#MeToo: “We need to start acknowledging what an epidemic this is.”

“This has all got to stop. We need to start acknowledging what an epidemic this is, and what a deep-seated problem this is.”
Rachel McAdams, Vanity Fair

As you might know, activist Tarana Burke created the #MeToo hashtag and actress Alyssa Milano is credited for popularizing the hashtag and starting a movement on twitter. Today, Vanity Fair published an in-depth interview with Rachel and Selma Blair in which they shared their traumatic encounters with director James Toback early in their careers. The article can be found below/after the jump. Please be aware that both encounters are very detailed and could be triggering. In case you are in need of support we would like to highlight the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline and the “Spotlightsurvivor resources page. Finally, to paraphrasing director Ava DuVernay: “Saluting [Rachel and Selma Blair] and all who speak out. And all who don’t. All who survive this. And all who don’t.” We are with you all.

A week after The New York Times and The New Yorker ran back-to-back reports cataloguing Harvey Weinstein’s alleged serial sexual harassment of women in Hollywood, actress Selma Blair saw a story on HuffPost about writer and director James Toback’s new film that made her blood run cold. The piece, written by a female reporter who interviewed Toback at the Venice Film Festival, was titled “James Toback Gets Us, He Truly Gets Us in ‘The Private Life of a Modern Woman.’”

Blair tweeted the story with a single word in response: “Ironic.”

In the days that followed, Blair, who has appeared in films such as Cruel Intentions, Legally Blonde, and Hellboy, learned about a group of women on social media who claimed to have been sexually harassed by the director (Two Girls and a Guy) and Oscar-nominated writer (Bugsy). Their accounts sounded eerily familiar. The group, which included Blair, worked with Los Angeles Times reporter Glenn Whipp on a story that broke on October 22, citing 38 women in total who alleged sexual harassment suffered at the hands of Toback. Since then, the number of accusers has risen to more than 200 women—including Blair and Oscar-nominated actress Rachel McAdams, who both spoke exclusively to Vanity Fair this week about their experiences with Toback. (Toback, 72, has written for Vanity Fair in the past. When reached by phone Wednesday evening, Toback said he had no comment on any of the allegations.)

Blair, 45, and McAdams, 38, tell remarkably similar stories about Toback’s modus operandi—the requests to meet him in hotel rooms, flattery about their acting skills, the promise of a role in the movie Harvard Man, which opened in 2001. The consistent themes in the stories of Blair, McAdams, and the hundreds of actresses who have come forward with their own tales of harassment hint at some of the reasons charges of sexual misconduct have plagued Hollywood since its inception. Actors and actresses, newcomers especially, essentially are always auditioning—any encounter, especially in a company town such as Los Angeles, could lead to a big break. The situation is compounded by the fact that many acting courses teach students to use, explore, and expose their vulnerabilities. So when a threatening individual manipulates a performer’s insecurities in a meeting purportedly related to an acting role, the experience can be confusing.

Explained McAdams, “I was 21 and in the middle of theater school when I met [Toback]. Theater school was a very safe space.” But Toback, she said, “used the same language during my audition—that you have to take risks and sometimes you’re going to be uncomfortable and sometimes it’s going to feel dangerous. And that’s a good thing—when there is danger in the air and you feel like you are out of your comfort zone.”

When reports of Toback’s alleged harassment began pouring in, both Blair and McAdams were motivated to speak out. Blair, who cooperated with the initial Los Angeles Times story on the condition her name not be used, said Toback threatened her life after their encounter, which she said took place in 1999. And in the nearly 20 years that followed, the actress only told two people about her experience.

“I did not want to talk about this ever again,” McAdams said. “However, even though it is a really bad memory, I feel like some good could come from talking about it now.”

Rachel McAdams was a 21-year-old theater student in Toronto when she was invited to audition for Toback for a role in Harvard Man.

This was a big audition. I was pretty fresh and new to all of this. So we did the audition and he said, “I think you’re really, really talented. I think you’re quite good for this actually, but I’d like to workshop it a little with you, and maybe rehearse a bit more and see if we can get you all the way there. Leave your phone number with the casting agent’s assistant, and we’ll get together and workshop this a bit.”

So I did. And he called me that night saying, “Would you come to my hotel so we can work on this and talk about it?” I actually had my first TV job the next day and had to get up at five in the morning. So I said, “Is there any other time that we can get together?” I didn’t really want to go to a hotel and meet him. He said, “It has to be tonight. I am going out of town first thing tomorrow. This is our only chance.” I really didn’t want to go. I was so nervous about this show that I was starting because I hadn’t done TV before. I wanted to focus on that, but he was so insistent. So I went over to the hotel, went to the room, and he had all of these books and magazines splayed out on the floor. He invited me to sit on the floor which was a bit awkward. Pretty quickly the conversation turned quite sexual and he said, “You know, I just have to tell you. I have masturbated countless times today thinking about you since we met at your audition.”

He started that kind of manipulative talk of, “How brave are you? How far you are willing to go as an actress? I want to build some intimacy between us because we have to have a very trusting relationship and this is a very difficult part.” Then he asked me to read passages out loud from different reviews of his films and different critics talking about his work. It was all so confusing. I kept thinking, “When are we getting to the rehearsal part?” Then he went to the bathroom and left me with some literature to read about him. When he came back he said, “I just jerked off in the bathroom thinking about you. Will you show me your pubic hair?” I said no.

Eventually, I just excused myself. I can’t remember how long I was there. I felt like I was there forever. This has been such a source of shame for me—that I didn’t have the wherewithal to get up and leave. I kept thinking, “This is going to become normal any minute now. This is going to all make sense. This is all above board somehow.” Eventually I just realized that it wasn’t.

I was very lucky that I left and he didn’t actually physically assault me in any way.

I had never experienced anything like that in my life. I was so naïve. I think I just didn’t want to believe that it could turn worse. But yes, there was this sinking feeling inside of me. Like, “Oh my god, I am in this hotel room alone with this person.” I just kept trying to normalize it—thinking, “This has to be some weird acting exercise. This is some kind of test. I just have to show that I am brave and this does not bother me and nothing can shake me.” I really was frozen. My brain was not catching up.

When I went home, I just couldn’t sleep. It was the worst way to start a new job. I got up very early in the morning and called my agent at the time. And she was outraged. She was very sorry. But she also said, “I can’t believe he did it again. This isn’t the first time that this has happened. He did this the last time that he was in town. He did this to one of my other actresses.” That is when I got mad, because I felt like I was kind of thrown into the lion’s den and given no warning that he was a predator. This was something that he was known for doing already. I was so surprised to hear that.

Sexual harassment is so pervasive, many women seem to have their own story. I just think there is an “anything goes” [attitude] in Hollywood that gets taken too far. And there is a sense that you don’t have to be responsible for your actions—there is just no limit to what you can be subjected to.

This has all got to stop. We need to start acknowledging what an epidemic this is, and what a deep-seated problem this is. You have to get it all out in the open and in the light so that we can really understand how pervasive this is. I think we almost have to exhaust ourselves sharing our experiences before the rebuilding can begin. And hopefully we never slip back into this darkness again.

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