to appeal his sentence.

Following Weinstein’s incarceration, in what has been dubbed the ‘Weinstein effect’, dozens of men and women have gone public about sexual harassment. Continuing press coverage has highlighted concerning industry trends, detailing legal constraints for women.

Abuse excused as ‘Art’

In 1999, The Blair Witch Project was released. By today’s standards, the film is rather tame but was a hit in its heydays. This was mostly thanks to some very clever marketing. The ‘found footage’ myth, and the fact that cast members were listed as either dead or missing, really served to heighten a morbid fascination amongst the public. The film had a profound impact on everyone involved. One of its stars, Heather Donahue, had this to say:

‘My obituary was published when I was 24. It’s a complicated thing to be dead when you’re still VERY MUCH ALIVE and eager to make a name for yourself’.

But the crazy stunts did not stop there. During filming, the cast was sent into the woods with no idea of what was in store for them. To make their reactions more convincing, they were forced into a state of constant anxiety. Any interaction between cast and crew was severely limited. During the night, the director would sneak up and shake their tents. Food intake was kept to a minimum to make the cast ‘hangry’.

Much criticism and backlash followed the film’s release. Donahue admits she struggled to find work. In 2008, she left acting to grow medical marijuana.

Perhaps the most famous example of actor torment was Shelley Duvall’s experience of The Shining. As well as cutting her lines, famed director Stanley Kubrick forced Duvall to shoot the iconic baseball bat scene 127 times! By the final cut, she was in tears. Completely shaken by the whole experience, chunks of her hair were falling out from all the stress. Working with Kubrick became unbearable for Duvall, with the director preferring to keep her in the dark about traumatic scenes just to keep them ‘authentic’. He allegedly even told cast and crew to ignore her. The result was that Duvall was left isolated and alone. Filming The Shining contributed to her mental breakdown and reclusive behaviour.

A desensitized audience?

I would not be missing the mark if I made a general assumption that western society has become accustomed to sexual and violent imagery, which is now almost expected in a film. I certainly consider myself desensitised. One of my favourite television series is Peaky Blinders. It’s probably biased to say, but I believe the show’s violent content contributes to the story. However, at times, producers have taken advantage of this. Violence for violence’s sake though is hardly conducive to storytelling or art. But the tremendously popular Game of Thrones clearly disagrees. Throughout its eight seasons, the show has been rife with nudity and female subjugation. And don’t even get me started on Tarantino’s latest offering, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood — a culmination of both and even managed to shine at the Oscars, with Brad Pitt taking the Best Supporting Actor award.

Michael Bay is another name synonymous with promoting on-screen violence, and particularly sex. Transformers was originally a children’s cartoon until Bay got his hands on it. In 2016, Kate Beckinsdale talked about working with Bay in the romantic war-time drama Pearl Harbour, saying:

‘I think he was baffled by me because my boobs weren’t bigger than my head and I wasn’t blond’.


‘I was told if I got the part, I would have to work out. And I just didn’t understand why a 1940’s nurse would do that’.

Remarkably, complaints about excessive sex and violence have declined over the years, suggesting there is increasing tolerance amongst viewers. A large proportion of the sex shown in Game of Thrones was non-consensual. Programmes like this used to be considered ‘extreme’, but add an enticing story and audiences are now likely to continue watching. This just makes way for more of the same content.

Vulnerable child stars

One of the most infamous cases was in 1977. Roman Polanski left the US after being convicted of sexual abuse against a minor. Samantha Gailey was only 13 years old. When describing the circumstances, Gailey said that Polanski took her to the house of Jack Nicholson in LA under the pretext of a Vogue modelling contract. Gailey was drugged and photographed topless. Once alone, Polanski took her to the master bedroom and raped her. He fled incarceration and now resides in France, where he is protected from extradition. Gailey feels the press sensationalised her case.

In March 2003, Polanski was awarded an Oscar for The Pianist. He was absent from the ceremony but still received a standing ovation. Nothing more to say here.

Then in 2010, another victim came forward, Charlotte Lewis. Polanski was accused of forcing her to have sex with him in order to secure a role in the 1986 film, Pirates. At the time, Lewis was just 16.

Both victims were let down by the legal system.

Is the impunity bubble about to burst?

There is an invisible bubble wrapped around Hollywood that insulates its members from sexual misconduct and abuse. For those with money and power, Hollywood is a playboy’s dream. Weinstein’s arrest set off a warning, but that doesn’t mean the great bubble is in danger of bursting any time soon.

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