An Actress's Thoughts

Weinstein and the Silence of the German Film Industry


On Oct. 5 the New York Times published the article “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades“ by Judi Kantor and Megan Twobei. Since then more women, actresses, models and also employees and journalists came out and spoke about sexual harassment, intimidations and even about rape. It is obvious that anyone accused remains innocent until tried by a court of law, but in this case the accusations are overwhelming – quite contrary to the common situations where it‘s testimony against testimony and an offense or criminal act can‘t be proven. There have been discussion about how it could have been possible for Harvey Weinstein to act unnoticed and undisturbed for decades the way he did, but it soon became clear that the way he treated numerous young actresses at the beginning of their careers was an open secret.
In the meantime, Weinstein has been fired from the Weinstein Company, from AMPAS Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, from the BFI British Film Institute, and a statement was issued by the International Film Festival of Cannes.
Some reports also mentioned other cases of sexual abuse, US actor Bill Cosby, Fox news reporter Bill O‘Reilly, Roy Price, head of amazon video department as well as US president Donald Trump. All in the USA, far away.
German media have also been covering the Weinstein scandal, some mentioning the social context as for example Julian Dörr did in the Süddeutsche (a German newspaper) from 14.10. in his German article „If you want to prevent abuse you can‘t ridicule Feminism” (more articles to be found in the Additional Reading section).
What I found quite surprising though is that so for nothing has been written about the German film industry. Didn‘t questions like “Is something like this possible in Germany aas well, have you heard of any cases or rumours, and what help is available to women concerned?“ suggest themselves? I only saw one quite short interview with Austrian actress Adele Neuhaus for the Rheinische Post (another German newspaper) which was quoted by other media. In it she said that she wasn‘t surprised by the scandal but that she was asking herself why it had gone public only now. “Off the record the existence of a producer‘s couch was an open secret“. And „we know how many men have taken advantace of this situation“.

Yes, in Germany as well

It is happening in Germany as well that female film people are being harassed and sexually abused. We too have men that exploited and exploit their position of power, for example as a director, and what? – ask? force? pressure actresses to perform sexual acts on them in exchange for a part in a film. Who exploit the professional hierarchy of the industry with women mainly at the bottom (too few roles, too many actresses). Who just happen to disappear to have sex with an actress in the next room before shooting starts. And we are not talking of blooming romance there, or of director and actress being horny. Just of plain “I have a right to this, I‘m the boss…
There are certain names that I‘ve heard in this context several times from different people.
I know of a very young actress who had to play a rape victim, half naked, the shooting took ages, and male colleagues and members of the team made offensive jokes about her, her body, her situation.
I know of an experienced female colleague who regularly gets direction from male colleagues that just know better than her (and the director) how she should play her part and who offer their advice on the set unansked. And if she complains then she is the one who is being difficult and uncooperative.
This not only affects actresses. I have heard of female make-up artists and directors as well, to name just two other film professions. A friend of mine who is a career coach and trainer and who works regularly with women and men from the film industry, told me that every time she starts on the topic of networking, a woman will bring up this question: “How do I deal with invasional behaviour?“ And after that more will follow, like “And what about if he keeps putting his arm around me while we talk?“ „And what if I shake off his arm and say no, will that be the end of the film project?“ Every time. Most women talk about experiences like this. The mean in the group tend to be speechless or annoyed. Annoyed because the issue takes up so much space, it‘s not their issue. And surprised that it is brought up at all. “Never heard of this before.“
In January 2017 a study called „The Situation of Filmmakers 2015“ was published. It contains the results from roughly 2,400 completed extensive questionnaires, the share of women for this was 39 %. Jörg Langer, head of research, told me of more than 300 discriminatory acts that were described, including many sexual and verbal abuses. To quote the study:

When asked about being satisfied with their current working and living conditions, fewer women were very or mostly content, whereas fewer men were very or mostly discontent.
In relation to being paid wages or fees in accordance with collective wage agreements or not, it turned out that a higher share of women was never or only partly paid decently, whereas a higher proportion of men where mostly or always paid decently.
15.8 % of the women mentioned that they were frequently or very frequently discriminated against on grounds of age, origin, gender, religion etc. This was the case for only 5 % of the men.

Source:Die Situation der Film- und Fernsehschaffenden 2015.

