Two prominent South African actresses have revealed that they have been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.
This follows the revelations of former Rhythm City actress Nokuthula Ledwaba who revealed she was harassed after Hollywood actresses detailed their alleged harassment by movie producer Harvey Weinstein.
Ledwaba took to Twitter and said: “I was 19, starting out as an actor when a ‘respected’ male actor in his 30s said he wanted to ‘take care’ of me while stroking my hair. This particular actor was married. I just played along for an hour or so and ducked as soon as I could,” she said.
She added that she got a bad reputation at work because of her refusal to work with men who harassed her.
“I had reported him on many occasions and nobody listened. I got fed up. I asked to be written out of the show. They thought I was kidding. I simply refused to work.
“They got other actors to talk me out of my madness. Stood my ground. I was ready to march to the broadcaster. You refuse their advances, you’re a s**t, a prima donna, difficult,” she explained.
Now Katlego Danke, star of popular soapie Isidingo and former 7de Laan actress and star of the critically acclaimed film Krotoa, Crystal-Donna Roberts, have come out in support of Ledwaba and detailed their own experiences.
Danke said that her harassment happened at university and very recently at work.
“It’s so important for us to be having these conversations because this is a real issue. I have been a victim, at university and very recently at work.
“It happened while I was still walking to set past a male group of extras. I went to management immediately and told them they needed to deal with it. I take a huge stand against it because of my past experiences, even the subliminal sexual comments from male colleagues are actually disturbing but we have been taught to laugh them off,” she said.
Danke said that a serious conversation needed to be had about what constitutes harassment.
“I think that this conversation must be had now. We need to discuss what is okay and what isn’t okay, educate people about what ‘crossing the line’ actually means.”
Roberts, who has also been a victim, said: “I won’t say which show it was for or for what character I played, but I was doing a scene with my character’s boyfriend and we were meant to kiss.
“During the kiss he started putting his hands on my breasts and bum and that was not in the script at all. I was so shocked that at first I thought I was imagining it and questioned if it happened, but it did and I wish I spoke about it earlier,” she said.
“You don’t expect it to happen to you because it is a colleague, someone you know, a man you will see at an industry event. The problem is that we are scared to speak, we don’t want to lose our jobs or not get another one so we don’t say anything, but I think it’s time that changed. We need to start speaking and telling our stories and taking a stand against what has been happening for a long time,” Roberts said.
Sara Blecher, chairperson of the Sisters Working in Film and Television board, said sexual harassment was rife.
“Our industry, just like the American one, is rife with sexual harassment against female workers. From actresses to wardrobe staff and even set designers.
“We recently conducted a survey within the industry and found that almost 70% of women felt unsafe at work yet we have a constitution that gives everyone the right to a safe working environment,” Blecher said.
She also said it was difficult to prove harassment because it often happened behind closed doors.
“The perpetrator hardly ever does it in front of others, so it’s one person’s word against another. And what makes it even more difficult is that there is no legal recourse because most people in the industry work on a freelance basis, so labour laws can’t help,” she said.
However she said that SWIFT was in the process of drafting a code of conduct. “We are in the final stages of drafting a viable Code of Conduct to be implemented throughout the industry. We are in the process of encouraging broadcasters and funding bodies to support the Code of Conduct initiative.
“This will ensure that women are protected when it comes to reporting and dealing with cases of sexual harassment and will make the industry safer for women.”
Award-winning veteran actress Fiona Ramsay said that although she has never experienced it herself, she has witnessed it.
“The bottom line is sexual harassment across all gender lines is unacceptable and awareness of such sexual harassment and bullying is vital to promote in every forum.
“It is often silent, furtive and hidden and occurs in all industries.
Recent allegations that have emerged in the arts industry have placed the film and television industry in a blinding spotlight. Sexual (racial, gender and other forms of) violent discrimination in a culture cannot be eliminated without changing the culture.
“The hierarchies that exist in these industries where men dominate and are responsible for both economic and artistic decisions have to change. Although it has never happened to me, I have witnessed sexual harassment in theatres, in radio studios and on film and television sets and have called people out on it,” Ramsay said.
She further said: “A sobering perspective is that in the 86-year history of the prestigious Academy Awards - only one woman has ever won in the Best Director category. Perhaps the statue, The Fearless Girl, that stands in Wall Street, sends a message about workplace gender diversity. The plaque below the statue states “Know the power of women in leadership. She makes a difference”. Perhaps we need to put similar images of women on our street corners and parks and outside our workplaces.”
Another award winning actress, Terry Pheto, who has starred in international films and television shows shared Ramsay’s sentiments.
“I have been fortunate enough to never have any sort of sexual harassment happen to me in my career. However, I am not ignorant of the fact that is does happen, especially for young actresses.
“When I started out, my mentors were very protective of me, but I have colleagues who have been harassed. You do find yourself in positions where you ask yourself ‘Am I really supposed to be doing this? I mean surely this kiss should not feel like this and he should not be touching me in that way’ because we are in a business where kissing your co-star in front of cameras is normal, sex and nudity too, and within that very dynamic, harassment can happen because at what point do you say ‘You are being a little too touchy with your hands and mouth’,” Pheto said.
She also said that it is all about power and nothing else.
“People who are in a position of power often abuse that power for their personal gains. In a sense they are untouchable. It is very difficult to report a director or producer: those are the people who gave you the job and these people know the desperation of people and take advantage of that.
“I believe every single woman who has come out because I know this happens and my hope is that justice is served and that the men who do this are punished. The more we speak on this the better for all of us,” she said.
* A statement from the South African Guild of Actors (Saga) said that the reported sexual abuses by the powerful Harvey Weinstein “are testament to the toxic environment that has, for the longest time, festered below the surface of a ‘glamorous’ industry.
“Saga recognises that sexual predators target the most vulnerable among us and believe it is incumbent on those with a voice to speak up and speak out. Saga therefore calls on producers and managements within the local film, television and theatre industries to take responsibility for creating harmonious and respectful working environments free of discrimination and gender-based abuse.”
As a member of the International Federation of Actors, Saga had been participating in research into sex and gender-based violence and harassment in the industry, and this was to be presented to the International Labour Organisation soon.
“Saga urges leading industry stakeholders to stand up and to show their faces by adopting and enforcing the policies outlined in the Code. The actors’ Guild firmly believes that to remain silent is to tacitly endorse the kind of abuse currently being spotlighted in news coverage and social media campaigns.”