November 10, 2017
On That Time It Happened To People I Knew
For two and a half years, I worked at a movie theater in San Francisco. It was a job that I thoroughly enjoyed. In truth, what teenage cinema enthusiast wouldn’t? There were a group of us from my high school at that time, and pretty soon our clique included a few members of the summer theater group I was a part of. There were others of course – youngsters on the verge of entering adulthood, older people who didn’t need a job, but loved being around that one, and some who hoped to parlay a job as supervisor into a career in management.
For the most part, everyone got along. As we were teenagers, there was always the chance that our egos would clash or that romance would blossom in the popcorn-scented air of the concession stand. Only once did I get into a heated argument with a co-worker that included a stern “invitation” to step outside, a remark was quickly apologized for. We weren’t all the best of friends, but when we were at work, we were a team.
That was the spirit with which new employees were accepted, and perhaps that blinded us to something that we should have seen signs of. At some point during my employment, a new guy was hired. This guy was tall with curly red hair and a mustache that matched it in brightness. He looked older than most of us, and it was clear that he spent some time in the gym. He was also cordial, had a hearty laugh, and was generally liked by those that worked with him. Despite not being the hardest worker or having put in the time of many of the other employees, he was soon promoted to usher supervisor.
Should I have seen the indicators? Maybe not. He made sure to put on an air of professionalism in the break room, and I never saw any direct evidence of the actions that he later admitted to. I may have also been a concessionist by that point – it’s hard to remember. What I do recall is the shock I felt when I heard what he had been accused of. Apparently, he had been cornering female employees in the back exits and assaulting them with his hands and lips. These were women I knew and talked to often.
I never found out exactly how his crimes were detected. I can only imagine that someone had walked in on him forcing himself on someone or that one brave woman had approached management. However it happened, it was soon common knowledge, and the question became what to do about it. The theater at the time had about seven managers, and the number two guy was given the task of handling the situation. After carefully weighing his options, which I have no doubt included reporting him to the police, #2 simply demoted the offender.
I was confused and incensed, and in one of my rare moments of defiance and rebellion, I went to the manager’s office and asked for an explanation. The honesty of the answer I received surprised me: “[#2] was a chicken shit.” The offender quit that week. According to one of my fellow supervisors, if he’d shown up again, he’d have gotten his ass kicked. Apparently, some of the more imposing male employees had made that point abundantly clear.
I haven’t spoken of this incident much over the last 20 years, but with all that’s going on in Hollywood, it resurfaced recently, bringing with it a flood of questions and unresolved feelings. I wish I’d known sooner; I wish I’d done more than simply ask a question. I wish I’d been a more observant supervisor and friend. I didn’t see the side of him that the women he hurt did.
That’s the sad truth. Sometimes we only see what someone wants us to see, and when we hear things that contradict the image we have a person, we can be slow to react. It’s as if we want to give the person the benefit of the doubt, but here’s the thing. By doing so, we are telling the victims that we don’t believe them, that we think they have some ulterior motive for telling such an outrageous thing about someone we think we know.
Here’s another sad truth. Sometimes those responsible for protecting the people in their care or on their payroll fail. They may give someone the benefit of the doubt, completely disbelieve an accusation because it flies in the face of the person they think they know, question an accuser’s motives, or simply turn a blind eye, determining that their investment or future earnings are of greater importance than the trauma someone experienced. They may even learn to mentally think of horrendous charges as unsubstantiated rumors because rumors can be ignored or dismissed outright. If it doesn’t happen in front of them, they can convince themselves that there’s a chance it hasn’t happened at all.
Make no mistake, all actors and actresses, whether they make $20 million a picture or $50 as an extra, are employees, as are those who work behind the camera. Hollywood is where they work, and no workplace should tolerate abuse. In this, much of Tinsel Town failed, just as my former manager did. However, perhaps this is a turning point, a moment in which we can spin failure into resolution and inaction into resolve. If that happens, at least something good will have come out of all of this.