Female directors have talked about this dilemma they are facing, if they are resolute in their work on a film, they might be called hysterical or attributed the „I bet she has her period“-tag, wherehase the same behaviour by men will be classified as being decisive. Does this have to do with the fact that a majority of the team may never have worked with a female director before, or are seeing a female DoP or sound designer for the first time? (I‘ve written a lot about the misrepresentation of women behind the camera before). And that at work they also see less women than men in front of the camera, and as secondary characters? (I‘ve written about this before as well).
Actually, it goes beyond that, or rather, starts earlier than that. On the long road before the female director can even start briefing the team, when she is still fighting or begin for a project, when she is applying for jobs. Talking to producers and other people.

I have no idea how often this happens, but these are no isolated incidents. It is a structural thing, just like sexism in the film industry is structural, just like discrimination of women, also in relation to wages, is a structural phenomenon of the German working world, just like sexual harassment of women at the workplace is a structural problem of society (if you read German, please also read: Charlotte Diehl in the weekly newspaper ZEIT of 4.10. “Sexism is a tool men use to secure their power“).

I remember having coffee with a male director, and he proposed on the side that I ‘become his mistress‘. This is a long time ago, at the beginning of my professional career, and we were talking about several imminent projects. I was completely speechless, and at the same time surprised that he, at least twice my age and three times as fat, talking with a strong dialect – would ask something like that in such a natural manner. I managed to play down the issue, referring to his wife (he had talked of his wife and their daughter before), this somehow saved the mood. But none of the projects came through for me.
Then there was this workshop where we actresses and actors got tips on how best to present our material, the photos and showreels, and how to best deal with (casting) directors. All this from the perspective of a (male) director, whose turn it was that morning. I remember how he brought up the topic of nudity in film, and how he talked of actresses who included „no nudity clauses“ in their contracts in a dismissive way. Because that would enormously and negatively affect his work as a director. Actresses should learn to jump over their own shadows, in a way, nude scenes were kind of empowering, – that was something an actress, hesitant at first, once told him. Of course the topic of nudity was only for the actresses, not for the actors in the workshop. And of course the director added that an actress who refused nudity would be replaced by an actress who didn’t have this problem.
Does anybody ever ask whether so much female nudity is essential to films, whether the murder of a woman in a German cop drama can only be told with her being naked, if not in the murder scene itself (although very often there she is half-naked at least) then afterwards when she is on the coroner‘s table, – does anybody ever question this? And also the question of the camera angle, where sexualised violence tends to be filmed in a shot-reverse shot technique, which means that every time we get to see the rapists view of the woman (refer to Taking a Shower – The Dramaturgy). I imagine experienced film teams, that regularly work with half-naked actresses in front of the camera. Is that one of the reasons why some act so insensitively?
It was some years ago, my first day at a new production, I had been to costume and make-up and was waiting for the technical rehearsal. A man approached me. Without looking at me or saying a word he grabbed my blouse, opened the top buttons and grabbed me between my breasts. No, it wasn‘t exactly like that but this is how it felt a little. He approached me, handed me the small transmitter to drop down my blouse, with the end of the cable or rather the microphone at the top. And then he grabbed between my breasts, fastening the microphone there, with tape, moving and refastening it until it sat in the perfect place. And without saying a word. At some other shoot, where a sudden lifting my tshirt up to my chin took the place of the blouse opening from the top, I suggested „“let‘s go over there to the side“ and got a “no, that‘s not necessary“ reply. So instead, we stood in the middle of the action so to speak.
Is it so difficult to be a bit more sensitive, and say something first at least? For example he could say “My name is ABC“, and “I am wiring you now“, and „is it alright if I...“. Oh yes, and he could also say „Let‘s go over to the side where it‘s less crowded“. Just because we act and show ourselves in front of a camera and sometimes show our innermost doesn‘t mean that we don‘t value privacy, that we don‘t know embarassment or shame, that we‘re never nervous in the presence of strangers.

