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Saint Mary’s alumna addresses harassment and power dynamics in Hollywood

| Thursday, March 22, 2018

Kate Hennessy, who has worked on films including “Lady Bird,” “Fences” and “Interstellar” and supervised famous actors and actresses including Viola Davis, Anne Hathaway and Sir Michael Caine, reflected on the #MeToo movement and life in Hollywood in the Vander Vennet Theatre at Saint Mary’s on Wednesday evening.

Associate professor of psychology Karen Chambers said she read Hennessy’s posts on social media and was inspired to invite her back to Saint Mary’s to speak.

“When #MeToo broke in Hollywood, I have Kate on social media because I run the Ireland program and she came to Ireland, I read Kate’s post about her experiences in Hollywood,” she said. “I thought she had some really interesting things to say about #MeToo and about what was being said in Hollywood. And so, I put it in the back of my head that the next time she makes one of her many cross-country journeys, that I would see if I could entice her to come back to Saint Mary’s to present.”

Hennessy, who graduated from Saint Mary’s in 2012, said she started working in the film industry when she was in high school. As part of her job, Hennessy oversees a multitude of tasks including running set, working with various departments to create a schedule for the next day, placing background actors and keeping the cast and crew on schedule, she said.

“After talking my way onto set one day, I started working as a production assistant in high school,” she said. “Eleven years later, I now work as an assistant director as part of the Directors Guild of America. I’ve worked on $250 million big-budget blockbusters and I’ve worked on tiny indie films — working in Los Angeles to New York, from San Francisco to Boston and even to Las Vegas and Hawaii.”

Regarding her experiences as a woman in Hollywood, Hennessy said she feels there is a big power problem in the film industry.

“I have worked on over 50 film projects with only four of them being directed by women,” she said. “As difficult as it is to have these experiences happen to yourself, there is also a difficulty in seeing it happen to someone else. It’s not just a matter of being able to speak up for yourself but it’s also a matter of supporting the voices of other women as they speak up.”

Hennessy said although she was not raped, she was assaulted almost every day on the job. After sorting through 10 years of feelings on the issue, Hennessy said, she finally decided to speak out with a post on Facebook.

“I’ve been touched, talked to and treated inappropriately since I started. I’ve had an actor undo my bra through my shirt in front of hundreds of people because ‘it was a prank,’” she said. “I’ve been asked when texting if ‘I use those fingers on my boyfriend.’ I’ve purposefully hidden behind walls or avoided the lunch room, so I didn’t have to feel watched by certain crew members. The list goes on, but it doesn’t matter. It needs to stop.”

Hennessy said the #MeToo movement is something that has been brewing beneath the surface in Hollywood for years. She said it is about time that these incidents have come out and that both men and women can now be held accountable for their actions.

“Make no mistake, people have known about these allegations for years and these occurrences have been happening for far too long, sweeping across far too many professions,” she said. “As women, we show up to work — not to get abused, not to get harassed, not to feel the need to hide and not to feel uncomfortable. We show up to work. It’s absolutely time for a change and it’s time that both men and women are held accountable for their actions.”

Hennessy said the catalyst for change in every industry, especially Hollywood, will be women supporting women. She said that she believes it is important for young women to know their rights so they are not caught off guard.

“There’s a certain stigma that exists that sexual abuse only encompasses rape,” she said. “However, sexual harassment in the workplace is so much more than just rape. If it makes someone feel uncomfortable or compromised, then it’s harassment and that happens every day and in every industry.”

Before incidents occur, Hennessy said, it is helpful and important for young women who are about to go into the workforce to educate themselves so they can be prepared.

“Do your research, know the numbers, be able to have full-fledged conversations and debates with people on the subject,” she said. “I think that the best thing that you can do for yourselves is to be prepared, know the facts. You look at things like Parkland, [Florida] — a movement is happening. Whether you agree with it or not it doesn’t matter, the point is that it’s happening because these students were prepared.”

Hennessy urged young women to be ready, engaged and set boundaries on these issues.

“When those discussions come you can be ready with the facts but also knowing your game plan, think about what your boundaries are,” she said. “So that when stuff happens, not only harassment but for example, if you’re pigeon-toed into a job because you’re a woman, you need to be prepared and you can challenge that. I truly believe that the answer lies in beginning the conversation. It took me 10 years to be able to talk about this.”

Hennessy said that the biggest thing women can do to challenge societal norms is to support other women.

“I think that the biggest thing us, as women, can do is support other women, hire other women, get each other in the work field and have each other’s backs,” she said. “As long as you guys are prepared, you guys are going to be the ones to make a change, I absolutely, wholeheartedly believe that. I challenge you to support your female filmmakers, your female doctors, whatever work field you guys are going into, support each other and don’t compete with one another. You guys have the power to make things happen.”

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