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After Weinstein Retaliation, Sarah Ann Masse Is Urging Hollywood to Work With Sexual Harassment Survivors

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Sarah Ann Masse Hire Survivors Hollywood

In 2017, at the height of the #MeToo movement, actor, comedian and writer Sarah Ann Masse came forward with sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein.

In the years since, Weinstein has been convicted of rape, sentenced to 23 years in New York prison and awaits another sexual assault trial in Los Angeles. All the while, Masse has taken power back into her own hands by launching her own initiative, Hire Survivors Hollywood, and by bringing her activism to projects in which she’s been cast to ensure better working conditions and increased opportunities for survivors who have faced retaliation in the entertainment business.

As Weinstein’s rape conviction stands to possibly be overturned, allegations of sexual misconduct continue to be leveled against a number of high-profile men in Hollywood. Just this month, individuals have come forward with allegations against “Sex and the City” actor Chris Noth, CNN’s Chris Cuomo and “X-Men” director Bryan Singer. And while some progress has been made in regards to sexual misbehavior being exposed, many survivors express a common fear in telling their stories: retaliation for coming forward.

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Masse’s initiative, Hire Survivors Hollywood, aims to raise support for survivors of sexual violence within the entertainment industry by encouraging those in positions of power to make a pledge to hire survivors and silence breakers, and give them a fair chance through auditions, meetings and interviews, like any other person trying to make it in entertainment.

Masse hopes that her initiative will create a safe, equitable work environment, increase representation in the industry and encourage individuals who have faced sexual violence to come forward without fear of their careers being damaged.

“We know that if survivors of sexual violence who have yet to speak up see those who have already come forward being punished for telling the truth, it will make them less likely to come forward,” Masse tells Variety, adding that survivors are then overwhelmed by “the burden of silence, leaving predators free to continue operating within the industry, which makes our working environments less safe for everyone.”

Hire Survivors Hollywood started as a hashtag in late 2017. After Masse started using it, she was told she was being blacklisted for speaking against Weinstein. The initiative was formally launched in early 2019, after Masse spoke on a panel with other survivors at the Athena Film Festival. Now, Hire Survivors Hollywood is helping to guide productions on how to work with survivors at all stages, from development to release, and in all departments, covering actors, writers, directors, costumers, grips, editors and more.

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The key is for these wonderful talents, both above and below the line, to be given opportunities again,” Masse says.

To start, Hire Survivors Hollywood assists productions in helping to find survivors to audition for a more inclusive casting process. On set, the initiative encourages hiring a trauma educator to put on a training session with the cast and crew before cameras roll, intimacy a mental health professional for shoot days that might deal with triggering content and intimacy coordinators.

So far, Masse has teamed up with independent filmmakers, and is busy with her own outreach to those she knows in the film community. But, the big-picture goal is to work with major Hollywood studios on normalizing hiring survivors. She reveals to Variety that she is currently working on expansion efforts to reach out on a larger scale, along with ReFrame, an initiative founded by the Sundance Institute and Women In Film (WIF).

“The fight to achieve gender equality in Hollywood is also the fight to end gender-based violence and harassment in Hollywood. We have to go beyond improving the numbers of women hired on a production, and examine what we are all doing to ensure those workplaces are free of harassment,” says ReFrame’s director, Andrea Wilson Mirza, who is collaborating with Hire Survivors Hollywood on ReFrame’s new toolkit, which will launch in the new year to provide resources and training for producers committed to creating safer sets. 

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“Survivors of sexual harassment and assault in the entertainment industry have faced blacklisting and retaliation for too long,” says Kirsten Schaffer, CEO of WIF. “We must commit to uplift the voices of survivors who speak out against abuse and support them in sustaining the careers they deserve. Hire Survivors Hollywood is an important initiative that holds decision makers accountable and fosters the respect and care that survivors deserve.”

According to Anita Hill’s Hollywood Commission, which surveyed nearly 10,000 entertainment workers in 2020 about abuses in Hollywood, 75% of employees who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation.

Masse says she has been “largely frozen out of the more mainstream parts of our industry,” noting that in the three-and-a-half years since she came forward about Weinstein, she’s had roughly a half dozen auditions. Prior to speaking up in 2017, she says she was auditioning at least four times a month, and that was as an unknown transplant who was new to Los Angeles.

“Retaliation and blacklisting are alive and well,” Masse says.

