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Noel Clarke allegations: what hope for change in TV and film industry?

Alison Millar discusses what needs to change after another show business star is exposed for alleged sexual misconduct.

Posted on 06 May 2021

For the last month, journalists Sirin Kale and Lucy Osborne have been investigating allegations of sexual harassment and bullying against the actor Noel Clarke for The Guardian.

Their thorough, detailed and fearless journalism, combined with the bravery of the women who have spoken out about Clarke’s alleged actions, puts together a credible picture of a man who has allegedly been abusing his power for many years, appearing to believe that his status and success made him untouchable.

Clarke vehemently denies the allegations of sexual misconduct. But has said that he will ‘seek professional help to educate myself and change for the better’.

Questions will now undoubtedly – and rightly – be asked about those who knew what kind of person he was and looked the other way. Furthermore about the industry culture which protected him. A culture in which women fear speaking up and feel that their best strategy is to let the bullying happen, try to laugh it off or avoid the perpetrator, sometimes to the extent of leaving a job that had been their dream.

Of course we have been here before. With Harvey Weinstein the disgraced Hollywood film producer. After initial allegations were published, more women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment and assault against him, sparking the #MeToo movement.

With Kevin Spacey, who is alleged to have abused his profile and position to abuse young men. It is important to acknowledge that sexual harassment against men in the workplace also exists.

LGBTQ+ people have been found to be particularly at risk of sexual harassment at work, with black and other global majority women and disabled men and women reporting even higher rates of harassment and sexual assault. (TUC survey, 2019).

That was a survey across all workplaces. As a solicitor representing survivors of sexual abuse, I am representing women bringing injury claims for harassment they have experienced in workplaces as varied as the NHS, the Court Service and schools.

It is not surprising that many commentators are cynical about the capacity of the film and TV industry to change given the persistent stories that have emerged like these of widespread harassment and bullying. There is concern about conditions of work, the industry’s culture and its capacity to provide support.

There are some particular features of the entertainment industry that make it difficult for workers to air concerns: the precarious nature of employment with a largely freelance workforce, combined with huge competition for jobs – so workers are acutely aware of the long queue of people potentially lined up to replace them. It is totally unsurprising that co-workers find it difficult to challenge unacceptable behaviour in this environment.

The BFI (the UK’s lead organisation for film, television and the moving image) and BAFTA have introduced guidance on preventing bullying and harassment. In a prescient comment, Dame Heather Rabbatts, UK chair of Time’s Up, said that the key for the future would be ensuring organisations “do what they say they will”.

Clearly, there are issues in this regard: Bafta now faces questions over their decision to go ahead with offering Noel Clarke an award for outstanding British contribution to cinema after being made aware of several allegations of verbal abuse, bullying and sexual harassment against him and over delays in offering safeguarding to alleged victims of his abuse. Ironically, it was his Bafta win that triggered people finally to speak out.

So what needs to change? Commentators have said that behaviour like this is reflective of society at large and deep-rooted misogyny: “toxic masculinity”. I am sure that is right. But leadership in the industry needs to be much more proactive in recognising and tackling this, starting with a zero tolerance of “everyday sexism” and promoting Dignity at Work.

As Equity said in their statement released on 30 April, obligations must be put squarely where they sit: on producers and engagers to create and defend workplaces which are safe spaces:

“Those who perpetrate structural inequality in society will continue to exist, but an industry in which they can survive and thrive can be changed if those with power have the will to do so.”

Alison Millar
Abuse claims

Alison Millar

Alison Millar works in the human rights department at Leigh Day, where she is the Head of Abuse claims

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Abuse and exploitation claims

Acting on behalf of those who have suffered abuse