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August 23, 2019
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#MeToo: The dark side of casting couch

After the horrifying facts revealed through #MeToo about the casting couch in the entertainment industry, Hollywood will never again be seen as the glorious haven for art where the talented thrive while the rest are left to slink and ultimately vanish in the shadows. Its starry contours have become indelibly smeared with something far more disgusting. The rest of the showbiz industry in the world is no exception. Many see #MeToo and the casting couch as best explained by quid pro quo.

Kaya Jones, a former member of the Pussycats Dolls, the girl band that took the world by storm back in 2003, revealed horrifying truth about her experience with sexual harassment. She had termed the music band a “prostitution ring” where girls were attacked at “the back of the car by different executives”.

“I was 12 when I got signed. They (predators) didn’t move in right away for me. I didn’t receive anything until I was 18 years old and I joined the pussy cat dolls.”

So I think had I, not a career before that where I knew there are people with integrity. It wouldn’t have been alarming but it was super alarming. Because I have been in the business and never had any advances.

“When you have den mother from hell, controlling the girls, manipulating the mind and verbally and mentally abusive, what’s the difference between that and a pimp in order to control the narrative? That’s what was done on a day-to-day basis by Miss Antin. And furthermore, it was a constant thing of being attacked to the back of cars and innuendos by different executives. She knew and everyone in the group went through it,” Kaya said while sharing her experience with the girl group and its owner Robin Antin.

“I had to decide for myself my moral compass. I walked away 21 years old from a massive conglomerate that was launching us into the orbit.”

“How bad it could be for 21-year-old to walk away from her dreams. I knew I was standing on a limb. There are good people in the business too but ultimately there are a lot of predators.”

Tracy Lindsey Melchior, an author and actress most known for playing the role of Kristen Forrester Dominguez on the CBS daytime drama The Bold and the Beautiful, explained how she fell into situations she was vulnerable to and got raped. In her interview with Fox News, she recalled the horrific time she passed through.

At that time I think I had a false idol of fame fortune. So I was willing to sacrifice and do whatever it took for that. It’s interesting how people can sense that. I fell into situations I was vulnerable to, for sure.
Tracy Lindsey Melchior

“The entertainment industry attracts a lot of women who are working for validation and approval. In my case, male attention that I didn’t get at home from a father. So you combine that with wealthy men who are in a position to advance your career,” she said while elaborating that a lot of entertainment industry people take casting couch as quid pro quo.

“At that time I think I had a false idol of fame fortune. So I was willing to sacrifice and do whatever it took for that. It’s interesting how people can sense that. I fell into situations I was vulnerable to, for sure,” she said.

A lot of it happens before we get there (Hollywood). I was groomed prior to getting Hollywood to be the perfect candidate for these producers and directors which I did end up falling victim to.

Melchior’s memoir “Breaking the Perfect 10” details her acting career and effort to find salvation in Hollywood’s male-dominated industry.

What is going on in Bollywood?
In Bollywood, conditions are not different. Mallika Sherawat recalled her past incidents on how she faced sexual harassment and casting couch in Bollywood. She kept it a secret for several years. She never confessed or revealed these details to anyone including her ‘Murder’ director Mahesh Bhatt despite the great camaraderie they shared.

In her blatant comments, veteran choreographer Saroj Khan said the casting couch has been prevalent in all sectors, not just in the film industry where it “provides livelihood at least”.

“Can I tell you one thing? This has been happening since the beginning of time. It hasn’t started now. Someone or the other tries to take advantage of every other girl. People of the government do it too. Then why are you after the film industry?” she said while speaking her heart out at an event.

Rakhi Sawant also revealed startling facts about the casting couch and sexual harassment of newcomers in the film industry. She admitted that Bollywood’s casting couch was ‘consensual and voluntary’. Rakhi admitted to being a victim.

“When I was struggling, yes I did face the casting couch. But it wasn’t as if every producer or director I approached was guilty. As in every walk of life, there is sexual corruption in the film industry also,” she remarked. “As far as I was concerned, this was just in the beginning. But I had the talent and I didn’t have to give in. I learnt to say no. And I used my talent as an artist to make my way through life.”

“Nobody rapes anyone in this film industry. It’s all consensual and voluntary. In this, I fully support Saroj. At least she has spoken her mind and has let the world know the truth. People in Bollywood don’t speak out the truth about the casting couch although it is happening right in front of their eyes,” she said.

“Young girls are willing to make any compromise to get going in their career. A lot of girls come in the film industry to become heroines but become something else… you understand what I am saying? Call it destiny or what you will.”

Speaking about the issue, Ranveer Singh said: “Yes, casting couch does exist in the industry. I’ve experienced it during my struggling days. But it depends on how you tackle the situation. I chose to decline politely.”

Meanwhile in Pakistan
Back in 2008, a young guy in Karachi wanted to become an actor. Majid Khan saw an ad in Sunday classified of a newspaper. A production house was looking for “new faces” for a drama serial.