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Last month, Oscar winner Mira Sorvino said in an interview that she was blacklisted from Hollywood for 20 years because of retaliation she faced from Weinstein. “I mourn the loss of the two decades of career that I would have had,” Sorvino told Vanity Fair in November. 

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” star Eliza Dushku, who was fired from the CBS series “Bull” in 2018 after accusing star Michael Weatherly of sexual harassment, testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee this November to fight against forced arbitration. Dushku testified that she “feared that if I pushed back or reacted strongly, my job could be at risk, or my professional reputation could be harmed.”

Masse says that recent exposés showcase the fear still associated with coming forward in the entertainment business’ post #MeToo era. Major publications have allowed women to speak up under pseudonyms, in order to protect their privacy, as evidenced in recent Noth stories where three women have spoken anonymously, alleging sexual assault and rape. (In the wake of the allegations, which the actor denies, he was axed by his agency and fired from “The Equalizer” on CBS.)

With her activism, Masse is hoping Hollywood takes things a step further and doesn’t just listen to survivors by holding perpetrators accountable for sexual misbehavior, but actually acknowledging the very reason survivors want to be heard — to be seen as human beings; not just accusers, who are plagued with their names printed next to their “cancelled” abusers on Google.

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Thus far, Masse has successfully gotten the pledge from two films in which she’s been cast: “Through the Rinse,” a Latino crime caper from Schoolhouse Pictures, and “A More Perfect Union,” a drama described as a COVID-era whistleblower drama that will star former Ohio State senator Nina Turner.

“Through the Rinse,” directed by writer Jason Avalos and set to begin production in New Orleans in early 2022, tells the story of the infamous “Aguila Blancos,” who were the Bonnie & Clyde of the 1990s. Masse has joined the cast, alongside Eme Ikwuakor, Maria Elena Laas and Diana Pombo. Avalos, who developed the project with Jason Cherubini of Dawn’s Light Media, says: “Being a BIPOC filmmaker, I am very aware of my trauma and marginalization, so it made sense to me to team up with Hire Survivors Hollywood to create opportunities for another group of people that face retaliation and marginalization.”

“A More Perfect Union,” directed by Ian Mark and Blaize Hall, will feature Turner playing a progressive presidential candidate in the 2020 election. Masse is part of the cast that also includes George Wyner, Quei Tann and Calinda Jade. The film is produced by Pasadonuts LLC, which has taken the Hire Survivors Hollywood pledge.

“We believe aligning with survivors surrounds us with people who are not only talented but have a depth and strength of character,” says Hall, who adds, “If our script is going to tackle conflicting material, we want actors on board who are ready to use their voices for the greater good.”

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Hall’s co-director, Mark, says he met with Masse early in the casting process to brainstorm how best to work with her initiative. After Masse posted on social media from an early table read, many survivors learned about the project and submitted themselves. The filmmakers then included a note in their breakdown about their commitment to inclusive hiring and encouraged actors to self-identify as such, if they felt comfortable. “I want to stress that we did not cast anyone in this film solely based on their status as a survivor,” Mark tells Variety.

“For us, it wasn’t so much about opening doors to some people and not others,” he adds. “It was about widening the doorway so all kinds of actors with all kinds of career paths felt comfortable walking through the door.”

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Berlin Fest Chief Carlo Chatrian on Gender Balance, Sigourney Weaver, Other Stars’ Travel Plans and COVID Testing

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carlo chatrian berlin film festival artistic director

Berlin Film Festival artistic director Carlo Chatrian on Wednesday unveiled the full lineup for the fest’s 72nd edition which he is hellbent on holding as an in-person event despite the global spread of the omicron variant, even after other top fests such as Sundance and Rotterdam have thrown in the towel and gone online.

Chatrian spoke to Variety about the selection and what he expects his “exercise in resistance,” as he has called it, to be like on the ground in Berlin.

One thing that I think is clear is that the global film community is supporting your determination.

Yes. Despite everything that is happening, the willingness and desire to be part of the festival on the part of production companies, sellers, actors and directors is very strong. I was even moved a couple of weeks ago when they told me that Paolo Taviani, who is 91, really wants to come at any cost. I think filmmakers are pining to be reconnected [with audiences] and the Berlinale even more than other festivals gives that sense, because you are at the center of a city. Now let’s hope that we will now be able to make all this concrete.

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You’ve pointed out that more than half of the films selected take place in the present day, but only two deal with the current pandemic. Which ones?

