RAINN Interview with Director of Untouchable Documentary on Weinstein Abuse

RAINN and Hulu have partnered up for the release of a new documentary film, Untouchable, in which survivors of Harvey Weinstein share their stories of abuse and its effects on their lives and careers. Before the film's release, RAINN interviewed its director, Ursula Macfarlane, to hear about how she supported the survivors who participated and what she hopes viewers will take away from the documentary. 

How did you prepare for the experience of working with survivors and ensuring you were respectful of their boundaries and healing journeys throughout this process? How did you balance the need to respect survivors’ privacy with the need to show the depth of trauma that Weinstein’s abuse caused for so many?

I and Poppy Dixon (producer) have many years of experience between us in interviewing victims of trauma, and I have training in psychotherapy. Before filming began we spent time with all the contributors, either on the phone or in person, to hear their stories, listen to any questions or concerns they may have and ascertain whether it was appropriate to film with them. It is a very delicate balance between respecting survivors’ privacy with the need to show the depth of trauma. We only filmed with survivors who really wanted their story told, in the hope that their testimony would help others, and emphasised that they would not have to cover anything they did not wish to talk about. We made it clear to them that they were in control during the interview and could pause filming at any time. We did our very best to show them empathy and respect during the whole process and to provide a comfortable filming experience, choosing our key crew members carefully for their sensitivity. We ensured as best we could that our contributors had a trusted friend or relative to be with them following the filming. We also checked in with the survivors in the days following the filming and, since filming was completed, our aftercare has continued, regularly checking in with them and making ourselves available whenever they wanted to chat.

What is it about the film and entertainment industry that systematically allowed for Weinstein to commit this abuse? In what other industries do you see this similar structure?

I think that, sadly, this kind of abuse is present in many industries and communities, in any situation where powerful people have the opportunity to abuse the more vulnerable. We have seen this in the music industry, in the Catholic Church…the list goes on. And in factories and fast-food outlets, too. There is perhaps something particular to the film and the entertainment industry, where the rewards can be so high for the few, that those with the power to create a pathway to those riches can have even more of a hold over the less powerful.

What new perspectives or information are you hoping viewers take away from Untouchable that they may not have known if they were following the Weinstein case and #MeToo movement as it happened in real time?

We wanted to move away from the 24 hour news cycle and provide a richer, more nuanced study of these events, hopefully making a film that will stand the test of time as a portrait of power and its abuses. Our ambition was to provide the context for what happened by looking at Weinstein’s rise to power, the burnishing of his image and the complicity of many in the industry, to understand how these power structures work, affording powerful people the opportunity to prey on the more vulnerable. As well as alleged sexual harassment and assault, we also illustrated how Weinstein bullied employees, showing a side to the story that some may not have been aware of. We hope that viewers are able to relate this story to their own lives, because although most of us will never work in the supposedly glittering film industry, most of us will have been aware of bullying, harassment and assault in our professional worlds and our communities, given that power and abuse runs through our society.

You briefly touch on next steps for preventing this kind of abuse from happening in the future. Can you expand on what we should all be doing to ensure this cannot happen again and how each of us can support survivors in our lives?

There are clearly many practical steps that can be taken in industries and communities to outlaw and hopefully diminish this kind of abuse. Others are more qualified than I am to talk about this. But what I have learned is how powerful it can be to speak out. And how important it is to listen carefully, and to believe people when they speak of the trauma they have suffered. As the twists and turns of the Weinstein case and others continue, with no certainty of convictions, it is important not to give up hope and to continue to encourage others to speak out. When speaking out becomes normalized, abusers will find it more difficult to get away with it. It is silence, and the complicity of others, that allows them to continue. But equally, it’s important for us to recognise the cost of speaking out, and how survivors continue to suffer once they have spoken. We must continue to support them long after they have broken their silence.