The Silence of the Industry

After 30 years of alleged silence, now people within the US film industry are now talking loudly about the accusations against Harvey Weinstein, and the women that went public with their charges are mostly believed. The US-American Casting Association CSA is quoted by Dominic Patten in his article of 13.10.17 in deadline:

The Casting Society of America publicly reiterates its condemnation of harassment in all forms. The silence surrounding unreported sexual attacks, abuse and harassment have contributed to a culture where such behavior can continue, and the time for silence is over. To the actors who have spoken out: we hear you, we believe you and we applaud your courage. No actor, no matter their gender, should ever feel compromised or in danger while auditioning or meeting any industry professional! To our members who witness any abuses, if you see something, say something.
Now is the time to support the victims by letting them know they have an organization they can turn to for continued support.

On Oct. 12 the acting union Equity UK published a Statement on Bullying and Harrasment. Here‘s an extract:

Equity will continue to challenge employers who abuse our members. The union recognises that members may not report bullying and harassment because they fear losing work. Members should be reassured that they can talk to the union in complete confidence. Equity’s officials are experienced in dealing directly with employers on these issues and will act on behalf of members who have experienced inappropriate behaviour at work.

Representatives of WIFT UK (Kate Kinninmont) and ERA 50:50 (Rosie Hilal) were interviewed on TV news programmes, as was actress Emma Thompson, to name but a few. Raising Films published an Open Letter to the UK Film Industry on Addressing Harassment and Discrimination and the board of the Casting Directors’ Guild of Great Britain and Northern Ireland issued a press release. A statement by Directors UK followed a few days later (— see Statements).
Also noteworthy, the opinion of actress, author and director Kate Hardie in the Guardian on 14.10. titled Time to make the link between abuse and film content. (note: the photograph at the top of the article is decades old, it shows her and colleague Christopher Eccleston. She had asked for it to be replaced by a more recent shot which was done temporarily, but then it was reversed again. Kate is 49 today).
This is not only about actresses. And it‘s not only a problem in English speaking countries. So why do German film organisations keep silent? Or did I just miss their statements? Acters‘ association BFFS, verdi FilmUnion, the organization for film workers (Verband der Filmschaffenden), the film producers‘ alliance, the directors‘ association BVR, the casters‘ association BVC, to name but a few. I am sure that many of their members, fuelled by the revelations in the Weinstein scandal are thinking about our industry, about incidents in our industry and talking about it. Many who are wishing for a sign, some action from their organizations, in favour of those affected, condemning the offenders.
(—For the new statements by BFFS and BVR see Statements)

Both the US and UK casting associations and Equity UK have offered themselves as contact points for their members and for actresses and actors that are affected by similar incidents. This is good and important. At the same time it‘s probably not sufficient because in the face of traumatizing events most officials of film organizations will probably be struggling. This is alright because this kind of counselling is not their core task.
Actresses and other women that spoke out against Harvey Weinstein talked of being traumatized, of feeling guilty, of being affected for years, some even switched professions and left acting. Some were lucky and had an understanding environment, others less so. We can understand that many need more than legal advice and yes-we-believe-you-assuring.
In the German version of this article published yesterday I linked to the Bundesverband der Frauenberatungsstellen und Frauennotrufe in Deutschland, a network of independent counselling and rape crisis centres that are experienced in helping women who have encountered abuse, sexual harrasment and violence. On their BFF website you can find regional contacts. Today there are sexual assault counselling centres in most countries.

At the same time I want to urge the German film industry to discuss how a working einvironment free of fear and free of abuse and harassment for women and men can be created. Discuss how people who abuse or rather misuse their power can be abhorred or better still be stopped before they even get started. Maybe a reporting system, with an anonymous option, can be installed to document offensive and threatening behaviour. Not as a pillory or denouncing device, there are possibilites to prevent misuse. It needs to be clarified how such a system can be installed and who would moderate it. A survey should be undertaken, perhaps starting from the findings of the aforemention report by Jörg Langer for the Filmschaffendenverbände. We could also learn from the ways organizations abroad went with this: WIFT UK did a survey among their members five years ago and are starting a new project at the moment, calling for feedback to develop strategies for action (#MeToo: Help us take meaningful action).
These are just some first thoughts.

