Have you read “The Movie Star and Me” yet? There’s the link to it if you hadn’t heard about it online – the story of a young woman who interned a few years ago on a musical starring a big name actor who received great acclaim for his performance. What happened between them isn’t criminal but it is manipulative and if you’ve been in a similar situation – several layers of power imbalance, an age difference, in an ecosystem that is set up so that an entire community serves one person in the spotlight, no matter what lines are blurred – her experience will feel painfully familiar, and real.
It's not hard to figure out who she’s referring to, the musical he was in, his family, and the writer herself. She doesn’t name him but she names herself; she’s a playwright and an actor, she works in theatre, so all of this can be tracked back to her, and given that she’s clearly still in the early stages of her career, the fact that she’s sharing what happened will come at great personal risk.
Because she’s not just calling him out, she’s also described the infrastructure of enabling since, for a time, his fascination with her was a benefit to the production. If his preoccupation with her was helping him deliver, ensuring that the musical would be a success, then his mind games were justified. And she was encouraged to play along, by her mentor, by the director, women she says could sense her discomfort but…the show must go on. This is about setting up the most ideal environment for HIM to thrive, and that’s more than just the technical, tangible resources like training and equipment and tools that can be itemised and quantified; it also included a distraction that came in the form of an actual person, no matter how confusing and complicated the situation would become. Her job to support the star became more than just getting him from dressing room to rehearsal, making sure he knew his schedule, coordinating with his manager and the rest; it also involved fangirling and flirting, accepting his attention, whatever was necessary in “getting this performance out of him”. And everyone could go to bed at night and sleep comfortably knowing that it wasn’t necessarily illegal. But it also wasn’t entirely appropriate. As she writes:
“I was a commodity offered up by my mentor to make the process easier. I still haven’t confronted her because I’m terrified she’ll scoff, We both know you wanted it. And she’s right: a part of me did. But that part was never consenting. Consent became impossible the moment he commented on my appearance at work. I can never know what my true feelings were because he crossed boundaries that didn’t exist for him, boundaries I didn’t know I had to protect.”
These are the grey areas that black and white conversations about workplace harassment don’t quite fully capture. Even the word harassment doesn’t feel quite right here because, again, our understanding of harassment is too narrow to cover situations with nuance. Again, on paper, by the book, which the writer acknowledges herself, nothing here is foul of the law. But that also doesn’t make it right, especially when you consider that her relationship with him in the eyes of her work superiors was always discussed as an asset to the production, to the actual work of it, and not as a personal connection between two people. When a relationship is seen as being advantageous to the mounting of a multi-million dollar musical, it 100% falls under professional conduct. Or misconduct.
What’s going to happen now? To him, nothing. Nothing for everyone but the writer. She’s likely already being attacked online, by people diminishing her story, by those who will tell her she was old enough to know, that she was glamourised by a beautiful, famous man who didn’t love her back and is just a bitter bitch who wants her revenge. Because too many people still buy into the fallacy that revenge is actually the price and pain of disclosure. The point here isn’t cancellation. But even focusing on whether or not this is about cancellation takes the focus away from the person who should be centered here. Right now, at this moment, there’s another intern, so many interns, being pulled into the same position. And kept there by people who have everything to gain by their exploitation. Who will hold up the boundaries for them?
Yours in gossip,