The cast of Arrested Development (Photo: Rex Features)

OPINION

Women should not be pressured to “forgive and forget” the insufferable behaviour of men

But this infuriating New York Times interview with the cast of Arrested Development shows we’re still expected to

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

Arrested Development is a cult sitcom known for its surrealist, self-referential humour and its intense parodying of the insanely privileged. Whether that’s Lindsay Bluth’s perpetual benefit-hopping (notably “Hands Off Our Penises”, the anti-circumcision movement) or Lucille Bluth’s tenuous grasp on economics (“It’s one banana Michael. What could it cost? Ten dollars?”), the show was always at its best when it critiqued the complete lack of knowledge or sensitivity that the majority of white, wealthy people are permitted to get away with on a daily basis.

And so, there’s something both deeply sad and blackly comic about the show’s latest panel interview for The New York Times, where the male cast – with a truly stunning lack of knowledge or sensitivity – repeatedly ignored, interrupted or outrightly dismissed the testimony of their co-star, Jessica Walter.

The interviewer lobs the gang – Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Bateman, Alia Shawkat, David Cross, Tony Hale, Will Arnett and Jessica Walter – a few softball questions before getting to the elephant in the room: namely, that Tambor has been fired from his starring role on Transparent following allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse on set. While Tambor has denied the majority of these claims (“for all my flaws, I am not a predator”), he admits to having anger issues. The season of Arrested Development that cast are publicising was filmed long before the Transparent allegations. The journalist asks, now that Tambor’s conduct has been brought to light, whether he would (or could) do another season of Arrested Development.

“Well, I won’t do it without you. I can tell you that,” cuts in Jason Bateman, who plays Tambor’s son and retains unwavering loyalty to Tambor throughout the interview. “And there’s no reason he shouldn’t.”

Really? No reason? He has been accused of sexual harassment by at least three different women and there’s absolutely no reason he shouldn’t work on the show again?

Moments later, Jessica Walter points out that Tambor was abusive toward her, apparently yelling at her on set. “Which we’ve all done, by the way,” says Bateman, with a “don’t all big, loving families fight?” lightness.

“You never yelled at me,” Walter counters. “You’ve never yelled at me like that.”

The transcript is painful: Walter tries to talk about her experience, and Arnett and Bateman muscle her out, making jokes about keying one another’s cars.

The interview became a lesson in gaslighting an actress with six decades of entertainment experience into believing that being verbally abused is just part of the everyday rough-and-tumble of being employed

“You don’t often hear from somebody in his position, is that he learned from the experience and he’s listening and learning and growing,” says David Cross, who has himself been under fire for racist comments, and it’s fair to say, might benefit from a forgive-and-forget mentality. “That’s important to remember.”

The irony of Cross’s statement – that we “don’t hear” from enough people who have been accused of abusive behaviour – is that Tambor waxes lyrical about “reckoning” with his accusers (despite denying their claims) and Jessica Walter, the woman who has been on the receiving end of said abusive behaviour, is cut off. Bateman begins every other sentence with “not to belittle” or “not to excuse it”, painting the very clear picture that he is absolutely willing to excuse and belittle behaviour as long as it comes from someone he likes.  

Eventually, Jessica Walter breaks down.

“Let me just say one thing that I just realized in this conversation,” she says through tears. “I have to let go of being angry at him. He never crossed the line on our show, with any, you know, sexual whatever. Verbally, yes, he harassed me, but he did apologize. I have to let it go. But it’s hard because honestly — Jason says this happens all the time. In like almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set. And it’s hard to deal with, but I’m over it now.”

This is the longest Walter is allowed to speak without interruption – note, only after she explicitly asks to speak – and you can’t help but think that the reason she isn’t being interrupted is because she’s not only forgiving Tambor, but in a weird way, she is implying that she is guilty of something too. That it’s somehow her job to be “over it”. That she might be holding the grudge too long. The interview, which was intended to publicise the forthcoming season of a TV show, instead became a lesson in gaslighting an actress with six decades of entertainment experience into believing that being verbally abused at work is just part of the everyday rough-and-tumble of being employed. This woman who, against every rule of Hollywood, is still working in her 70s, and is being loomed over by a bunch of men in their 40s and the makeshift father figure they are apparently sworn to protect. A woman who has to listen to a “difficult” man being fawned over by his co-workers while she is dismissed for being difficult about her experiences of him.

Unfortunately, what should have been an interview to celebrate a wonderfully funny TV show instead became an opportunity for its cast to live up to its title. It's clear that, despite a lot of headlines about harassment women face at work, there have been precious few arrests, and almost no development.  

@Czaroline

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The cast of Arrested Development (Photo: Rex Features)
Tagged in:
Harassment
sexual harassment
women at work
discrimination
gender equality
Hollywood

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