Nothing Really Happens

Article by Steve Harvey, Director Impromptu

The Assistant is a film in which virtually nothing happens.

It tells a day in the life of an Assistant Producer for a movie production company. The unspoken context is the horrifying episodes of female exploitation in the film industry, and the antagonist, a chilling spectre who we never actually meet, is a proxy for Harvey Weinstein. He is, though, not Weinstein, but every male in every industry in every part of the world who has abused his power at the expense of women.

And, in the film, nothing really happens. There is no rape. No sexual molestation. No inappropriate touching. All is inferred. The film depicts, with utterly shocking banality, the everyday, the routinised, habituated, institutional acceptance of a status quo, in which both the men and the women are complicit in Kafkaesque preservation of patriarchal norms.

Nothing really happens, and yet everything happens. On every level the film screams, this is wrong. The film ends, the day ends, and, as the credits roll, we know that the exploitation continues, into the next day, and the next. We are faced with the grinding inevitability that, despite everything we know, the expectations, the power differential, the sinister, relentless manipulation of the naively hopeful, the fragile and the vulnerable, will endure.

We all know the incessantly publicised headline numbers that remind us of endemic structural gender inequality. We do, don’t we?

1 in 4 parliamentary seats held by women; 7% of fortune 500 CEOs are female; in journalistic media over 20 years across 114 countries women are seen, heard and read 24% of the time; 23% of films feature a female protagonist and only 31% of speaking characters are women; mean pay for women in the UK is 6.5% lower than men and for median pay (the important measure) the figure is 15.9% lower; in the US women earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men; globally 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence; at the current rate of progress it will take 108 years to achieve gender parity; globally women spend more than twice the amount of hours as men doing unpaid work; of the 900 Nobel Prize winners between 1901 and 2019, 53 have been women…..

And so it goes……on and on and on and on.

And I wonder, reflecting on The Assistant, if these numbers, whilst appalling, aren’t the most grotesque aspect and if, through repetition, we haven’t, to an extent, become inured to the reality of systemic gender inequity. In the film, nothing really happens other than we are offered a mirror. A mirror that reflects the invidiousness of discriminatory gender norms, deeply rooted in toxic patriarchal ecosystems, to the extent that covert aggression becomes business as usual and harassment, abuse and predation are met with a web of colluding silence.

And I wonder too, the extent to which I am unwittingly a de facto accomplice in this unrelenting patriarchal tradition. Nothing will really happen, I surmise, unless men embark on a truly honest examination of our own attitudes, behaviours and attachments to masculine expectations. Until we speak up. Until we sensitively join the symphony of women’s voices in calling this out. Not just the big things, the obvious and the deplorable, but the small things, those almost invisible building blocks of male gender privilege. Nothing will really happen, unless we choose to make things different. It is their right, and our shared responsibility.

And as the credits roll, I know that nothing has really happened, nothing has changed, nothing will change, nothing will be different, unless we choose to make it so.

“I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” Malala Yousafzai