No Means No; Emma Thompson’s Powerful #MeToo
Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson
Emma Thompson is undoubtedly one of the UK’s most acclaimed actresses; a newly appointed dame of the British Empire and a two-time Oscar winner, known for her portrayals of enigmatic women. In addition to her role as an actress, Thompson is a screenwriter, author, comedian and political activist (you may have heard about the banned Iceland Greenpeace advert).
Through her career, Thompson has enjoyed success both in the UK and the US and continues to be a role model for many. Her decision, then, to leave the filming of the upcoming animated film Luck came as a bit of a surprise, but was done with very little fanfare or reporting. All of that changed this week after Thompson released her letter to the animation company responsible for the film, Skydance.
At the beginning of the year, Skydance Media Chief Executive David Ellison announced that he was hiring John Lasseter to head Skydance Animation. This announcement caused a great deal of shock for those within and outside of the company; only months earlier Lasseter had ended his relationship with Pixar and parent company Disney after multiple allegations of inappropriate behaviour and the creation of a frat house-like work environment. Lasseter had admitted to inappropriate hugging and “other missteps”. (Los Angeles Times)
After the announcement was made, Ellison sent a long email to staff, noting that Lasseter was contractually obligated to behave professionally and convened a series of “town hall” meetings in which Lasseter apologised for past behaviour and asked to be given the chance to prove himself to his new staff. At the same time, Mireille Soria, president of Paramount Animation, with which Skydance has a distribution deal, took a highly unusual step. She organised a meeting with female employees to tell them that they could decline to work with Lasseter.
According to Emma Thompson’s representatives, from the moment Lasseter’s hire was announced, Thompson began conversations about extricating herself from the project. She officially withdrew from the film Luck on January 20th. Three days later, Thompson sent a letter to Skydance management, acknowledging the complications caused by a star withdrawing from a project, but citing questions raised by Lasseter’s hire in making it impossible for her to continue production.
In the past, Thompson has been a vocal supporter of the #MeToo movement. Speaking to The Guardian last year, she explained:
“#MeToo has been a wonderful moment of clarity.
“When I was a young woman, older men in the industry would constantly try it on. I was always able to say no, and they took that for an answer. What younger women have to encounter terrifies me.”
Thompson has not publicly commented on her decision to leave Luck, instead making the full letter available to the media:
“As you know, I have pulled out of the production of “Luck” — to be directed by the very wonderful Alessandro Carloni. It feels very odd to me that you and your company would consider hiring someone with Mr. Lasseter’s pattern of misconduct given the present climate in which people with the kind of power that you have can reasonably be expected to step up to the plate.
“I realise that the situation — involving as it does many human beings — is complicated. However these are the questions I would like to ask:
“If a man has been touching women inappropriately for decades, why would a woman want to work for him if the only reason he’s not touching them inappropriately now is that it says in his contract that he must behave “professionally”?
“If a man has made women at his companies feel undervalued and disrespected for decades, why should the women at his new company think that any respect he shows them is anything other than an act that he’s required to perform by his coach, his therapist and his employment agreement? The message seems to be, “I am learning to feel respect for women so please be patient while I work on it. It’s not easy.”
“Much has been said about giving John Lasseter a “second chance.” But he is presumably being paid millions of dollars to receive that second chance. How much money are the employees at Skydance being paid to GIVE him that second chance?
“If John Lasseter started his own company, then every employee would have been given the opportunity to choose whether or not to give him a second chance. But any Skydance employees who don’t want to give him a second chance have to stay and be uncomfortable or lose their jobs. Shouldn’t it be John Lasseter who has to lose HIS job if the employees don’t want to give him a second chance?
“Skydance has revealed that no women received settlements from Pixar or Disney as a result of being harassed by John Lasseter. But given all the abuse that’s been heaped on women who have come forward to make accusations against powerful men, do we really think that no settlements means that there was no harassment or no hostile work environment? Are we supposed to feel comforted that women who feel that their careers were derailed by working for Lasseter DIDN’T receive money?
“I hope these queries make the level of my discomfort understandable. I regret having to step away because I love Alessandro so much and think he is an incredibly creative director. But I can only do what feels right during these difficult times of transition and collective consciousness raising.
“I am well aware that centuries of entitlement to women’s bodies whether they like it or not is not going to change overnight. Or in a year. But I am also aware that if people who have spoken out — like me — do not take this sort of a stand then things are very unlikely to change at anything like the pace required to protect my daughter’s generation.
“Yours most sincerely,
“Emma Thompson” (Los Angeles Times)
Skydance has been contacted by members of the media including the LA Times and The Guardian and have so far declined to comment.
In releasing her letter, Thompson has become a voice for those within the industry in a post-Me Too world. Walking away from a film that she wanted to be a part of, and leaving behind a director that she respected and enjoyed working with, add to the gravitas of her message.
Critics have been quick to jump on the thread of “second chances” and Thompson’s seemingly inflexible view that doubts Lasseter’s ability to change. However, it is not so much Lasseter’s “second chance” that Thompson is questioning, but the overall allowance of a second chance for some and not others.
Thompson succinctly summarises her decision at the end of her letter; “I can only do what feels right”. In using her voice; the voice of a respected actress and screenwriter, the voice of a British dame, the voice of a celebrity who has garnered respect for her career accomplishments and ‘no means no’ attitude; Thompson can give a second chance to those who have suffered or continue to suffer an attitude of “entitlement” towards their bodies.