A REVIEW OF INDUSTRIES
Public perception has been shattered by the #MeToo movement and the many stories of violations which have surfaced as a result (particularly those involving Hollywood) when it comes to the protections afforded by current laws against sexual harassment in the workforce. JR and I have studied this topic for years, and yes, contrary to popular belief, even before the #MeToo movement started trending, one thing has always remained true--sexual harassment is out of control. To illustrate, we’ve assembled examples of noteworthy news stories impacting many of our industries which we will feature from time to time. Please note our reviews barely scratch the surface and the sad reality is no industry is safe from possible sexual abuse.
FEATURED: THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
Until recently, the music industry appeared unaffected by the sweeping revelations of the #MeToo movement as only a few music executives made headlines. Among the first was hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons (co-founder of the hip-hop label Def Jam, home to LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys), accused by eleven women (to date) of alleged sexual harassment, assault, or rape. Next is L.A. Reid, former Epic Records president and former judge on the “X-Factor”, forced to leave the Sony Music label after a coworker complained she suffered several instances of sexual harassment by Reid. Charlie Walk, president of Republic (Records) Group and former judge on Fox reality show “The Four”, also faces sexual harassment allegations from a former employee, Tristan Coopersmith, who worked under Walk fifteen years ago at Sony Records. Coopersmith describes her alleged treatment in an open letter to Walk, which includes lewd comments and inappropriate touching. She was finally forced to leave: “After a year of working in fear, I finally called deep on my courage and shared my story with your counterpart. He wasn’t surprised. He told me that there was nothing I could do about it, but that he would help me coordinate a graceful exit if I wanted. I was paid to keep my mouth shut and my reputation intact. …” Walk denies the allegations: “There has never been a single HR claim against me at any time during my 25-plus year career, spanning three major companies. I have consistently been a supporter of the women’s movement and this is the first time I have ever heard of this or any other allegation — and it is false.”
Walk, initially placed on leave by Republic Records pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation, has left the label. He was a 19-year veteran of Sony Music before he joined Republic as Executive Vice President in 2013, later becoming Republic’s President in 2016. Following Coopersmith’s open letter, four more women have come forward with accounts of sexual harassment by Walk while working with him, including sexually explicit messages, exposing his penis, and inappropriate touching in private and during work meetings.
In another development, Jeff Fenster–Warner Bros. Records Executive Vice President of A&R (“Artists and Repertoire”, i.e. artist scouting and recruiting)–is leaving that label following the company’s investigation into a former employee’s allegations of sexual misconduct. The company released a statement saying the company was “grateful to a former Warner Bros. Records employee for coming forward to raise these concerns with us” and that they had “appointed an independent investigator to conduct a thorough, in-depth investigation, as a consequence of which [they] are taking the appropriate disciplinary actions.” Warner Bros. further said the investigation’s findings “helped us identify areas where we can improve the enforcement of our policies and bolster our efforts to maintain a safe, respectful, and professional environment for all of our employees.”
The music industry may have a worse reputation than Hollywood when it comes to sexual harassment and abuse. Think about fans who will “do anything” to meet their idol musician, or the talented, up-and-coming stars looking for mentorship and a “manager” without the experience to know what that relationship should entail and what is appropriate. What about sexually charged musicians and band members who spend months on the road? If you have new music, what will it take for the radio stations and DJs to play your record? To keep a musician on your record label, what will you do to keep them happy? Will you ignore their bad behavior and how far will you let it go?
