Sarah Polley Says the Sexism on Movie Sets ‘Would Make Your Blood Run Cold’

Picture via AP

In a NOW Toronto article,
actor-turned-writer/director-turned showrunner of the upcoming
Netflix series based on Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace
Sarah Polley, says that sexual harassment in film is an
every single day
.” Polley says that the sexism she witnessed and
experienced in her 25 years of acting is part of the reason why
she moved to focusing on work behind the camera after her last
role in 2010’s Trigger. Says Polley:

“If you’re surrounded by 60 people who aren’t standing up for
you, it does make you question whether you have the right to
stand up for yourself. If two or three people would come up
to you on a set and say, ‘Hey that was really wrong, we
should do something,’ most female actors would say,
‘Absolutely, let’s do something.’ But no one does that. Very
few people acknowledge that anything wrong has even happened.
That’s the culture. We have to change that, and we can.”

Without naming names, she also shares this disgusting anecdote:

She remembers being a nine-year-old on set watching as a
camera operator spouted off incredibly sexist comments. She
lashed back, “You make me really hate men.” He responded:
“You won’t be saying that when you’re 40 and you’ve got
cobwebs in your box.”

Later that same day, a female focus puller was crying. She
turned to Polley. “If it’s okay, just don’t say things like
that because then he takes it out on us all day long.”

The piece says that Polley has other “horrifying” stories “of
not just harassment but assault; stories that are not hers
alone to tell.”

“There are things that would make your blood run cold,” she
promises. “And women have just had to put up with it.”

Regarding Alias Grace, which is being directed by a
woman (Mary Harmon) and produced by mostly women, Polley is at
least woke on a lip-service level. “It’s all women,” she says.
“That’s great. But it’s also all white women.”


She’s noticed how the fight for inclusivity is often co-opted
by white feminism, where debates regarding representation
often segregate diversity as a separate issue to be dealt
with later.

“That’s something that the same people who are fighting for
gender aren’t being as loud about,” says Polley. “It’s about
race, and it’s also about socioeconomic diversity. How many
filmmakers do you know who didn’t come from some amount of
privilege? I’m not interested in only hearing voices of the

Polley knows that she’s not the right person to tell stories
on behalf of people of colour. She knows she could never
fully comprehend what it is to be marginalized. “Whiteness
has an ignorance that is bottomless,” she says.

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