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These Short Films Shine A Spotlight On Sexual Harassment

Emmy Rossum and Harry Lennix in "The Politician," one of the short films in the series #ThatsHarassment.
Victoria Stevens
Dark Harbor Stories/Milk
Emmy Rossum and Harry Lennix in "The Politician," one of the short films in the series #ThatsHarassment.

A male boss brushes up against his female employee. Off the record, a male politician makes suggestive remarks to a female reporter. These are just a couple of examples of sexual harassment that may be all too familiar to some career women.

Producers Sigal Avin, David Schwimmer and Mazdack Rassi have just released a series of short films about the issue, called #ThatsHarassment. Each film begins with the headline "based on a real incident" — like the episode "The Co-Worker," which takes place at a bar, as a man gropes his female colleague while acting out an infamous comment made on tape by Donald Trump.

"I created this in Israel before it came here to the States," Avin says. "I was reading about a lot of sexual harassment in Israel as in the States. And I started asking myself, what is sexual harassment? And I thought, we hear about it all the time, and we read about it all the time, but we never actually see what it is."

Interview Highlights

On personal experiences with harassment

Avin: I was a young playwright, and I went to speak to an actor who was a pretty big star back then, and I had known him — we'd worked, and he was always kind of a really cool guy, always funny, and we were at his place talking about the play, I went to the restroom, and when I came back ... he exposed himself. The dialogue that he used is the same dialogue that the actor uses. ... It took me a couple of years to realize that was sexual harassment — I mean, I thought, this is a weird guy, I just want to get out of here, that was kind of humiliating. It took me a while to understand that he was using his power, and everything behind that.

On the goal of the films

Schwimmer: Everyone is so used to violent sex crime being portrayed in the media, in television and film — you know, the guy hiding behind the bushes, jumping out at you, grabbing and attacking. But this kind of crime happens with such frequency, on a daily basis, to most women if not all women — where there's any kind of imbalance of power, and often at work. I think one of the goals for us was to really show it. There's something about the power of actually seeing it, for victims — it's by seeing it happen that they realize, oh, that was sexual harassment. It wasn't just me.

On what the filmmakers want men to understand

Schwimmer: We really don't feel this is a quote-unquote women's issue. This is a human issue, and as a man, every woman in my life, with the exception of my almost 6-year-old daughter — thank god — has been subjected to sexual harassment. My mother, my sister, my wife, my colleagues, my friends. So I think for men, some of the films which are less overt than, say, the one I'm acting in, where I actually grab and kiss an employee as her boss ... we're hoping that by showing these and having a conversation, that men will become more aware, and they will work to protect their colleagues, and their wives, and their daughters.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro
Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.