Zelda Perkins, Gurinder Chadha, Alison Owen Simran Hans Woman and Hollywood
Photo: Zelda Perkins, Gurinder Chadha, Alison Owen and Simran Hans (Getty Images)

FILM

These powerful women in film are standing defiantly in Weinstein’s wake

Rachael Sigee finds out what happens when a whole room of women in film gather together, post-Weinstein, and honour Zelda Perkins

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By Rachael Sigee on

How many standing ovations has Harvey Weinstein had over his decades in the film industry? Hundreds, probably. Certainly many more than the women he harassed, assaulted and abused.

But I don’t imagine any was as impassioned as the standing ovation Zelda Perkins received on Monday evening from a room full of women showing their recognition of her ordeal, their belief in her story and their support for her bravery.

Perkins was one of the women honoured at the 10th-anniversary celebrations of Women and Hollywood as a trailblazer for her courage in being the first person to break her nondisclosure agreement with Weinstein after being sexually harassed by him almost 20 years ago.

Her speech was a climactic moment on a night when some of the most talented and accomplished women in the UK’s film industry came together to celebrate their achievements, voice their anger and issue calls to arms. A room filled with likeminded women always swells with a sense of empathy and community, and this event would have been pertinent pre-Weinstein. But in the aftermath, it was especially stirring.

“Nineteen years ago, I gave up a job to protect another woman,” Perkins said. “Nineteen years ago, I had total faith that, because I had right on my side, this was the normal thing to do and the offender would be exposed. Nineteen years ago, I discovered that the system I thought would defend me was as immoral as the man it went on to legally protect. I was a single voice, silenced.”

I can’t help but wonder where we would be if we hadn’t had to operate in such a challenging environment. I have a feeling there would be a lot more women where they deserve to be

The honour, she said, was bittersweet: “In many ways, it’s sad and astonishing that I am here being recognised for expecting the workplace to be a safe environment for myself and my colleagues.

“I can’t help but wonder where we would be if we hadn’t had to operate in such a challenging environment. I have a feeling there would be a lot more women where they deserve to be.”

As to be expected, the night’s conversations covered the institutional disparity between genders in the film industry, from pay to representation to agency, as even women who have seen success in the industry continue to face obstacles.

Gurinder Chadha, director of Bend It Like Beckham, was candid about feeling dejected after a female producer passed on a project: “I was reminded of the struggle I went through to make Bend It Like Beckham 15 years ago because, of course, despite what everyone thinks now, that was a film that every single person passed on and it took me three years to keep pushing and pushing and pushing. So, I had a bit of a crisis. When someone like me who has made so much money for the industry, has made companies like Lionsgate, put them on the map – which they acknowledge – why do I have to keep reinventing the wheel? Why?”

But alongside these points, the last few turbulent weeks were never far from discussion.

Heavyweight producer Alison Owen (Suffragette, Saving Mr Banks, Jane Eyre) recalled that her first job as a pot washer was advertised as being paid 30p for women and 50p for men, and the fact that it didn’t even anger her at the time, as an example of how sexism has been normalised.

“I think that’s what’s so exciting and important about what’s happened in the last few weeks. It’s that this normality has been pulled away from us. When everyone says, ‘Why did these women not come forward earlier with Harvey?’, it’s because nobody knew what to do. And nobody had even thought about it. You’d take it for granted that women were not going to be believed in the field of sexual politics and so nothing is done.”

To cheers from the audience, though, she rolled her eyes at the idea that the fight was over: “When I look at people who say hasn’t the pendulum swung too far the other way, I’m like, what? How long has it been now – six weeks women have been believed? After 2,000 years? I think we’ll let that pendulum swing a little bit more before we settle it.”

As Clare Stewart, the BFI London Film Festival director, quoted The Handmaid’s Tale and producer Elizabeth Karlsen cited this moment in history as a “chance to turn the fairytale in this room into an industry reality,” it was evident that the women of the film industry are not going to let this opportunity for change pass them by.

Weinstein might have cast a shadow, but his scandal has also shone a light and there are more than enough women ready to step into it. As Corrina Antrobus, founder of the Bechdel Test Fest, encouraged: “If you have a seat at the table, pass down the hot sauce”.

@littlewondering

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Photo: Zelda Perkins, Gurinder Chadha, Alison Owen and Simran Hans (Getty Images)
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