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Emma Thompson Explains Why She Called Out Hollywood Harassment In An Open Letter

File: Emma Thompson attends the 61st BFI London Film Festival on Oct. 6, 2017 in London, England. (Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)
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Actress Emma Thompson made headlines when she dropped out of the upcoming animated movie Luck. Thompson left when Skydance Animation, which is making the movie, brought on John Lasseter -- who had been removed from Pixar and Disney following sexual misconduct allegations.

Skydance CEO David Ellison didn't seem to grasp the gravity of hiring Lasseter, L.A. Times columnist Mary McNamara told the Frame. She described Ellison's email to staff about Lasseter as long and a little defiant, saying that they'd talked with Lasseter and that he understood that some of his past behavior was inappropriate -- but that he was addressing those issues, and was contractually obligated to behave professionally.

Thompson didn't just drop out of Luck. She also wrote a powerful letter calling out Skydance for hiring Lasseter. Then she gave that letter to McNamara, who published it in the L.A. Times.

The Frame's John Horn sat down with Thompson and discussed what motivated her to take a stand on Lasseter's hiring and what Hollywood needs to do next to make movie sets a safe workplace.

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You wrote a letter that I have described on the air as the Magna Carta of the #MeToo movement. It is one of the most beautiful, eloquent, and well argued letters about this whole notion of the way women are treated and the way the men are forgiven, and I found it profound. What motivated you to write it and what gave you the ability to write it?

EMMA THOMPSON: I think I just left the production. And then I wrote to Lindsay Doran about it, and Lindsay's one of the most brilliant women I know. And I said, can you talk to some women about this -- I'd really be interested to know what's going on.

And in fact, that letter is the work of many voices -- it's not just my voice, because those questions very much came from those women. So that's what's so wonderful about it, is that it is a collective voice.

And I sent it to Skydance and didn't receive a reply. And because I'd shared it with quite a lot of people because of the issue being very pressing, a lot of them just said, "you've got to publish it." And that was quite a big decision, because it's just a bit public.

But the decision, it turned out to be the right one, because those were the questions that needed to be asked -- and to this date have not been answered in any way. I've had no response, public or personal, back from Skydance -- perhaps because they don't have a good response. They don't have any answers to those questions, and therefore, they've just decided not to respond. And that's very disappointing, because the only way we're going to get anywhere with this ongoing issue is by talking to each other.

It's not just a public thing to do. It's a thing that potentially, and this is what has happened over the last couple of decades that has kept women silent, is they fear that they will be punished, that they will be blackballed. They won't get parts --

And they're right. They're absolutely right.

So why were you able to do it? What gave you that opportunity? Because a lot of other women would say, "I feel this way, but I know that if I say these things, something bad might happen to me."

I'm 60. I'm far too old not to walk my own talk. Time is very much marching on. And because I had spoken up before when the Weinstein thing blew up, and I've always spoken up about this since I was a young woman, there was absolutely no choice, really.

And what was interesting to me and what was very touching, were the responses I got from so many people, male and female, who had done the same thing. Who had walked away and who perhaps don't feel as established as I feel.

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You know, I can do other things. It's not going to kill my career even if Skydance says, we're never going to work with you again and we're going to tell every other animation [studio] not to. But I don't think that that would be possible now, because I do feel that with the #MeToo/#TimesUp movement, there is a tipping point.

But we do have to keep on. And one of the ways in which I think we're going to have to do that is we've got to talk to people, before, during, and after film shoots. It's got to be a practical thing that happens on a daily basis while we're actually doing the work, because we've had a lot of historical stuff.

For instance, one of the things I did recently, which was incredibly helpful to me, was I got a lot of the young women who'd worked on Last Christmas together for an informal meeting about what it had been like to shoot that film, and how comfortable they'd been, and whether they'd had any moments of discomfort. And of course, they had. And I didn't know about them.

What kinds of things?

They just had had experiences with some people on our crew that made them uncomfortable. And they've been bullied from time to time. And of course it happens.

The clever thing about anybody who's going to bully is that they'll do it not in front of someone who's going to say, "you can't do that." They'll do it in secret, or in quiet, or in private.

And it's very difficult, for instance, for someone who's a runner, and who can be replaced in five minutes, to say anything bad about someone who it will cost a lot of money to replace. And all of these things, they have implications for everyone. So I'm wanting to learn more about that by talking to people before, during, and after a film shoot. It's very practical.

And I would also say that studios that are now doing this sort of "Harassment Week." This is just not working, you people, it's not working. No one's taking it seriously. And actually, because it's in public, folks don't feel able or free to speak.

You've got to make a safe space. That's particularly important for women. And it's particularly important for young women who are just starting in the business -- you have to make a safe space.

And I would recommend to all women who are in positions of power, who are producers, who are line producers, to create those safe spaces where young women can come and feel as though they're not going to jeopardize their jobs by having a conversation. It's no good having a town hall conversation, say, "Hey, this is your boss. Just say whatever you like." I mean, that's insane.

In her original letter, Thompson asked several questions of Skydance and CEO David Ellison. These were two of the key ones:

If a man has been touching women inappropriately for decades, why would a woman want to work for him if the only reason he's not touching them inappropriately now is that it says in his contract that he must behave "professionally"?

If a man has made women at his companies feel undervalued and disrespected for decades, why should the women at his new company think that any respect he shows them is anything other than an act that he's required to perform by his coach, his therapist and his employment agreement? The message seems to be, "I am learning to feel respect for women so please be patient while I work on it. It's not easy."

Thompson has several movies coming out this year. Portions of this interview have been edited for conciseness and clarity.