What I meant is that there are two films that are set nowadays and the characters in them deal with the pandemic, but they are not about people who get ill. One is the film by Claire Denis — “Both Sides of the Blade,” starring Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon — and the other one is Hong Sangsoo’s “The Novelist’s Film.” In both films you have people not only wearing masks, but also going though life during lockdown.

You also said family is a key focal point in many of the movies this year, as are human and emotional bonds. What are some of the films that are emblematic of this?

There is one film that I think can be taken as emblematic which is Ursula Meier’s “The Line.” Starting from the title. In the film one of the characters draws a line around a house. It’s a line that one of the characters cannot trespass because of something that happened. But the film is about being close to the line, being connected. The line is something that should divide, but at the same time it becomes a point of connection. It’s a film about how on the one hand we want to be connected, on the other hand we are afraid of being too close. 

But I’ve found this in several other films. Hong Sangsoo’s “The Novelist’s Film” is all about chance encounters. Some are real, others are just formalities. Another good example for me is Carla Simon’s “Alcarràs,” a film not set during the pandemic about how a family from a different generation in a rural area in Catalonia deal with a difficult moment in time when the fields they work in are set to become an area for solar panels.

There are lot of other films dealing with family issues. Another is “A Piece of Sky” by Michael Koch which is also about a family. “Before, Now & Then” by Indonesian director Kamila Andini is another film  — from a female point of view — about a family and dealing with the future and the past.

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You have twelve returning filmmakers, eight of which in competition. And five who have already won at least one Berlin Bear. What is the significance of this?

I highlighted that aspect because on the one hand this edition is very connected to the tradition of the Berlinale, which I’m very happy about –– 12 out of 18 means almost two thirds of the selection is made up of filmmakers who have already been to the Berlinale, who know the Berlinale. At the same time I wanted to highlight that we want to discover new voices. There are six, and not all of them young filmmakers, who are coming to the festival for the first time. So there is also a breath of fresh air that includes two first-time filmmakers. It’s a good balance.

Besides Paolo Taviani who are the others who have won a Bear?

Ursula Meier, who won a Silver Bear, Andreas Dresen, Hong Sangsoo, Denis Côté, and François Ozon.

Seven out of eighteen films in the competition are directed by women. More in general, where does this year’s lineup stand in terms of gender balance?

I can’t give you exact data, but I think we have a better gender balance than usual. [We have] more women than in the past few years. We are not 50/50 but we are working to reach that level. As I’ve already said, for me it’s important to point out that all the seven films by female filmmakers are in the selection because they are good. As good as the others, and maybe even more. I am happy that out of eighteen we found seven. I hope that in the future we will be able to find more.

You’ve said film teams coming to Berlin are going to be smaller. Who are some of stars who might be coming? Will Nick Cave be coming to promote his latest collaboration with Andrew Dominik “This Much I Know To Be True” screening in the Berlinale Special program?

I think it’s a bit too early to answer that question. Some films were invited just a few days ago. What I can tell you is that right now we expect all the films in competition to come with talent. Whether this will be the reality, it’s too early to say.

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My feeling is that all the films in competition will come with guests, whether that will be the case or not is a bit too early to say. Regarding Nick Cave, we are in contact with him. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s not to be ruled out.

“Call Jane,” the directorial debut of “Carol” screenwriter Phillis Nagy, which among other talents stars Sigourney Weaver, will premiere at the online-only Sundance. Berlin could give them an opportunity to have a non-virtual premiere. Will they be coming?

The production and the sales company are totally aware of that. But of course it’s easier for film teams traveling from Europe to commit three weeks prior. It’s tougher when it comes to the U.S., given the numbers and cases in the U.S. We expect Phillis and the main cast to attend, but I cannot confirm.

How about U.S. crime drama “The Outfit” directed by Graham Moore and starring Mark Rylance, Zoey Deutch and Dylan O’Brien?

Graham Moore is expected to attend. I don’t think Mark Rylance will be coming due to a work commitment. But we are expecting the other cast members. But again it’s the same as with “Call Jane.” Universal is willing to bring the director and some of the cast to Berlin to take advantage of the physical premiere opportunity with a red carpet, press conference, interviews. But not sure yet.

What is the feeling going to be like on the ground for people attending the festival, compared with Cannes and Venice? One of the elements of those festivals was having on-site testing. Will that also be the case in Berlin?

The biggest difference between us and Cannes and Venice is that we take place in winter. So we cannot expect people to hang out and meet outdoors. The other big difference is that the festival takes place in a big city which is the country’s capital. The rules are actually changing in Berlin as we speak. Yesterday in order to access a movie theater you had to have been tested [on a daily basis]. But right now you can access a movie theatre, if you are fully vaccinated, without having been tested. We need some time to really get a sense of the rules that will be in place at the beginning of February.