According to a recent article, sexual misconduct and statutory rape with minors “was not only permitted but glamorized in music.” The article notes David Bowie, guitarist Jimmy Page, and Ted Nugent as some of the alleged violators who engaged in inappropriate relationships with minors. A recent example involves R&B legend R. Kelly, who reportedly mentally and physically abuses young talent for his own personal sexual gain, keeping them captive in a cult-like environment and allegedly dictating every aspect of their lives. Numerous legal challenges over the years have failed to find Kelly responsible for any sexual harassment or assault. According to reports, he was tried in an Illinois court in 2008 for making child pornography but, after a six-year legal battle, he was eventually acquitted of all fourteen charges. He also settled multiple civil lawsuits involving sexually inappropriate behavior out-of-court for cash in exchange for the victims’ signatures on non-disclosure agreements ensuring their silence. In 1994, R. Kelly married his then 15-year-old protege, Aaliyah (the marriage certificate incorrectly stated she was 18), meanwhile producing an album called “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.” The marriage was annulled the same year. In one case, parents were trying to get their daughter to leave Kelly’s home but because she was over 18 and unwilling to leave, there was nothing the parents could do. Now R. Kelly is back in the news. In January 2019, Lifetime premiered a several part show called Surviving R. Kelly that reviewed his alleged mental and physical abuse of women, including minors. As we note in this industry review, R. Kelly is reported to have repeatedly mentally and physically abused young talent for his own personal sexual gain, keeping them captive in a cult-like environment and allegedly dictating every aspect of their lives and may be continuing to do so today. [Source: Janice Williams, “R. Kelly’s Alleged Victims: A Timeline of Sexual Misconduct Allegations Against the R&B Singer.” Newsweek. Published online October 24, 2017.]
After the documentary aired, TMZ reported that the Fulton County District Attorney’s office opened an investigation and reached out to survivors from the Lifetime premier. R. Kelly was charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse (three of the victims were minors at the time of the alleged events) and was briefly jailed for missing child support payments. In a more bizarre twist of events, after being charged, R. Kelly appeared in his first interview with CBS’s Gayle King about his new legal troubles, where he appeared emotionally distraught, combative and angry, portraying himself as the victim of a social media smear campaign. The interview was notably parodied on “Saturday Night Live.” To make things even worse for R. Kelly, as of May 31, he is now facing 11 new counts, four of which are for aggravated criminal sexual assault—a Class X felony that carries a sentence of up to 30 years—involving alleged forced sexual encounters with a minor in 2010.
Rolling Stone noted in a recent article investigating Country Music Radio’s climate of harassment and sexual misconduct that few are willing to speak openly for fear of retaliation. Rolling Stone released a statement saying they “wanted to show what it’s really like for young artists going out into the world where something is expected of them” and to explore the widespread belief that “if you want your record played, this is what you do” (quoting Nashville creator Callie Khouri in her interview with Rolling Stone Country). Acquiescing to the demands of a producer, label representative, or radio station, for example, is not an option if you want your music played, and if you watched the 2018 Grammy Awards, you might have been brought to tears by Keisha’s performance of “Praying” reflecting on her tortured relationship and lengthy legal battle with her former producer Dr. Luke:
“... And you said that I was done
Well, you were wrong and now the best is yet to come
'Cause I can make it on my own, oh
And I don't need you, I found a strength I've never known
I'll bring thunder, I'll bring rain, oh
When I'm finished, they won't even know your name …”
Kesha sued Dr. Luke for damages for the alleged abuse and to get out of her record contract so she could work with other labels. According to reports, the lawsuit alleged “sexual assault, sexual harassment, gender violence…[and] infliction of emotional distress” among other things. Singer Janelle Monae made a powerful introduction of Kesha’s performance at the 2018 Grammys, referencing the “Time’s Up” movement launched by a group of celebrities in January 2018 and announced in The New York Times: “We come in peace, but we mean business. And to those who would dare try to silence us, we offer you two words: Time’s Up! We say time’s up for pay inequality, time’s up for discrimination, time’s up for harassment of any kind, time’s up for abuse of power. We also have the power to undo the culture that does not serve us well. It’s not just going on in Hollywood, it’s not just going on in Washington, it’s going on in our industry.”
In another well-publicized case, Taylor Swift was sued by a Denver-based country DJ after he was fired for groping her behind under her skirt during a photo opportunity. Swift decided to counter-sue for a symbolic $1.00 to make a point: “I figured that if he would be brazen enough to assault me under these risky circumstances and high stakes, imagine what he might do to a vulnerable, young artist if given the chance." The DJ’s claims were all shot down by the jury and the diva won her single buck in a victory that was infinitely more valuable.