When the Harvey Weinstein allegations first came to surface, I was appalled by his behavior, like most. Surprised about a “double life”? Not so much. It seems shocking when we hear the graphic details, but many men in power behave this way quite frequently without ever facing consequences or held accountable for their actions. Obviously, Hollywood and the entertainment industry with its blatant misogyny has been happening for a very long time. With so many women coming forward as of late, the allegations have reached a boiling point. Elements of the entire saga can be likened to “Punch and Judy,” which is the traditional, popular, and for the most part, a violent puppet show featuring Pulchinella (Mr.Punch) and his wife, Judy. The performance consists of a sequence of short scenes, each depicting an interaction between two characters, most typically Mr. Punch and one other character who usually falls victim to Judy’s club. The various episodes of “Punch and Judy” are performed in the spirit of outrageous comedy and are dominated by the clowning of Mr. Punch. The audience is also encouraged to participate, calling out to the characters on the stage to warn them of danger or clue them into what is going on behind their backs. A single puppeteer who created the series of scenes inside the booth, known since Victorian times as a “professor” or “punch man,” creates havoc (Punch mishandles the baby, fights with Judy, and hits characters with his stick, including his wife). He pulls all the strings because he has the power to and he’s behind the curtain. Therefore, he does it. Chaos takes place until Punch faces his final foe.
Secrecy and silence in regards to sexual misconduct within the workplace happen daily. They feed off of each other and create a very toxic work culture. Over time it has become the unethical standard — both in Hollywood and countless other work environments. The warped mentality of “don’t tell” because no one will believe you anyway plus the added pressure of losing your job makes it complicated to speak up. Well, the puppet show is over. The strings are irreparable. Overall, it’s not about women that want attention or fame. It’s not about women that speak up (what is perceived) as too late or women playing “the victim.” The bottom line is that it’s wrong and inappropriate behavior by particular men in high powered positions that think they can get away with it. What many people never acknowledge is the shame and depression so many women feel after an incident has taken place – until now. It takes time, healing, support, and strength to recover. There is also the additional sector of young girls and women who feel they have no resources for help. Or even worse, their friends and family may not believe them. In this case, it manifests into the worst form of suffering: making sense out of the chaos. The good news is that women are speaking up and fighting back. I applaud the women who have come forward and are making an effort to change the misogynistic attitude within our society. One of them is Canadian actress, Camille Hollett-French who created a brilliant film series titled “Her Story (In Three Parts).” The three-part series captures the raw, shameful emotions associated with elements of sex, sexuality, and assault. Hollett-French not only wrote the scripts and directed the films but also starred in them. It’s a beautiful and painful series. Camille had this project in motion way before the Hollywood/Weinstein blowup. In May, the series was a finalist for the Cayle Chernin Awards in Toronto. In August, the script for “Her Story No.2: “Hush Little Baby” was a winner of the LiveRead/LA where she was praised for her bold and unapologetic writing.
Who is Camille Hollett-French
Camille Hollett-French was born in the Montreal suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, to a Newfie father and a Trinidadian mother, who’s of Indian descent. Camille now resides in Toronto. She told her family from a young age that she would be a singer or actor, but didn’t actively pursue her career in the film and TV industry until she was about 18. Since then, she’s established herself in Toronto and on the international platform as the lead in the commercial success, “Kingdom Come,” an independent horror film released in 16 countries. I was honored to speak with Camille as she is leading an inspiring movement of women who have decided to speak out.
Hi Camille! It’s a real honor to interview you for Occhi Magazine. Thank you for sharing your story. Firstly, what drew you to the arts in the first place. You are an established Canadian actress. Who inspired you?
Now that I have a better grasp of who I am, I can see I’ve always been a creator because I’ve always been a well of emotions. Many people view it as a weakness at different times. I don’t care. I can’t change that, and I don’t think I’d want to. It’s who I am. From the time I was a kid, I’ve been painting, singing, acting, and writing. I was a writer first actually. Since then I’ve entirely veered off my path, and I’m in a place now where I’m slowly starting to carve out a new one for myself, one that’s authentically mine. I gravitate toward people who create their niche — the rebels, the ones told they’d never “make it” but have anyway, and the ones who are so uniquely themselves that no one could stand in their way, like Joaquin Phoenix, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Quentin Tarantino, Guillermo Del Toro, Sarah Polley, Damien Rice and Lissie. I tend to be attracted to people who are so obviously on a path to artistic truth, and in turn, an uncovering of themselves. My involvement in the arts has always gone hand in hand with authenticity and searching for genuine interactions.
What initially inspired you to make a three-part short film series on sexual harassment/assault. I know you mentioned it has been in the works for some time now. What do you feel was the catalyst?
The actual seed that started it all was an idea for another short film, which has since dissolved into not much–which I’m ok with! I know it had to live through the death of the first idea to evolve into what it is now.
