Hollywood kills the casting couch because of its rape-y past
In Hollywood, the “casting couch” might as well be called the “rape sofa.” It’s a symbol of an industry-wide culture of sexual harassment, manipulation and assault.
That’s why the largest actors' union in the U.S., known as SAG-AFTRA, and the four major television networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) have come to an agreement to eliminate the casting couch.
That black leather sofa was known as a place where power imbalances went wrong. It’s where predatory dudes could abuse their authority. It’s where aspiring actresses had to trade sexual favors with producers to score movie roles.
The idea of the casting couch as a tool for abusive men was so widespread that it was even adapted into a porn category.
When 20-year-old Sophie starred in a Backroom Casting Couch production, she posed as a hopeful candidate in adult modeling interviews. According to the script, she was so desperate for the position that she let her two skeezy interviewers dick-slap her. After all, horny viewers came to Backroom Casting Couch to see women “sucking, fucking, swallowing and taking it in the ass just to land a job.”
Hollywood has had enough of the insulting trope. The actors’ union calling for the ban represents 160,000 people in the media and entertainment industries, including actors, announcers, dancers, DJs, writers and editors.
The union and the networks have negotiated a contract to set in stone “best practices” for auditions. The contract aims to limit one-on-one meetings at “high-risk” locations, including hotel rooms and private homes while the wife’s out of town. If auditions can’t be held in a professional setting, the rules encourage actors to bring a “support peer,” who should be in the room with them the whole time.
It’s likely not a coincidence that these guidelines appear to be inspired by Harvey Weinstein. The Hollywood bigwig had a habit of luring women to his hotel room under the pretense of discussing a role in a movie. He was known to have an assistant escort the women to his room and then immediately leave, so that the actresses were trapped alone with the producer.
After Weinstein was arrested on rape charges, his lawyer claimed that Weinstein didn’t “invent the casting couch in Hollywood.” He was responsible for bad behavior, sure. But the whole industry is bad behavior.
Before anyone gets too excited about putting an end to bad behavior, it’s important to keep in mind the contract’s limitations. Only four major TV networks signed on, and there’s no clear consequences for failing to follow the rules. What’s more, the policies don’t include the movie industry at all.
This is crucial. Only if the rest of the entertainment industry follows the lead can the “rape sofa” meet its welcome end.