Not Playing the Game

Actresses are changing Hollywood - and the world.

The global outreach and influence of Hollywood on society and culture has always been significant. But times are changing, and actresses are at the forefront of Hollywood activism in the 21st century.

Look back through the illustrious history of Hollywood, and you’ll find with it a long history of sexism, racism, homophobia—you name it, it’s there. While this ‘rot’ certainly isn’t unique to the industry, in recent years, there have been huge strides made in reworking Hollywood, exposing the powerful individuals who have controlled how the industry functions, and giving voice to those who have been systematically repressed. The glitz and the glamour cannot hide what is lurking backstage.

Olivia Munn is a long-time unacknowledged figurehead of this change, a loud voice against sexism in the industry despite the effect it’s had on her career. In the wake of the Hollywood sexual harassment scandal, which led to the outing and dismissal of countless powerful men across various domains (in what is now dubbed the ‘Weinstein effect’), movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up are giving more women like Munn the space to speak up and advocate for much-needed change.

“Despite the negative toll this has taken on her career, Munn doesn’t back down.”

Munn’s outspokenness first made waves when she forced Brett Ratner to admit he had lied about sleeping with her in 2004—his apology only surfaced in 2011. More recently, her outing of a registered sex offender who had been cast in The Predator has led to widespread support in both the media and the public, and resulted in the actor in question being cut from the film. In response, Munn said she felt ‘iced out’ by her cast mates, and that she was ‘chastised’ by studio executives for refusing to keep quiet.

Speaking on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Munn stated that ‘the people who collude to keep people like this in positions of power—that’s the real problem’ and acknowledged that speaking up about injustices no matter who you are is never easy. Despite the negative toll this has taken on her career, Munn doesn’t back down. She is not ‘playing the game’ of Hollywood, but exposing it.

“Being a ‘difficult woman’ is no longer an insult. The world needs more difficult women.”

In a historically male-dominated business where ‘respecting the silence has practically been a condition of employment’, women like Munn are exceedingly brave. This bravery and a commitment to the truth that has long been needed in Hollywood but hasn’t always been given attention. Using her platform to make people listen, to empower those who may have felt alone and ignored, Munn is just one of a wave of women in Hollywood who can now feel that speaking up won’t get them shut out. Being a ‘difficult woman’ is no longer an insult. The world needs more difficult women.

Munn is not alone in hearing victims’ voices. There’s Emma Watson, who is a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and vocal supporter of the HeForShe campaign. Natalie Portman, a long-time activist who has recalled her first experience of sexism in Hollywood at just thirteen. Jane Fonda, who has led numerous marches in the name of feminism and become outspoken about women’s rights. Audrey Hepburn, whose fifty years of work with UNICEF have been largely forgotten. Lena Waithe, Angelina Jolie, Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, Lady Gaga, Shonda Rhimes, Ellen Pompeo, Gabrielle Union, Gina Rodriguez. Female actors are proving that they’re unafraid to speak their mind.

As allegations of sexual harassment against industry figures built in number, many commented on how the disturbing reality of Hollywood was finally being uncovered, and that this time it would not—could not—go ignored. Vitally, not only are more women coming forward with their stories, more women are being believed. This sparks hope that the men who speak up about their experiences of sexual harassment, such as Terry Crews and Brendan Fraser, will too find solidarity in this growing community.

“Whether Hollywood will listen is yet to be proven”

Whether it’s a Hollywood studio or a university, institutions across the globe are under increasing pressure by those who have for so long been ignored, and it’s those who are complicit who will be mostly harshly judged, even when unpunished. Women like Munn know the risks of speaking out, but that they are now being heard signals positive change. Whether Hollywood will listen is yet to be proven. Despite this, it’s clear that the guilty are still retaining power. Think of Chris Brown or XXXTentacion and their history of domestic violence, or of Brett Kavanaugh and his admittance to the US Supreme Court, or Donald Trump’s rise to presidency—all cases symptomatic of an industry and society plagued by sexism.

Esme Johnson

Featured image courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image license found here.

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