Being an actress and a member of the acting association BFFS I am particularly disappointed at its silence. This does not really come as a surprise though, as gender equality is something only to be found as an idea but not as a way for the union and not something that the current board is really striving towards. I remember how 3 years ago I helped initiate the Unequal Pay Campaign, a reporting system for unequal wages / offers for actresses and actors in the same production, the same commercial etc. It‘s a campaign on paper (or rather: online) only, never promoted, never mentioned. I ask other members and they have never heard of it. The BFFS has never reacted when I urged them to put more weight behind this campaign, and they didn‘t react when I asked them to change the photo to the article – where you see a woman‘s behind clad in shorts in the centre. I don‘t quite get the connection to unequal pay and I am sure there are better suited images.
Finally I want to take the opportunity to mention my casting tool NEROPA Neutral Roles Parity once more. There is a connection between female roles being outnumbered and the underemployment of actress and their greater vulnerability. This is something the Weinstein Scandal brought up yet again. But not only equal representation of women in front of the camera is the key, it‘s also about better representation behind the camera.

Belinde Ruth Stieve

The problem will persist until women have achieved a greater degree of equality across the whole industry.
Kate Kinnimont, chief executive of Women in Film and Television UK

Calling for positions of power to be filled by women, who are then (hopefully) able to establish spaces and structures not based on sexualized violence, is therefore not only feministic but also a practical protection against the Weinsteins of this world.
Marlene Halser, tageszeitung (German newspaper), head of section society and media

Belinde Ruth Stieve, 2017. Photo: Dixie Schmiedle

Addition 23.10.17:

Today Directors UK and the German Directors Association BVR issued statements “on tackling abuse, bullying and sexual harrasment” and on “abuse of power and sexual harrasment” respectively. These statements differ. Both associations condemn abuse of power, coercion and sexual harassment. On top of this the BVR supports setting up an ombuds office in the film industry. Directors UK emphasize the key role of directors in creating “a safe and supportive working environment for cast and crew”. They also point out the under-representation of women: “We urgently need greater equality and diversity in employment to help create a more inclusive and balanced industry and to eliminate abusive behaviour and attitudes“.
Fortunately the German Acting Union BFFS has reacted to the urging from members and issued a detailed statement titled „What will change after Harvey Weinstein / Was ändert sich nach Harvey Weinstein?” (available only in German). This is very important! Some of my suggestions were taken up, among them an anonymous reporting system (under the poor title “Below the Belt“).

After I published this text last a week ago I have been approached by many women working in film, who told me of their own negative experiences. They occured in all departments of filmmaking. So once again this shows that we are not dealing with an actresses problem and that we need a reporting system for the whole industry.
I hope we start recognizing abuse of power and the precarious situation of many in the film industry, especially women, as a source of sexual harassment and violence, of coercion and bullying. I hope the unions will advocate equal participation of women in the film at all levels. I hope for films that tell more emancipatory stories and stop depicting women and men as outdated stereotypes. Films shape our thinking and influence our emotions. That is another reason why it is so important to start with the film business.

Additional Reading (updated)


  • SchspIN: Augen auf – Stereotype. 16.2.17
  • Die neue BFFS Kampagne „Unequal Pay“ 20.8.14
  • Jörg Langer: Die Situation der Film- und Fernsehschaffenden 2015. Studie zur sozialen Lage, Berufszufriedenheit und den Perspektiven der Beschäftigten in der Film- und Fernsehproduktionswirtschaft Deutschlands. Jan. 2017
  • Amy J. Berg: AN OPEN SECRET.
    Documentary USA 2014 (vimeo 98 min)

Statements from Organizations

  • Equity UK: Statement on Bullying and Harrasment. 12.10.17
  • Raising Films: An Open Letter to the UK Film Industry on Addressing Harassment and Discrimination. 14.10.17
  • Casting Directors‘ Guild of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: Press Release 16.10.17
  • BFFS: Was ändert sich nach Harvey Weinstein? 20.10.17
  • Directors UK: statement on tackling abuse, bullying and sexual harassment. 23.10.17
  • BVR Bundesverband Regie: Stellungnahme zur aktuellen Diskussion über Machtmissbrauch und sexuelle Belästigung in der Film- und Fernsehbranche 23.10.17
  • BVC Bundesverband Casting: Sexuelle Übergriffe und (Macht)Missbrauch sind ein trauriger Bestandteil unseres täglichen Lebens! 23.10.17
  • Royal Court Theatre: Preventing Sexual Harassment and Abuse of Power – A Code of Behaviour 3.11.17
  • Equity launches investigation to find solutions to sexual harassment crisis 8.11.17