TORONTO — Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta always thought it was wrong that there was no code of conduct for members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body that oversees the Oscars, especially when it came to sexual misconduct.
“It was an unspoken thing that it will be tolerated, and really perhaps nobody (would) believe the women,” said the writer and director of the Oscar-nominated “Water,” who is an academy member herself.
“The atmosphere was one of, even though personally you might not tolerate it, there were no consequences.”
That changed Wednesday when the academy announced its first code of conduct for its 8,427 members, one that states its board may now suspend or expel those who violate the code or who “compromise the integrity” of the organization.
Mehta called it an “excellent” move that will raise awareness “that this kind of abhorrent behaviour will not be tolerated and has consequences.”
“There’s something that Gloria Steinem said: ‘The truth will set you free, but before it does it will piss you off,’ and I think that’s where we are at,” Mehta said from Toronto.
“It’s probably pissing off a lot of men, but it’s essential and I’m sorry, you have to wear it.”
The code comes after the academy expelled producer Harvey Weinstein in October. It states that members must “behave ethically by upholding the academy’s values of respect for human dignity, inclusion, and a supportive environment that fosters creativity.”
“There is no place in the academy for people who abuse their status, power or influence in a manner that violates recognized standards of decency,” reads the statement.
“The academy is categorically opposed to any form of abuse, harassment or discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, age, religion, or nationality.”
Toronto-based sound editor Jane Tattersall said enacting a code of conduct seemed an obvious move — but a necessary one.
“I thought, ‘I hope you wouldn’t tolerate this behaviour anyway, but why not be specific about it? It doesn’t do you any service to not say these words, not to put in writing that this is wrong,’” said Tattersall, who became a member of the academy earlier this year.
Sexual harassment and assault allegations have been pouring out of the industry for months now, and many organizations have revisited their codes of conduct or policies surrounding the problem.
But it seemed to send a big message to many in the industry when such a storied institution explicitly released its first set of rules.
“The academy is an incredibly well respected institution and symbol of the entertainment business, of Hollywood,” said Tattersall. “The fact that they’re making the statement, I think, is a comment about the brand of the academy and how much they want to maintain it.
“It’s also a comment that … a lot of behaviour has been tacitly allowed to continue for many years and this will be the beginning of the end of it. So I think it’s a symbol, but I think it’s a very strong symbol.”
Montreal casting director Lucie Robitaille, who was made an academy member in 2015, said she was surprised the academy never had a code of conduct.
“For me, it’s obvious that if you’re going to be in the academy, to follow these rules,” she said.
“I would certainly hope that it would change something…. I hope that the people reading it will take it into consideration.”
Having such a code on the record “solidifies the things that people have been saying over the past few months, like ‘enough is enough,’” said Tattersall.
“It’s just saying, ‘OK, you’re right, we’ve turned a corner, this is a new way of behaving that is going to be standardized and we support it.’ It doesn’t necessarily change the behaviour, but I think people who are exhibiting it, they’d be more obviously lying to themselves if they think this is not wrong.”
The move was also praised by the union representing Canada’s performers, ACTRA, which is working with other stakeholders here on an industry-wide code of conduct.
“It is positive to see the academy take this step and we know there’s a lot more work to do in making sure zero tolerance is a reality in our industry in Canada,” David Sparrow, ACTRA national president, said Wednesday in a statement.
“ACTRA is working with stakeholders across the industry to create a safe space for victims to speak out without fear of retaliation or harassment — and to ensure there are real consequences for perpetrators.”
The more organizations that make these public proclamations, the more it will become the norm that sexual misconduct is not allowed, said Tattersall.
“When I hear some of the stories, I think, ‘Oh my god, people thought they could do that?’ And obviously they did,” she said.
“So now that the word is getting out and people are spreading their stories — which I think is pretty interesting, that there are so many stories — it just says, ‘OK, these are all real, we can’t behave this way. That’s just wrong.’”