One month after the unfolding of the Noel Clarke scandal: what have we learned?
On April 29th, the Guardian released another ground-breaking and explosive investigation that brought years’ worth of concealed wrongdoing to the surface. This time, alongside ‘sexual harassment’ and ‘bullying’ tags, Noel Clarke’s name was attached.
Reading the piece aroused all-too-familiar dejavu. From 20 accounts of women being bullied and harassed by Clarke on-set, it was clear that there had been another Harvey Weinstein hiding in plain sight. Only this time, far younger and far closer to home.
Experiences included groping, unnecessary nude scenes and inappropriate comments of a sexual nature. Bullying was also rampant on Clarke’s film sets, where he almost always held the highest senior position. Victims spoke of blacklisting threats and aggressive behaviour, in some cases inducing severe breakdowns and panic attacks. However, each account came under the one umbrella: an abuse of power in a precarious industry.
The way women are objectified in film was challenged in an open letter by freelance producer, and founder of the Unseen on Screen anti-harassment campaign, Meriel Beale. The document calls for improper behaviour to be recognised and reprimanded, and for more women to hold senior positions in order to halt the issue in its tracks. Now - over a month later - the letter has more than 2000 signatures from individuals in UK film.
But the issue at hand isn’t the media industry in itself, it’s only an enabler of female exploitation. Ever-changing industries are the branches, but the root is how women are still perceived.
Clarke has vehemently denied all allegations, but his responses pin him guilty - even if only for blatant objectification. After discovering that The Guardian was working on an investigation about him and his misconduct, his response was “if a bunch of people go: he commented on my bum, or he mentioned my tits, it’s like - why do you need to take it this far?” along with “they [the victims] still have to prove it”.
When egotistical figures of power are created but not chastised: monsters are created. The same applies with bullies on the playground. If we don’t point out wrongdoing, how do they know it’s wrong? The answer: they don’t. Instead, they merely learn what they can get away with scot-free.
Throughout a 20 year career, Clarke has victimised 20 women who have come forward to give statements on the record - with many more thought to be hiding in the shadows - all the while dismissing their accounts as simply ‘mentioning [their] tits’. If we can’t change the way we treat women, we can’t make anywhere safe for them, let alone exploitative industries like film and TV.
Maybe instead of being pessimistic we should think of the #MeToo movement and its success across the water. It might have taken more than six months of in-depth research alongside six testimonies and two incredible journalists to break the story of Harvey Weinstein, but it did eventually end with some form of happily ever after - him in jail. The question is whether this was a one-off, or if the movement was a meaningful spur for real change.
So what is the long-term solution? How can we crack an industry so interchangeable that everyone is replaceable bar the perpetrator himself? Where this said voice is so triumphant that it drowns out all the rest?
One thing is certain: cancelling the productions he is involved in will not suffice. If anything, it only amplifies the idea that everyone suffers bar the one that is to blame.