I didn’t watch the Roseanne reboot. I always found her unpleasantly brash, and I just wasn’t interested enough to see this weird phenomenon of 80s shows coming back to life like zombies.
So Roseanne being cancelled because ABC suddenly realized she’s racist made me laugh. I mean, they knew who she was. She’s been telling them for thirty years. (BTW, for the Twue Americans who felt like they needed this blue-collar family in their lives – let’s not forget how she feels about the National Anthem.)
A friend of mine commented that she didn’t feel bad for the people who lost jobs, because they knowingly aligned themselves with her, and they, too, knew who she was. She’s been telling them for thirty years.
And yes, Laurie Metcalf, John Goodman, Sara Gilbert, writers and producers and actors who are in the midst of successful careers, those who aren’t worried about how they’re going to make rent next month whether they take this gig or not – maybe they just didn’t care enough to make an issue of it. Perhaps they didn’t want the scrutiny or criticism that comes from making an issue of it. For them – well, yeah. I don’t feel bad for them. They knew what they were getting into. Not only that, but they have a big enough platform that if they’d chosen to take a stand, it could have had an impact.
But it is notoriously difficult to get work in Hollywood. Some of the most talented, hardworking people I know remain perpetually underemployed, taking any job they can get – whether it’s waiting tables, answering phones, or, maybe, working on a show they don’t wholly believe in, or with people they probably aren’t asking to be in their wedding party. Many of the people who showed up to work on that show may have hoped it could create other opportunities for them. Some may have been ignorant, either blissfully or willfully. Some maybe just needed to pay rent. And some, sadly, have no problem with who she is, what she says, and how she behaves.
Many years ago, I was talking to an actor friend of mine – he has IMDB credits, he works pretty steadily. You wouldn’t recognize his name, but if you saw him on the street he might look vaguely familiar to you. I told him I’d just been pleasantly surprised to see him show up on my screen for a couple of episodes of a show I was re-watching. (okay, it was Angel, be quiet.)
His response was, “Oh? Good. That’ll be a nice little paycheck.” He told me that a good percentage of his income comes from residuals from day-player or recurring character jobs he’s done over the last 20 years. *(See postscript if you want to know more about how this works.)
When networks stopped airing The Cosby Show after Cosby’s abuses came to light, I thought, “Good. Let’s not continue to celebrate him.” But then I thought about all the people who worked on that show over the years – people who didn’t work closely with him, like recurring characters or day players, the people who have relied on residuals, big or small, from those reruns and others to make up a part of their income for years. And I felt for them. And in a way, they’re victims, too.
Would I work on a show like Roseanne? I’d like to say no. But I did work at a regional theatre whose artistic director was an absolute creep, who preyed on actresses and in general treated people like they were disposable. Hearing about his antics disgusted me, but I had no interaction with him and it was my first job out of college and I needed the money and the credit more than I needed to drop a pebble in the ocean. His actions did impact me, though, because when you have someone like that heading a huge organization, there’s a trickle-down effect to every department. This guy is still working, helming huge productions, and his behavior hasn’t caught up with him yet.
Jeffrey Tambor is another example of this problem. I’ve never really liked him (it’s easy to say that now, right?) but I love Arrested Development. It is one of a handful of shows that has been known to make me laugh until I cry. It is clever and subversive and its biting satire has often been the dose of medicine I’ve needed to get through the day. The harassment accusations from Transparent, his treatment of Jessica Walter on the set of Arrested Development as brought to light by the New York Times interview, none of this is surprising to anyone who has worked in this industry for more than five minutes. Is Jessica Walter getting so much work that she can afford turn down a fifth season of Arrested Development because of Tambor? Would her contract even allow her to?
And this just came to light because of what happened on Transparent.
It was a writer on Transparent – a trans woman, Our Lady J – who first publicly supported the claims made Trace Lysette.
What about every other time this happened? Why did it take a transgendered woman, someone who is historically marginalized, who arguably has a lot more to lose, to stand up and say, “I hear you”? Where were her costars or the producers or the directors then? Surely Ron Howard has enough clout to stand up to Jeffrey Tambor. Did he really not know? Or is this kind of behavior, as described by Trace Lysette, so common that it was ignored:
“He came in close, put his bare feet on top of mine so I could not move, leaned his body against me, and began quick, discreet thrust back and forth against my body. I felt his penis on my hip through his thin pajamas,” Lysette says.
That kind of behavior has happened to me so many times that I barely remember some of them. For me, and so many other below-the-line
people non-ciswhitemen this has been the price we’ve had to pay to work in this industry. Speaking truth to power has never seemed like a viable option to me – instead, again and again, I’ve left the industry and taken jobs in Corporate America – where the harassment still exists, but it’s usually subtler, and it comes with health insurance.
However. We’re at a critical point, here. People (aka straight cis white men) have gotten away with atrocious behavior for hundreds of years because not enough people were willing to make a stand. I’m no John Goodman, but maybe if I refused to do work at a place where I knew this kind of shit was happening, it could have a ripple effect. Maybe others would, too. Maybe if enough of us stopped working with people who were toxic and abusive, or were willing to stand up to that behavior whether it was directed at us or not, maybe we could create that change.
Are we willing to? Are we at a point where it’s gotten bad enough that we’re going to risk our livelihoods to step up and challenge the patriarchy?
It’s a question I ask myself a lot.
Post-script re: Day Players:
Day players are incidental characters who interact with the principals or supporting characters to further the plot, but aren’t seen beyond that. They don’t have a recurring contract, aren’t aligned with a studio, and are called day players because they’re only needed for a day of work. A day player, per the 2012 contract negotiation, makes $889 for a day of work as negotiated by SAG/AFTRA. (If it seems like a lot, keep in mind that most day players aren’t making that every day.)
He’s worked on a ton of shows over the last twenty years, occasionally had recurring roles, but never gotten picked up for anything really big. He told me that he’s lucky. He makes enough money that he doesn’t have to work a second job, but he does count on those residual paychecks. For Angel, he was a recurring character – he appeared in two episodes – so his day rate was slightly higher and his residuals are slightly bigger. (I really don’t have numbers on this, residuals are really complicated. It can range from under a dollar – you get a paper check, in an envelope, in the mail (Seriously, you get a check for 78 cents in the mail to several hundred. Maybe more. Like I said, it’s complicated.)
Sure, a day player could refuse to work on a show – but it’s not a call I could make. Could you turn down $889 for a day of work? I don’t know that I could.