Then each story found its way to me. Part 2 was the first one we worked on. Paul, my partner, was sleeping. It was late, and I was wide awake. Then this image hit me. It was a physical experience. It was a man and his daughter in this cool blue-grey room. It felt cold. He was wearing an orange jumpsuit, and there was a thick glass between them. They were holding phones to their ears. They barely said anything, but the silence between meant so much. And I thought, “Wow. THAT’s what’s happening between them. THAT’s what pain, love, anger, broken trust, and hope look like when they’re all tied up into one. From there, all three parts started to develop around what society was reading about almost on a daily basis–child sex rings being busted, ministers of education charged with sex crimes, the constant and unrelenting misogyny so deeply ingrained in our culture, as well as in workplaces, at home, and sometimes coming from our mouths (as women). Harvey and his shenanigans, and those of so many other professionals in the industry are coming out now, but this project started almost two years ago. It may be a coincidence (although I don’t believe in them!) that our production is coming together now, but our current climate of survivors speaking out isn’t a fad. It was a long time coming, and it’ll keep happening for a very long time. Misogyny is alive and well. It’s generational, and in many respects, I believe it’s spiritual too, like a curse that we need to work together to break.
The catalyst for the work stemmed from my frustration — with my career, with the world, and with me as a person. My successes over the past two years as well as my failings during that same time. It also stemmed from my inability to see something horrendous and just keep walking. Most importantly, my relationship with Paul, who’s my partner in love and business. His passion for the world and how much he wants to see it change for the better is so inspiring. Lastly, the support and faith of so many people along the way. I would not have been able to do this alone, and when people step up, it means so much. I’m so grateful to so many people for their generosity of mind, body, and spirit in supporting my vision and who believed in me.
In “Hush Little Baby”(part 2) your character, Lacey, is visiting her father in jail who is accused of child sexual molestation. I thought your emotions were so authentic and beautiful. There was anger, rage, sadness, confusion, and emptiness. How were you able to reach these feelings? Furthermore, this is compelling dialogue since (as you know) so many victims feel so much shame and confusion after experiencing sexual assault. You can speak to many young girls and women through this short and inspire them that what they are going through is real. That it is confusing and painful and that is ok!
“Hush Little Baby” was my very first moment of directing. There were naysayers for sure. I can’t even count as to how many times people asked me, being snarky, “How are you going to act and direct at the same time?!” Like it was a personal affront to them to even try. However, we have to remember, sometimes it IS an attack on people when you succeed, because it makes them break down their barriers and look long and hard at themselves and their insecurities. We don’t like to do that. I don’t! It’s one of the hardest things to do. That’s what I constantly strive to do in my work, so I that’s why I think there’s such a great sense of accomplishment when we create and push forth. That’s what happened many ways to “Hush Little Baby.”
As for the “how” I got through it, how I was able to pull it off (thank you for saying that by the way. I’m still always mostly unsure and at least a little terrified!) — it’s two-fold. One: I’ve got too much of an ego to look like an idiot, so I just get myself and my team to the point of where we have to jump off, then I just jump and know I can’t fail, so I do whatever I have to get through it. I’m sure it’s not the smartest way to work, but it’s been working so far! I’ve got my fingers crossed every time! Two: my love for my father. The desire for my family. The thought of being in Lacey’s shoes just crushed me. It also helped that I had the advantage of having lived with her, her pain, her heart, for so long. I wrote it, so I knew who she was from the beginning. It was like by the time we shot; I was just so eager to step into character.
It’s also interesting how there is no sense of closure in “Hush Little Baby.” The audience is left to think and ask questions for themselves. Is this what you wanted to achieve?
As a filmmaker, I don’t think it’s my job to answer questions. It’s my job to ask them. I also don’t believe there are any black and white in life. Conceptually, when we consider the lifespan of a person, it’s infinite shades of grey. As a creator, I think my primary duty is to be taking people along to experience what it’s like from someone else’s perspective and to do that in such an honest, authentic way, that it’s a complete experience for the viewer, in the case of film. So, if that’s what you got as an audience member, great. No reaction, no takeaway is wrong. If I did my job right, then what you felt, your takeaway, is authentically you. Honestly, that’s all I could ask for, and all I’d ever want to ask.
“The entertainment industry is polluted by predators in positions of power. One by one they’re finally being told that their actions have consequences, and I like it.” — Camille Hollett-French
It’s fantastic that you wrote, directed and acted in all three. How do you balance that?
I feel. I close my eyes and say, “Just one more step. Just take one more step.” Then I hope for the best. I have no idea what will happen. Again, as I mentioned before, the majority of the time I’m straight up terrified that it won’t work out. My choice is not to be “fearless.” I acknowledge the fear and… try to make friends with it. It’s the only way I’ll survive. I hope I’ll survive through it anyway!
