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Casting director Iris Baumüller talks to Deutsche Welle about sexual harassment and abuse in show business, not only in the US but closer to home — and how to fight it.
In a public statement from October 23, the German Federal Association of Casting (BVC) said that "Sexual abuse and power abuse are a sad part of the daily life for many people involved in the film and theater industry."
BVC's member and casting director Iris Baumüller, who established her own casting agency 18 years ago, welcomes everybody to add freely to the discussion that was ignited by the sexual scandal of Harvey Weinstein and other powerful entertainment figures.
But as Baumüller says in the interview with Deutsche Welle, sexual abuse is not a phenomenon exclusive to Hollywood.
Deutsche Welle: The BVC statement often uses the pronoun "we." Is that an expression of solidarity, or are casting directors also affected by sexual harassment?
Iris Baumüller: Both. We have all gone a long way toward becoming casting directors. We have all worked on the set or in the theater before and have come into contact with the subject or were affected ourselves. But even in our current position, we are not immune to the harassment since 80% of us are women.
The number of scandals that have emerged lately is growing. What is the situation in Germany?
It is just as bad. Even though the power structures as we know them from the US are not present here in Germany, simply because we don't have the big film companies here, it does not change the fact that the abuse of power and sexual and physical assaults are very regular wherever you look: in the theater, the film, but also the drama schools.
There are Harvey Weinsteins in the German show business, too.
Do you often have to help actresses as a casting director?
Of course. We work with actors very closely and discuss the roles and the casting process, which can be often very intense. You have to deal with many problems actresses experience.
Can you give us an example?
There are productions in which two actors are to play an intense love scene. It is important to discuss beforehand, preferably during the casting process, how far you are willing to go. Do you have a problem with kissing or touching?
Then, the limits set during the casting must be applied on the set, of course.
This is where many problems occur. In the US, love and sex scenes are choreographed, but in Germany, they are usually improvised on the set during shooting. And that's wrong. We should also choreograph such scenes because you don't want actors and actresses doing something they are not comfortable with.
Does this topic involve actors and actresses only?
Any production is a very intimate collaboration where anyone can become a victim. I, for example, witnessed once on a set how an actor groped a costume assistant. It is very important that every person is made responsible for his or her actions.
'The Weinstein effect' — sexual scandals of one help are helping uncover the structures of power and abuse not only in Hollywood
The BVC public statement is addressed explicitly toward men. So far, only a few male victims have spoken out about the experience with sexual assault in show business. Why?
They may be actually in an even worse situation than women. Many young actors have told me that they were sexually harassed and even abused. But men find it difficult to come forward because they would be immediately labeled "gay." That means they wouldn't get cast in heterosexual or overtly masculine roles in the future.
But the actresses who brought up the issue using the "MeToo" hashtag may face the same consequences in their private and work lives. It always raises a question whether, when an actress experienced a sexual assault, she can be cast in a role that may revolve or be close to the issue.
Such a confession can have far-reaching consequences in any case.
So you think it's understandable that many talent agents now advise their clients not to go public with their experience?
Yes. Many actresses have an almost familial relationship with their agents, and many of them discourage from going public. You know, it triggers a huge wave, with which those involved may be repeatedly confronted for years, and that, naturally, diverts attention from their real work.
Therapy certainly makes more sense.