Members of the U.K. film and TV industry are calling for an overhaul of on-set safety measures and a “recalibration” of how to protect survivors of abuse following reports of multiple allegations of sexual harassment and bullying against Noel Clarke during his decades-long career as an actor, writer and producer.
Since The Guardian released its investigation into the star, best known for his roles in “Doctor Who” and “Bulletproof,” as well as creating “The Hood” film trilogy, 26 people have come forward with accusations against him. Clarke has categorically denied any sexual misconduct or criminal wrongdoing, but released a statement apologizing for some of his actions.
The revelations have emboldened industry insiders to speak out about a culture that has allowed professional misconduct to continue, even after the Time’s Up movement swept the film and TV world four years ago with the #MeToo reckoning sparked by the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
“The industry needs a total recalibration,” actor Morven Christie tells Variety. “The onus remains on the victim to report, and the focus after doing so is protecting the production legally, rather than accountability for perpetrators, who continue to flourish.”
A star of such dramas as “Ordeal by Innocence” and “The Bay,” Christie details an incident of bullying on set where she was targeted by a male co-star who was “enabled” by producers during the 15-week shoot.
“I’ve personally experienced this all the way up to broadcaster executive level and the impact is still with me five years later. It destroyed my confidence,” Christie says. “It feels like a protection racket for powerful men. They’re not secrets. No one is surprised. My greatest disappointment is that they’re accepted, covered up, excused, protected and — in more cases than just [Noel Clarke] — rewarded.”
BAFTA has faced significant criticism from those in and outside its membership for giving Clarke the award for Outstanding Contribution to British Cinema despite being made aware of the allegations two weeks before the April 10 ceremony. The charitable institution waited another two weeks, after the first slew of allegations were published on April 29, to rescind his award and remove him from its membership.
“I believed in BAFTA post #MeToo and the incredible work they’ve done around inclusion,” Christie says. “That change moved me to my soul, so this broke my heart. My immediate reaction was that I wanted to hand back my membership.”
BAFTA-winning director and producer Charlie Hanson was among the many BAFTA members dissatisfied with the decision to “ignore” claims brought to them by director Sally El Hosaini, actor James Krishna Floyd and talent development manager Pelumi Akindude.
“A lot of people saw the BAFTA email and were disappointed that three prominent people of color came to them about the harassment allegations and they weren’t given the time they deserved,” Hanson tells Variety. “Who were the decision makers? Was it just [chief executive Amanda Berry] and [chair Krishnendu Majumdar]? Just careless leadership.”
Berry and Majumdar, the latter of whom led the response to the allegations, are not without their supporters who agree with the arts charity’s statement that it was “not in a position to properly investigate such matters.”
Many, however, like filmmaker and film educator Saeed Taji Farouky, disagree and believe the institution took the “easiest path.”
“BAFTA had so many opportunities along the timeline of this story to not elevate Clarke to the position of rainmaker for the British film industry, to do their due diligence before selecting him for the award, to delay the award while they assessed the situation and to engage meaningfully and sensitively in the investigation,” he tells Variety.
“They chose none of these [so] to characterize this as having ‘no choice’ or being in an ‘impossible situation,’ as many of the Academy’s supporters say, is clearly disingenuous.”
One casting director, who asked to remain anonymous, tells Variety that Clarke was known in the industry as being a problematic figure to work with. She believes that part of the problem is the normalization of bullying behaviour and misconduct, with few meaningful avenues for people to report their concerns and be taken seriously.
“Nobody feels brave enough to speak out; we’re all used to being bullied. It’s almost like it’s part and parcel of the job,” she says. “It’s in the DNA. It’s all these little things that are not normal, that become normalized and then it’s like, where are the Ghostbusters? Who are we going to call?”
Jake Taylor, the principal of the London School of Dramatic Arts (LSDA), has already taken steps to prevent further abuses of power at his educational institution where Clarke was on the board of directors and, in 2012, had turned an unsupervised Q&A session into an acting workshop where students were asked to strip down to their underwear to improvise a scene of “getting ready for bed.”
“I have learnt that just because someone is in the public eye and is a respected national figure, it doesn’t mean that they can be trusted,” Taylor tells Variety.
Taylor has now arranged for his graduating students to “have someone come in to talk to them about what the lines of acceptable behaviour are in the industry,” but believes more widespread regulations need to be established so people are aware of what constitutes unprofessional and inappropriate behaviour, such as naked auditions.
“I feel that we need more industry-agreed guidelines so that everyone is clear on what is acceptable and what is not,” Taylor says. “It is important to find a way to ensure that every artist knows these guidelines, especially new and emerging artists — that way, rogue agents will not be able to manipulate others.
“We also need to create a safe, easy and centralized way for people to report abusers.”
Samantha Lawrence, managing director of ‘Made in Chelsea’ producer Monkey Kingdom, says there has to be “a zero tolerance policy” to harassment and bullying, but the industry is stuck in the past.
“There is still old school behaviour that’s learned, and so we just have to keep pushing those barriers,” she tells Variety. “If the behaviour is wrong, then we have to do something about it and we have to stop worrying about ‘what if we lose that show?’ or ‘this person will be pissed off.’”
Hanson echoes these sentiments. “If you were abused by a first AD, then when you become one, you might also give abuse,” he says. “It’s learnt behaviour that is not confronted enough.”
Both senior industry figures point to the influence of U.S. production companies for incorporating measures to safeguard individuals while carrying out their film and TV work. Hanson, who worked with Netflix on the Ricky Gervais series “After Life,” praised the streamer for its hotline that allows individuals to lodge complaints and concerns anonymously. “People were sceptical but it definitely helps and makes people feel more comfortable,” he says.
Lawrence says Monkey Kingdom’s parent company NBCUniversal has required “Respect In The Workplace” training for all its employees after the Weinstein scandal came to light. “Since it was brought in, the training has massively moved on because it’s much more about believing and feeling respected and more broadly about inclusivity across the board,” she says, remarking on the Clarke allegations.
“We’re in 2021 and we shouldn’t be blindsided by this. If that was on my watch, I’d be just devastated, but it’s made me go, ‘Right, we need to make more changes,’ and I just really hope that everyone’s going to be proactive.”
A consensus seems to be that a culture shift is required to prevent abuse of power from those in privileged positions within the industry — but it needs everyone, from the highest and lowest ranks, to participate in order to ensure effective change is made so that people feel empowered to speak up.
“The message going forward has to be that we need to embrace an environment where people, and particularly women, can speak up,” says Lawrence.
Adds Farouky, “If abusers feel that the culture — of our institutions, of our Academy, of our staff and colleagues — is fully committed to protection and doesn’t tolerate abuse or bullying, they will have a much harder time getting away with it.”
If you are based in the U.K. and would like to speak to someone about bullying or harassment you can call the Film and TV Charity’s 24-hour Support Line at 0800 054 00 00 to speak to a bullying advisor or use their online resources at www.filmtvcharity.org.uk/bullying.