“Often we hear stories like, “you have to perform certain favours when you are a part of the entertainment industry,” he said. What many of us don’t realise is that these stories, in all honesty, are not just for dramas and films – they happen in reality as well.”

“Aside from bribery and ‘connections’, that people use to get to their goals, offering sexual favours is another way to climb the ladder of success in Pakistan,” Khan explained his side of the story.

Majid Khan was thrown off because he was told to perform sexual favours. He said the couch’s existence cannot be denied. “Everybody knows the casting couch does exist but hardly anyone has the courage to admit,” he said.

Pakistan’s seasoned actress and director Sahira Kazmi also admitted that the entertainment industry was plagued with the casting couch.

“The casting couch, of course, has always prevailed within our industry. One always did get to know that something shady was happening,” she said.

Speaking her mind on the issue, veteran actress Bushra Ansari said it was all about personal choices. “It all depends on an individual’s personal priorities. There are actors and actresses who are ambitious and who want to gain fame overnight. You see them getting rich in a matter of years and that kind of financial success simply cannot be gained by many actors,” she asserted.

“And after some time, I would see those same girls landing big roles in dramas. I am sure that it still happens,” she explained.

A relatively little known actress, Tahmina Ahsan, who worked in enactment segments of a local television channel in Pakistan, exposed the ugly truth about the issue. She blamed producer Irfan Ghumro of sexual harassment.

“Only Rs3,000 is all I get for the whole day as an actress. I have to support my family. You want me to disgrace my family and ruin my honour for just Rs3,000,” she said in a YouTube video that went viral after she broke her silence on the issue.

“Initially, I had to bear all this because I wanted to get work.” She also admitted that remaining silent in the case of sexual harassment could be a grave mistake on part of the victim. She also said there were girls who would bear “everything” to get a role in a drama or a film. “Such girls get pregnant in just three months and then go through abortions.”
The actresses said the producer had been doing all this for the past four years.

“Don’t teach me how to get dressed and how to please my husband while in privacy,” she said while referring to the ‘tips’ given by Ghumro to attract more attention from her husband.
Tahmina said Irfan Ghumro offered to make her a star if she just ‘stayed’ with him.

Sohail Javed is a renowned Pakistani director and actor. Speaking to The News Tribe, he said #MeToo has damaged the cause of genuine victims of sexual harassment. “A lot of people have misused it to their benefit. This is yet another ‘trick’ of the neo-liberals to widen the gap between men and women,” he said while speaking to The News Tribe. “Without thorough investigation and validation, a lot of people would just set their ‘courts’ on social media and start issuing verdicts on several issues including cases of sexual harassments.”

He was of the view that #MeToo should help common women and men too. “It’s not just the celebrities’ platform to launch their alternative agendas.” He said a case of sexual harassment was a legal matter and should not be thrown to the social media where things get more abusive and ultimately go out of control.

“The casting couch does exist and we should talk about it. The fact is #MeToo has been misused by a lot of people and caused irreparable loss to the industry and this noble cause.”

The drift of opinion
It all began when Alyssa Milano, an American actress, posted on Twitter: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” And within 24 hours she had received more than 500,000 responses using the hashtag “#MeToo”. Millions of women and a significant number of men shared their experiences of abuse, intimidation and discrimination. It was #MeToo that resonated most on social media as the stories of sexual harassment started pouring in.

Keyhole, a social-media analytics company, revealed that the hashtag has been tweeted 18 million times in just one year. The phrase became a substitute for the idea of sexual misconduct and assault. However, surveys conducted by The Economist revealed the other side of the story.

Surveys suggested that floods of allegations, storms of confessions and mass firings have actually made people more sceptical about sexual harassment and #MeToo.

Meltwater, a media analytics company, reported that journalists in the USA have been using the hashtag in their articles more frequently than they have mentioned “sexual harassment”.

Surveys suggested that floods of allegations, storms of confessions and mass firings have actually made people more sceptical about sexual harassment and #MeToo.

The first survey was conducted in the first week of November 2017 by YouGov which obtained the opinions of 1,500 Americans on the matter. In September 2018, a similar poll was conducted again. This time, there was a small but clear shift against the victims when it came to the questions about the consequences of sexual assault and misconduct.

The poll also supported that men who sexually harassed women at work 20 years ago should keep their jobs. The survey reported it has risen from 28% to 36%.

There is also a significant number of people, jumping from 29% to 31%, who think that women who complain about sexual harassment cause more problems than they solve. The survey also revealed that around 18% of Americans now think that false accusations of sexual assault were a bigger problem than attacks that go unreported or unpunished.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre, an American non-profit organisation, 63% of sexual assaults were never reported to police, whereas between 2% and 10% of assault cases were falsely reported.

Surprisingly, these changes in opinion against victims have been stronger among women than men. The surveys showed that #MeToo has been badly misused and abused by many which has ultimately damaged the cause of real victims of sexual harassment.