Furthermore, I don’t want anyone to think I just pick up an idea and run as fast and hard as I have with this one. There is something to be said about the wisdom of the heart more specifically. We cannot forget that we are creatures who were creators of relationship and love. Not every idea will be “the one.” But every once in a while, something comes along that resonates with the world around you, and you don’t understand how or why–you just know it does. Suddenly it’s bigger than you, and you’re only a vessel. And there’s a real peace in that. It’s that understanding that you’re just a tool. You can let everything else fall away and just focus on moving forward. That’s the best way I feel I can explain “Her Story (In Three Parts).” The simple answer would be: I have no friggin idea!
What is your opinion of the women who have decided not to come forward or who wait? It is a personal choice (as we talked about) and everyone processes sexual assault differently.
This issue is something that comes up, and it pisses me off. Yes, we have human-made rules in place (i.e., the statute of limitations) but what we forget when we band together as a hungry and vile group of “others” in a situation of sexual assault is that trauma manifests differently for everyone. The human experience is a unique one. And we never know if or how much someone’s spirit will break after having power taken away–and that’s all sexual assault it. What’s so sad is it’s so often cyclical. Assault, sexual abuse, it festers through generations. That’s a tremendous undertaking–breaking the often nurtured spiritual habits trickling down through generations. If we think of it from a spiritual perspective, and regardless of religious affiliation, that’s some David and Goliath right now. Imagine just HOW difficult it is to come forward. And we never know the current personal life of each victim. Compound that with a system that does not back or care about victims. Add some extra points if you’re not a white woman with wealth and power–you’re screwed. So anytime I hear someone say something like, “Well if that happened to her, why didn’t she say anything sooner?” My first instinct is just to tell them to shut up, to just go away until they get a clue.
In “In The Absence of Angels,” your character, Crystal, is a community mentor and gets raped in broad daylight while walking home. Can you explain the aftermath a bit?
Actually, “In The Absence of Angels,” shot in Montreal, was in some ways a response to if and when a woman decided to come forward. I wanted to talk about and show the horror of what happens at the moment after being raped. Just imagine sitting in a room with a bunch of strangers in uniform as they make you go through the moments of ultra-personal details. I wanted my audience to feel the moment so they could put themselves in her shoes for what could happen if she were to go to the cops for instance. It’s horror. It’s all horror.
When does filming begin for part 1 and can you tell us a bit about it?
The first series, “A Simple Act” will be shot in March in Vancouver. It’s about a woman and her boyfriend who ended up in the ER after she’s had an abortion. The whole series is about untold stories. The aftermath, or the deeply personal side, the stuff we feel and think but don’t ever tell anyone–authentic human experience. No. 1 carries us through what it’s like to shut down emotionally and what takes to bring us back to life. It’ll be quiet in its telling, but loud and massive in its conclusion.
Watch In the Absence of Angels
Have you ever experienced assault or harassment within the entertainment industry?
Not in the traditional sense, no, but I don’t think that makes me ineligible to tell stories of those who have. I respect the pain because I know just how much of a person it takes to get through it. In this sense, I try my very best to treat a character’s story with respect, and I think how we do that is by making truth and the discovering of it the most important goal.
I have, however, experienced varying degrees of misogyny, which is, of course, the seed of the extreme. I was spared for whatever reason, but it happens all the time. It’s because it’s an industry that creates commodities out of human beings. It’s messed up. I’ve been on sets where the sound guy has felt it necessary to want me to stop eating the cookies I was baking and bringing for the crew because my “pants were getting too tight.” It goes beyond as well. As a producer, I find that I’m frequently ignored at a meeting, while potential partners fawn over Paul, the dominant, middle-aged male who’s an executive chef at a favorite Vancouver restaurant as his day job.
We have to look for the clues, the little indicators that say that, “As a woman, I deserve to be equal to a man.” That’s where it all starts. We can change it. It’s the blatant inequality that pushes me to keep moving forward.
Do you honestly see secrecy and silence so prevalent in the Hollywood environment changing? SO many women are coming forward (which is excellent), but what would be an example of real progress?
Progress would be not talking about it anymore because it’s a non-issue. No that would be the ideal, the utopian reality. Growth would be hiring and creating without ever mentioning the sex of candidates or colleagues because that would be power belonged to both genders, which would mean, the industry would have shifted to make room for everyone, which would mean decisions would be made with respect and based only on merit. When that happens, it’ll say people haven’t treated like commodities anymore. It’s exciting to think about. It gives me hope.
I cannot thank Camille Hollett-French enough for the insightful interview. She is a brave and talented woman who will continue to make honest and bold work within the entertainment industry. Her choice is not to create hatred; but rather, love and compassion by shedding light on this issue of sexual misconduct.
To learn more about Camille visit:
Featured Image Credit: Max Aria.
Lizzy Collazos is a LA based writer who covers fashion, style and emerging artists. She is constantly sourcing and inspired by designers, artists and entertainers making their mark in an innovative way. “I see fashion and art as a beautiful form of self-expression and a way to tell a story.” "I love becoming immersed in a project and seeing it through fruition."She knows the LA scene well and currently contributed to The LA Fashion Magazine as well as LA-Story.com. Follow Lizzy Collazos on these social platforms.