A New Film Explores Sexual Harassment in the Movie Industry

Kitty Green, the writer and director of "The Assistant," joined professors James Schamus and Denise Cruz to discuss her new film within the context of the "Me Too" movement. 

Felix van Kann
February 10, 2020

On January 29, 2020, the film The Assistant by writer and director Kitty Green was screened at the Lenfest Center for the Arts as part of the School of the Arts’ Complex Issues event series. The movie was followed by a conversation with Green, producers Scott Macaulay (CC'84) and James Schamus, a film professor at the School of the Arts, and Denise Cruz, a professor of English and Comparative Literature.

The Assistant had its world premiere at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival and was theatrically released on January 31, 2020. The film follows one day in the life of Jane (Julia Garner), a recent college graduate and aspiring film producer, who has just started working as a junior assistant to a powerful entertainment mogul. Her day consists of making coffee, Xeroxing documents, ordering lunch, arranging travel, taking phone messages and onboarding a new hire. But gradually, she—and we—grow increasingly aware of the abuse that seeps into every aspect of her work day, an accumulation of degradations against which Jane decides to take a stand, only to discover that she is powerless.

During the discussion that followed the screening, Green explained her motivation in creating the film: “I was interested in female assistants’ emotional experience and what it felt like to be in such situations of no power. I interviewed people from the Weinstein company, Miramax, other studios and agencies, and I spoke to women in tech and engineering who all had similar stories. There were patterns emerging about the “boys club” and gendered division of labor. All these details kept coming up again to the point where they almost seemed like every woman’s story, as depressing as that sounds.”

Despite the importance of issues around sexual harassment, Schamus said that getting distribution for The Assistant was hard. “This was the most difficult film we ever put together,” he said. “Even though it is a period piece set a little before the 'Me Too' movement, it probably doesn’t come as a shock that it is still not a period piece in the industry. We were not welcome news to a lot of the people in the industry who we were trying to sell the movie to.”

Green added that she herself was a “film director on the festival circuit for 10 years. I got tired of the way people were treating me and the questions I got asked at Q & As. There is the specific issue of misconduct, but it starts with a larger problem, which is this attitude of ‘We’re not letting women into the industry or taking them seriously in it.’ Until we change this attitude, nothing will change. So I told myself why not try and fix both things at once? Rather than focus on these 'big bad men' and the assaults, let’s focus on the structural, systemic and cultural problems about getting women in the industry.”