In the wake of the Me Too movement, Hollywood and the world over are experiencing a serious cultural and social shift. As a result of the brave women and men who spoke out about their experiences, a light has been shed on the dark nature of complicit silence within Hollywood and filmmaking.
In the wake of this movement, as we see these cultural shifts, we also stand in awe of those brave enough to come forward and continue the conversation. Australian playwright and writer Sarah Doyle, is one of those conversation makers and just like her plays, Sarah is bold, compelling and sometimes even a little controversial.
Her daring and topical work has made waves not just in Australia and Europe but also the US. In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Sarah spoke out about her own sexual assault at the hands of Hollywood director James Toback. Since her interview, Sarah has continued to write opinion pieces on her own experiences and the rise and subsequent outcomes of the Me Too Movement.
As a busy and desired writer now based in LA, I was very lucky to sit down with inspiring and unstoppable Sarah Doyle to discuss not only the Me Too Movement but the Aussie mafia in LA, money making and art and the indelible rise of women in Hollywood.
‘Our backs tell stories, no books have the spine to carry.’ – Rupi Kaur
1 Firstly, why did you decide to become a writer?
That is an incredibly difficult question for me to answer – perhaps best thrown out to The Fates? As soon as I could draw Iwould draw all the time — portraits especially. As soon as I could write, I would write plays. I have always been compelled to create stories, and
that’s such a cliché statement, but I’ll double down by saying, I didn’t choose to write, writing chose me. Sorry if you just threw up in your mouth!
2. You made the career decision to move to LA. As an Australian, what have been your experiences as a writer and artist in LA?
I have lived in Los Angeles for ten years! I love Los Angeles! I think if you can stick with it for five years, and you see evidence of support for your talent, then it is a great place to foster art making. I remember when I first came out here I had a job assisting a real estate agent – I would host open-houses in mansions for sale in The Hills, and most of the potential buyers were artists — recording producers or actors or directors etc. It was the first time in my life I was surrounded by people who were rich from art making. What comes with that is a double-edged sword, in that it builds an exciting new expectation with absolutely no guarantee.
Generally I have found the Americans to be very warm and welcoming to Aussie talent, and having done some stuff here has opened doors to stuff back home, which is terrific because who doesn’t wanna body surf at Bronte? The LA Aussie Mafia here is also great. A little competitive sometimes but on the whole an indelible support system from which new alliances grows.
3. You have written many plays including Feeling Feeling and Shiny White Diamonds, but your play Anaconda arguably received the most attention for its topical and controversial themes. What inspired you to write Anaconda, and what has the feedback been like in both Australia and the US since being shown in both countries?
What most struck me in the feedback from audience members in the three countries it played was how universal the problem of sexual bullying is.
I was inspired to write Anaconda when the Penn State scandal broke here in the US. I wanted to write about the nature of whistle blowing, and the power prestigious institutions can hold over the plight of the most vulnerable — kids targeted for sexual abuse.
The play was received well in Los Angeles, and in Norway, where it was also translated and produced. Putting it on in Sydney was very confrontational for me, and for many members of the community, considering I fictionalized the aftermath of a real abuse scandal at Sydney’s Trinity Grammar School. I was concerned I would get a heap of flack from press especially, but we have seen the conversation shift in the last few years regarding the importance of airing scandals in order to change societal norms surrounding the complicity of silence.
Many faculties within the private schools of Sydney were told by their Heads to avoid seeing the play. It was extremely gratifying when the Boarding Master of Kings was convinced by the producer’s mother to watch it despite the ‘keep away’ atmosphere. Upon see the play, he then came out publicly to say it was the most important work he’d seen on bullying, and encouraged teachers and students alike to see it. Also hearing that parents came, and then returned to the production with their teenage sons, was very encouraging. Sydney Morning Herald ripped it to shreds. What are ya gonna do? Lesson learned: don’t read the reviews!
4. In your recent Hollywood Reporter article, you bravely spoke out regarding your sexual assault by Hollywood Director James Toback. Since your decision to come forward and the release of this article, what has been the journey for you?
Gosh. Another tough question! This reckoning has been very important, I have no doubt it is a good thing. It has provided some nuanced conversation regarding both predatory behaviors as well as the grey area of consent. It has been a painful excavation for many, many women, and there still needs to be a degree of sensitivity in the discussion surrounding MeToo.
I will say I think there are issues with the movement. I think if we can learn anything from past movements of Feminism, and I’ll get lambasted for saying this, but women can have a tough time agreeing on things. I think my next op ed will be about the dangers of leaving men out of the conversation. I was inadvertently pulled into the movement, and in my recent articles I’ve tried to use my own experience to give cultural critique. I have repeatedly said I do not regard myself a victim. Recently I have been concerned about identity politics and political correctness. I hope the movement continues in the right direction of holding predators accountable, and that the industry will be changed forever in that predators will no longer be tolerated despite their power. I do have concern over, for example, doxing as a daily ritual (who’s next?) and people losing their careers before a rebuttal has been allowed.
5. As a playwright and a woman in the wake of Me Too, do you feel a responsibility to tell stories that reflect the current social climate?
Very much so. It’s the zeitgeist baby.
6. Have you noticed changes in the industry in recent times? Do you feel that the Me Too movement will create significant change within the industry?
One trouble with the industry is the conversion rate of women accepted into studio-run diversity programs, to women actually directing studio films. The gap is nowhere near to being bridged, but MeToo has put such a light on the issue that female writers and directors are now more desired than ever.
The trouble with MeToo is the notion that women are fragile things needing special protections in the workplace. But if a company is abiding by the law, there are already channels in place to report any sexual assault or harassment without the threat of losing your job over it. It is the Hollywood notion of ‘suck it up, this is just the way it works’ that seems to now thankfully be changing.
Women don’t need special treatment, they need equal opportunity. Netflix making a no-looking-at-anyone-for-five-seconds rule = wrong direction, producers hiring women to direct despite a lack-of-studio-resume and lack-of-penis = right direction.
7. What advice would you give to any woman in the industry?
Don’t be a snowflake, but also if someone is acting inappropriately, tell your boss. If it is your boss acting inappropriately, tell their boss. You can be angry and upset, you can know the odds are stacked against you, but at the end of the day we are in a super tough industry no matter your colour or gender, so at the end of the day you have to pull your socks up and do the bloody work. The world doesn’t owe you anything, and there has never been a better time to be a woman looking for opportunities to helm work in Hollywood.
8. What are your plans for the future?
Woman plans and God laughs. A feature film is on the cards to be shot in Melbourne next year, and I have a new pilot and new TV series pitch currently circulating. That would all be very nice to have happen. I also have a new play in development called Don’t Tell Indi, supported by Sydney’s 107 Presents The New Plot. It is about Post Truth and gender politics, and I did the last pass prior to MeToo, so that is definitely due for another draft and workshop later this year.
9. What play or book should everyone read?
We Need To Talk About Kevin (the book)
10. Lastly, what inspires you?
You with the tough questions! People inspire me. Their stories, their flaws, their inherent oddness. Also the idea that this is all a simulation and whoever is playing me is having a hoot taking me way off the reserve into some very strange territory. I often wonder, do strange things happen to me because I am a writer, or am I writer because strange things happen to me? Again, I must defer to The Fates.