New Film ‘Toxic’ Exposes Bullying “Epidemic” in U.K. TV, Film Industries – Hollywood Reporter

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The problem has become a major talking point following the allegations against Noel Clarke in 2021 and a shocking new industry-wide survey.
By Alex Ritman
U.K. Correspondent
The issue of bullying in the British entertainment industries, a topic that has became a major cause for conversation and concern thanks to the work of various organizations, not to mention the allegations against Noel Clarke that came to light in 2021, has now been given the cinematic treatment.
In the short film Toxic from British director Brian Hill of Century Films, actors read out the stories of four individuals working below the line on TV projects, chosen from 50 that the filmmaker heard as part of his research. The shocking tales touch on situations involving grooming, aggression, intimidation and even physical violence, with workers — both junior and experienced — either forced out of jobs or made to feel like they needed to quit to preserve their mental heath. In one case, a woman said she was blacklisted after ending a relationship with a producer, with future work drying up as other potential employers were warned off working with her.

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The film lands just a month after the publication of a new in-depth report by the U.K.’s Film and TV Charity — the Looking Glass ‘21 survey — in which more than half of the respondents claimed to have “experienced bullying, sexual or racial harassment” in the last year alone. It also land the same day the charity launched The Whole Pictures Toolkit: For Mentally Heathy Productions, a practical resource aimed at giving the industry the tools to tackle many of the problems its report raised.
At a special screening of Toxic at the BFI Southbank in London, Hill said he was inspired to make the film — and finally say something about an issue that had been pervasive and “accepted” in the industry for so many years — after a friend was “bullied out of a job.”
Katie Bailiff, the CEO of the Women in Film and Television U.K. organization, which helped host the event, acknowledged that it came a “year on” from the Clarke allegations, which included both sexual harassment and bullying by the filmmaker and actor. Although she said that she wanted to explore whether “any meaningful change has been made” since then, she described bullying as an “epidemic” across the industry.
The main areas of discussion in a post-screening Q&A were the heavy reliance on a freelance workforce — a workforce generally on short-term contracts who often rely on positive references to secure their next job — and fears over being blacklisted should they speak out. One person in the audience tearfully explained that a company where she had been getting regular work suddenly stopped hiring her after she made a bullying complaint.

According to the Film and TV Charity’s head of mental health and wellbeing Lucy Tallon, around three-quarters of respondents in the Looking Glass survey said that, after they had made reports about bullying, nothing changed. “And 16 percent actually said the situation got worse,” she said.
“TV is very hierarchical, with bullying seem to be happening from the top down,” explained Meriel Beale, a experienced producer and campaigner who posted an open letter calling for industry change in response to the accusations made against Clarke that was signed by hundreds of women. As such, she said that it was “really difficult” for individuals to deal with any issues, as they didn’t know who was the “safe person” to speak to.
Over the last couple of years, since the prevalence of bullying has been brought to the surface, several new initiatives and support platforms have been established. In 2018, following the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the BFI and BAFTA launched a set of principles and guidance, which last year was expanded to include a new action list for employers. The BFI’s head of inclusion Jen Smith said that the idea was that companies would “bake them into contractual agreements” so that people could be held to account. She also said that the BFI had recently started a pilot program advocating for wellbeing officers to be employed for productions.
Meanwhile, The Film and TV Charity, with help from the BFI, has launched a support line and new bullying advice service, which Tallon said was “100 percent confidential, independent and free to access.”

However, it was widely agreed across the board that what was really needed to truly tackle the problem was the establishment of an independent regulatory body, an organization with legal powers that could take the responsibility away from a fractured industry.
“That’s the goal,” said Rebecca Ferguson, a singer-songwriter who turned the music industry on its head after reporting bullying by managers and agents to the police and writing to politicians. “And it has to be completely independent.”
Ferguson noted that Dame Heather Rabbats, head of Time’s Up U.K., was now leading the charge on working with the government to establish this body.
“I’m hoping that will really help. I think the key is to make sure that there’s legislation change, and that there’s a consequence for people. Because without consequence, these people can just carry on doing it.”
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