Essays · Movies

Mara Wilson’s Personal Essay Speaks to a Larger Hollywood Problem

Stop for a moment and listen to what Mara Wilson has to say. It’s important.
By  · Published on November 17th, 2017

Stop for a moment and listen to what Mara Wilson has to say. It’s important.

In a powerful essay for Elle, former child actress Mara Wilson addresses the troubling way Stranger Things actress Millie Bobby Brown is sexualized in media. She reflects on her own experience as a child actress and the vulnerable position she was put in at such a young age by entering the spotlight. However, her essay only briefly touches on a larger problem within an industry that is riddled with sexual abusers in positions of power and how we as moviegoers have a larger voice than we realize.

Amidst the Harvey Weinstein reports, producer Gabe Hoffman decided to put his 2014 documentary An Open Secret on Vimeo for free. The documentary shows the sexual abuse child actors went through at the hands of their managers and other industry workers. “Harvey Weinstein, by the way, is not the only one who has used confidentiality settlements. That’s why more of Hollywood’s behavior hasn’t been exposed. This is the tip of the iceberg,” Hoffman said to The Hollywood Reporter.  An Open Secret is an uncomfortable documentary to watch, but a necessary one for those all of us who are still supporting those in the industry who have been accused of sexual crimes and continue to have a career.

It focuses on the amount of power even managers, publicists, and other overlooked members of Hollywood have over child actors. Taking advantage of the adolescent dreams of success in entertainment and the trust they put in them to make that happen, sexual predators in the industry are able to silence many of these children. They are made to believe that persecuting their abusers will ruin their careers because Hollywood itself does everything to bury that aspect of the industry. Many overlook accusations, continue to hire these offenders, bury allegations, and kill stories about them all in an effort to continue to make money.

That’s why revelations like with Kevin Spacey come as such a surprise. So many people are working against the truth coming out. Because these men are on a pedestal in the industry, in the media, and in the country’s eyes, they get away with it. The myth that the people we see on screen can’t be the disgusting and malicious people we associate with child molesters continues to live on unless we talk about these issues, no matter how uncomfortable they make us.

It’s obvious from An Open Secret and Mara’s essay that the way we treat child actors leaves them powerless to inappropriate behavior. “Because I was a child actor, my body was public domain,” Mara writes in her essay. We think that because these children are working and in the spotlight like adult celebrities, they can be treated the same. Articles claiming Millie Bobby Brown is “all grown up” in a dress at 13 years old should make us question how we look at the child actors we watch in TV and movies.

Applauding the kids of Stranger Things for their acting is one thing, but obsessing over what their wearing or when they will be of age is downright inappropriate. If people on social media can joke about how hot those kids will be in a few years or the media can claim a teenage girl is grown up, then what separates those comments from the same ones made by sexual predators. Popularizing this view of children by looking at them the same way we do adult actors is certainly enabling the inappropriate behavior none of us want to happen to those kids. As we watch them on TV, we have to keep in mind that these child actors are children first and foremost.

It’s unfair that they have to encounter this kind of sexualization so readily in the media and on social media as well. “Every time I stumbled across an article about myself, every fear I had about my pubescent body was confirmed: I was “ugly,” which as a woman, made me useless, or I was “cute,” which made me an object,” Mara writes. Child actors spend as much time on social media as any other young person, so they are most likely seeing the things we tweet them and the articles about them. Mara urges us to take more responsibility for what we say about young actresses online, knowing that it is a public platform.

The mistreatment of young actresses in the media and the sexual abuse of child actors is only part of a larger problem in the entertainment industry. So many men have been accused of sexual misconduct in the past two months it’s hard to believe there are any decent men left in Hollywood. It’s hard to sit back and listen to these stories of people being taken advantage of with no say in the matter.

We as audiences do have somewhat of a say, however. We can’t stop these men from harassing women, but we can make sure they will not be able to continue on having careers as if nothing happened, without any consequences. We are put in a difficult position when we find out the people who are making the movies we love are using their power in the industry to get away with sexual abuse. Their inability to take responsibility for their actions by denying or covering up accusations should not be overlooked when we choose what movies we watch.

As long as we support the projects made by abusers, they will continue to have a normal career, never reaping consequences for their actions and certainly never learning from them. The industry is only concerned with one thing–making money. If we take into account the people we are supporting when we pay to see their movies or stream their shows, we won’t enable these men to use the industry to take advantage of people. Hopefully, A-list actors will stop wanting to be in a Woody Allen movie anymore if no one wants to watch one and it doesn’t make any money.

The industry is already considering that as Ridley Scott deleted Kevin Spacey from his new movie and TV networks cut ties with Louie C.K. after their sexual misconduct was reported. It paints a bad picture for everyone involved as long as we take accusations seriously, and we are finally listening to these victims. It’s our job to continue to listen to the victims, even those who have buried their experiences within themselves for decades. We have to take into account those we are giving our money to when we go to the movies from here on out, knowing sexual predators make up much more of Hollywood than many of us wanted to believe.

While “separating the art from the artist” could be an argument, it shouldn’t be when the artist is using his success and fame from the art to abuse others. What does the art matter if it hurts people in the process?

Related Topics: ,

Emily Kubincanek is a Senior Contributor for Film School Rejects and resident classic Hollywood fan. When she's not writing about old films, she works as a librarian and film archivist. You can find her tweeting about Cary Grant and hockey here: @emilykub_