Point of Personal Privilege
A recent article in the Hollywood Reporter came to my attention from my friend Wynne McLaughlin. It's a first-person piece by long-time screenwriter and now professional psychotherapist Ilana Bar-Din about her experience dealing with sexual harassment while she had been at the AFI Institute. You can read it here.
I haven't crossed paths with Ilana for several years -- our lives and circles just went on different roads as happens. But there was a time when our friendship brought us together and dealt with one another occasionally: I've been to her house a few times, know her husband Peter (a respected defense attorney of death row cases), even worked with her on some small projects. And drove cross-town on night to fix her computer. And she made delicious brownies in appreciation. We also were among the 12 co-founders and partners of the PAGE BBS online service (basically a precursor to today's chat rooms). And I believe every single word she says in the article.
Ilana is a smart, tough, hard-working, good person -- and she has had a good career as a screenwriter and now psychotherapist, has a good family and good life with absolutely zero need for public attention of this. My sense is that anyone who knows Ilana knows that this is what happened. If it was "her word" against the AFI mentor/director's at the time, so be it, that just makes it a losing battle for him. If he says he doesn't "remember" her after 37 years , then that's probably because either a) he's lying, b) did this to so many women they all blend together in his mind at this point, or c) his memory is shot. Knowing Ilana, I have no reason to doubt her, at all. And AFI head Jean Firstenberg's part in this is shameful, both past and present to this day. That even her later explanation is that she had to "back her people" only serves to exacerbate her response, since one wonders not only why "her people" didn't include those students under her change, especially since they likely needed protection the most, but also why backing the strongest, safest, most nurturing organization possible didn't hold precedence over protecting predators.
When Ilana and I worked together, we didn't always agree. Who does? But she was always forthright, and we usually did agree. She always told you what she thought directly to your face. Answered your questions without obfuscation. A no-nonsense person. And as strong-willed and determined as she was, she was also a conciliator. There was a time when the PAGE BBS owners had a blow-up that in part lead to its ending. I was one of those having a big conflict with another owner, and Ilana -- to her credit -- called me to try at length to broker some sort of peace. I thought that her perspective was actually too balanced and even-handed (yes, such things are possible!), but I greatly admired her effort to mediate a resolution. Her goal was to be nurturing, whatever the differences. She wanted to bring everyone together. From the path of her life, that is who she is.
Ilana was able to fight past at least many of the hurdles AFI had presented and developed a solid screenwriting career. One happy personal memory of this was the time she had been hired to work on a script, but a section dealt with baseball and she was completely bewildered how to resolve the problem. Her husband didn't know either, it was just too meticulous in getting around an obscure reality of the sport. So -- she gave me a call. Alas, it was at dinnertime, but even though I was heading out to meet others, I delayed things because being presented with the opportunity to pontificate about the minutiae baseball was not something I would let get in the way of schedules, social niceties or food. And in reasonably short order we resolved the plot point. When I think of this tale, and others about her successful writing career, it just gives further lie to AFI's bully-handling of things, as the article relates, saying that her work of not "of quality" to such a degree that they dismissed her from the school. To cover up their own disgrace. It took 37 years, but finally got the sunshine it deserved.
It was heart-breaking reading her article. And if the story bothers me this much despite it happens so many decades ago, it is unfathomable how it impacted her. And what speaks volumes, despite being such a brief mention in the article, is the reality that Ilana says if her life and interests hadn't grown to where she was currently in a new and successful profession but instead was still working in the film industry, she would likely have never written the article, out of fear for her career. And this would remain buried, like I'm sure volumes of others. I'm so sorry she went through that AFI experience, and I'm glad (and not surprised) that she came out of as wonderfully strong as she did. But then the first act was impressive, as well, getting her there. Of course I believe her. But then I'm biased -- I actually know her.
I'll add too that it speaks volumes about who Ilana is as a person that years later she went back to school and became a psychotherapist. And anyone she works with in that position is lucky and I am certain the better for it.
Leave a Reply.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
Feedspot Badge of Honor