Staplers. Glass bowls. A baked potato.
These are just a few of the objects that Scott Rudin, a prolific film and theater producer, has been accused of throwing at or in the direction of his employees, as part of a long abuse model alleged yesterday in the Hollywood Reporter.
A number of former employees of production company Rudins in New York, including young assistants, have told stories about the toxic and downright dangerous work environment. Rudinproducer of Broadway movies and shows as diverse as No country for old people, the dictator and The Book of Mormonallegedly smashed a computer screen on an assistant’s hand for not having reserved a seat for him on a particular flight. Another employee left work in an ambulance after having a panic attack when Rudin smashed a glass bowl against the wall. Others tell of lies, manipulation and intimidation in what amounts to psychological torture. There has been an occasional disregard for human rights, a staff member told The Hollywood Reporter.
Rudins’ alleged behavior has long been an open secret in the entertainment industry. 1994 film Swim with sharks, about an abusive film director played by Kevin Spacey (who has since been accused of sexual misconduct), was allegedly inspired by Rudins’ tyranny. Television producer Robert King admitted that a sadistic character in the series Wrong has been inspired by Rudin, and that he personally knows people mistreated by him. A 2005 Wall Street Journal article titled Boss-Zilla! revealed that Rudin used 119 different assistants over a five-year period.
The long-awaited producer comeuppance highlights the daily abuses in Hollywood that are often overlooked due to the industry’s unique dehumanizing work culture. A harmful cocktail of factors, including a lack of diversity in leadership, a deeply distorted power structure that exploits desperate workers, and a conceited, ego-driven competitive landscape, allows the entertainment industry to continue to grow. ‘get away with all forms of abuse. This is true even after the allegations against Harvey Weinstein sparked the #MeToo movement and helped take down some of his worst offenders.
No diversity at the top
As is the case in many industries, white males dominate leadership roles in Hollywood. But they dominate them to an even greater degree in the entertainment arena than they do pretty much anywhere else. A recent report from McKinsey found that 92% of top movie executives are whiter than any other industry studied. (Healthcare executives, by comparison, are 82% white). He also revealed that 80% of film directors are men.
Other surveys have came to similar conclusions. While the portrayal of race, gender, and sexual orientation is improving (albeit slowly) on screen, they aren’t making the same progress in boardrooms and corner offices. Hollywood is unlikely to change its abusive culture until it starts hiring more female bosses. Studies show that men are more likely to bully in the workplace, while women are more likely to be bullied. Men, of course, also engage statistically more crimesviolent and other than women.
Little responsibility for those responsible
In some industries there are boards of directors and other forms of oversight to keep those in power online. But due to the nature of the entertainment industry, many abusive executives do not respond to anyone.
Human resources departments, where they exist, often attempt to sweep allegations of abuse under the rug, or deal with them internally, in order to protect the company. (The human resources department of the Harvey Weinsteins company, for example, failed to protect its employees). Rudin forced employees to sign non-bashing agreements, according to the Hollywood Reporter, and quietly settled the bullying allegations against him.
Many film, television and theater workers are freelancers with no human resources departments to turn to. Some are unionized, but the power structure in major entertainment industries deters denouncing executives. Everyone is replaceable, including talent. Although they have their own power, famous actors are often loath to use it against executives like Rudin, as they are the ones who end up launching movies and getting projects funded and produced. All entertainment workers have someone to disbelieve in executives.
Being bullied as a rite of passage
Perhaps the only thing that sets the entertainment industry apart from the rest is its perverted system of progress. Virtually anyone who progresses into higher roles will have had to resist some type of abuse to get there. In fact, young Hollywood hopefuls who dream of succeeding in Los Angeles or New York are often prepared for this inevitability that executives exploit.
In Hollywood, bullying is tolerated in connection with paying your upward dues and has been openly displayed in movies like the 1994s. Swim with sharks and 2019 Assistant, Anita Hill, chair of the Hollywood Commission, a group that works to make the industry more inclusive and fair,written in a report last year, review of abusive behavior in the entertainment industry. In a survey of nearly 10,000 entertainment workers, the Commission found that employees under the age of 40 were much more likely to report abuse and that women were twice as likely to experience abuse often or very often than men.
This toxic culture has long been seen as mere show business in an industry that enables massive egos and makes decision makers believe they are more important than they are. It attacks desperate young workers, dehumanizes them and leads to even more forms of abuse. The Hill-led Commission suggested training and witness intervention platforms to anonymously submit bullying allegations as two ways to tackle widespread abuse.
Unlike Harvey Weinstein, whose downfall came because his power was already waning, Rudin is still a very influential figure in Hollywood. He is currently producing several films and performing with renowned attached actors, hoping to add Oscars and Tonys to his collection. The fact that former workers are speaking out now, while still in power, suggests that the industry is starting to grapple once and for all with the twisted culture that is behind its many abuses.
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