April 23, 2019

#MeToo Before #MeToo

“The mainstream, post-Weinstein phase of the MeToo movement is often considered in a vacuum. These ahistorical readings erase activists like Tarana Burke, the founder of the movement, as well as early accusers who did not have a hashtag, let alone any support or sympathy from their industry.

The new documentary Rocking the Couch, written and directed by Minh Collins and produced by Andrea Evans, focuses on sexual-misconduct allegations from the early ‘90s, but makes sure to establish that predatory behavior and sexual assault have always been Hollywood staples. This alternative history of Hollywood begins with the absolutely horrifying story of Virginia Rappe. In 1921, the American actress was allegedly raped by silent film star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Rappe died four days after the alleged attack, and Arbuckle was charged with manslaughter. After the first two cases ended in a hung jury, Arbuckle was eventually acquitted in his third trial. But, as the documentary points out, his career never recovered—a far cry from our current wave of #MeToo comebacks.

After a heavily-abridged history of sexual-assault allegations in old-timey Hollywood, Rocking the Couch fast-forwards to the ‘80s and ‘90s. The documentary’s strongest and most compelling interviews are with a number of current and former actresses, reflecting on the sexual harassment and assault that functioned as their introductions to the entertainment industry.

Tonja Walker, a former Miss USA contestant, recalls moving out to L.A. and immediately getting soap opera work. At one casting, she met a soap star who proceeded to ask her out for dinner. Walker was excited for the date; she remembers hours of careful preparation, getting ready for their plans at 6:30. He showed up hours late, in a hockey jersey. “I knew immediately that this was bad,” she explains. They walked to pick up pizza, with Walker noting that, “I couldn’t wait to go home and be done with him.” At her door, she said goodnight—“and he said, not so fast.” The anonymous star closed her door and pushed her toward the bedroom, saying, “You know you want to do this.” He raped her and left, and she never heard from him again.”

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