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If you ask about my sense, my feeling is that we will have a festival with screenings in place, with most delegations coming, albeit small ones, but with the filmmakers and lead talents. And I hope — and this is the big question here in Germany — that the audience will attend. But I am confident that they will overcome the fear that is of course normal because I feel that, as always, there is a lot of expectation for the Berlinale.

As for testing, the city of Berlin is spotted with testing stations. Unlike France and Italy, it’s already a habit for a Berliner to get tested once or twice a week.

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Fremantle Develops New Seasons of ‘La Jauría,’ ‘Señorita 89,’ Fires Up Latin American Format Biz (EXCLUSIVE)

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Family Feud Chile

Underscoring the robustness of a fast evolving Latin American TV market, U.K. production-distribution giant Fremantle and the Larraín brothers’ Fabula have in development a third season of gender abuse thriller “La Jauría” and second season of “Señorita 89.”

The moves comes as Fremantle is firing up both its premium scripted series and entertainment format business in Latin America, which is fast emerging as a key growth market for platforms and heavyweight independent production-distribution companies such as Fremantle.

Total Fremantle revenues from Latin America increased by 25% from 2019 to 2021 with production revenues in the region rising by nearly a third in the same period, said Jens Richter, Fremantle CEO, international.

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Both series come from Lucía Puenzo, fast consolidating as one of the foremost showrunners in high-end Latin America drama. “La Jauría” season two was co-produced by Amazon which took rights to Latin America and Spain. It was sold to HBO Max for the U.S.

An immersive thriller exposing the unseen and unseemly reality behind the glamor of a 1989 Miss Mexico beauty pageant, “Señorita 89” is produced by Fabula, L.A.-based Spanish-language streaming platform Pantaya, global streamer Starzplay and Fremantle, in a fertile production partnership.

The four partners have re-teamed on Pablo Fendrik’s anticipated sci-fi miniseries “The Shelter” (“El Refugio”). Fremantle Mexico and Sasha Robles are also partnering Pantaya and Starzplay on upcoming crime thriller “Toda la sangre.”

Fremantle has several more Latin American scripted series currently in development with co-production partners. On most it would take global distribution rights, Richter told Variety.

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In formats, Fremantle has recently  produced “Family Feud” with Chile’s Canal 13 and Brazil’s Globo, where it is currently airing, having bowed the format recently on Paraguay’s Canal 13.

“Got Talent” is launching later this year in the Dominican Rebublic, produced by East Coast Productions for Color Vision, and on Peru’s Latina TV.

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Got Talent Peru
Courtesy of Freemantle

Brazil’s TV Rede has re-upped on “Password.” “X-Factor” is set to launch soon on RCN Colombia.

Multiple further Fremantle licensing deals in Latin America, both renewals and launches, will be announced soon on “Got Talent,” “My Name Is” and “The Price is Right.”

Powerful market forces are at work.

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Fremantle originally struck a first-look deal with Pablo and Juan de Dios Larraín’s Fabula, which kicked off with 2019’s “La Jauría,” with the goal of produce out of Latin America premium drama that can travel into the world, as was the case with “La Jauría.”

That goal remains, said Richter. Since 2019, however, two new trends have emerged. “A lot more platforms came into the market, into Latin America. So there are a lot more people for us, a lot more partners for us to play with and – and it’s something we see in other territories as well – there’s a lot more curiosity and openness in terms of stories to tell.”

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Senorita 89
Courtesy of Pantaya

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Supercharged by escalating internet penetration, facilitated by the expansion of digital payment solutions, Latin American has become the second fastest-growing streaming market in the world, added Sheila Hall Aguirre, Fremantle EVP, content distribution & format sales, Latin America and Hispanic U.S.

“Latin America is looking for edgy themes: Crime, edgy female empowerment, and biopics,” she said.

Producing ever more for their own global platforms, Hollywood’s studios have pulled back from third party sales around the world. Free-to-air networks are positioning ever more as purveyors of “live” entertainment.

“The entertainment format business is mainly with more traditional local free to air channels. The pandemic proved really tough for broadcasters, hitting advertising hard. But now it’s rebound time,” said Richter.

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Fremantle has some of the biggest tried-and-tested formats in the world.

During the pandemic, Fremantle was also able to advise clients on how productions were still getting made in other parts of the world. “Consultancy was key,” she said.

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