From shows like ‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ to songs like Christina Aguilera’s ‘Fall in Line,’ the #MeToo movement has touched TV, movies, books, music and theater.
Art imitates life — the good, the bad and the hashtagged.
As #MeToo reaches its one-year anniversary this Friday, the past 12 months show that the uprising against sexual harassment and abuse by powerful men has had a starring role in shaping the world of entertainment.
Consider: A spoof of wannabe Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who’s been accused of sexual misconduct, on “Saturday Night Live’s” season premiere; Rebecca Traister’s book “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger” hitting shelves; and the Off-Broadway play “What the Constitution Means to Me.”
Each work has been informed by the movement, or has responded to its reckoning, and they all came out within the last week. “The fact that society is now addressing sexual misconduct, harassment and abuse head-on gives pop culture license to do the same,” Marsha Barber, a journalism professor and pop culture expert at Ryerson University in Toronto, told Moneyish.
Television comedies are even finding ways to address the issue with humor. “One of the most interesting things is that several of the shows to jump on the issue were comedies,” longtime TV critic David Hinckley told Moneyish. The offbeat Netflix series the ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,’” which follows a young woman adjusting to modern society after being held captive for 15 years, does this particularly “thoughtfully,” said Barber.
“It had its female title character, who was cut off from the world for years, not understanding what could now constitute harassment, and thus inadvertently perpetrating it herself. ‘Great News’ had another female character deliberately harassing her staff so she could get the same parachute payout as a guy who did the same thing,” added Hinckley. “Those storylines could easily have felt like uneasy cheap laughs, but they didn’t because each also made a serious point: that we’re more aware of inappropriate behavior these days, and that guys who behave inappropriately even now can escape with no consequences or even a seeming reward.”
Other TV shows that have continued the conversation include “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and “13 Reasons Why,” which have featured rape and sexual assault victims calling out their accusers in powerful episodes. “Younger” balanced the issue with humor and seriousness. And even the venerable daytime drama “General Hospital” tackled a storyline where a young female medical student was harassed by an older male doctor. It was engineered by women staff writers who “experienced some degree of exploitation … and wanted to bring the issue up,” the soap’s executive producer Frank Valentini told Moneyish.
Movies are also tackling #MeToo in a big way. Jennifer Fox’s “The Tale,” a harrowing HBO drama of abuse inspired by the author’s experiences, reminded viewers that it’s hard to look. But you must look.
And read. Last year, books published around sociology, feminism and feminist theory reached 370,000, a 70% increase according to NPD Bookscan, as the Wall Street Journal reported early this year. (The publication is owned by the same parent company as Moneyish.) Recent releases include “Brave,” a memoir by actress and activist Rose McGowan, and “Text Me When You Get Home,” a modern take on female friendship by Kayleen Schaefer.
Fiction, too, has felt the reverberations of #MeToo. Ask Alafair Burke, whose 2018 release, “The Wife,” concerns a woman whose husband may be a sexual predator. Deadline has called it “a perfect fit for this #MeToo Moment,” and Burke tells Moneyish that she is now working on a screenplay; Deadline reported that the film rights sold for seven figures.
Sex — and sexual misconduct — sells.
In pop music, #MeToo struck a number of chords. Kesha’s performance of her song “Praying” was called the “Grammys #MeToo Moment” by CNN. The song is her first new tune released in four years, which followed a long legal battle arising from allegations of abuse by her producer, who has denied the claims. And Christina Aguilera’s “Fall in Line” came with a driving beat and lyrics like “I got a right to show my strength.” She’s called it a song that “needed to be heard.” And seen. The song’s official video has been viewed more than 29 million times on YouTube.
Theater has its own #MeToo momentum. David Mamet, who previously covered sexual harassment in his 1992 play “Oleanna,” has reportedly written a Harvey Weinstein-inspired drama called “Bitter Wheat.” The timeline on that is unclear. And Lincoln Center’s revival of the classic musical “My Fair Lady” arrives on cue: In this version Eliza Doolittle is nobody’s doormat at the final curtain.
Even new musical “King Kong,” beginning performances on Broadway on Friday, is one for the #MeToo era. In this stage story of the girl-meets-ape tale, the script was tailored to make the heroine, Ann, empowered and not a victim. “The biggest change I made was removing the love interest for Ann,” he show’s writer, Jack Thorne, told Moneyish, “because it cost Ann some control, and lost the clarity I was aiming for in her moral journey.
Of course, not everyone is handling #MeToo thoughtfully. Some have criticized Israeli Netta Barzilai’s “Toy” — which won the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest and insists that women aren’t playthings — as if “the Israeli delegation just decided to slap the #metoo movement on their song just to give it attention,” as one armchair critic complained on YouTube.
And some producers will be tempted to exploit the issue just because it’s timely and on the public agenda,” Barber warned. “You don’t want to casually use #MeToo references without giving it some thought. Otherwise you trivialize an important issue.”
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