Sexual assault, harassment & age discrimination is no secret in Hollywood and I don’t know one female who hasn’t experienced it in one way or another. I myself have experienced all of the above. The Harvey Weinstein scandal is just the tip on the iceberg. Hollywood culture doesn’t nurture an environment that embraces women who hold to moral standards, independent thought or boundaries.
I never understood why women were limited to success in Hollywood after the age of 30. I knew and know so many beautiful, capable, talented and inspiring woman over the age of 30. Women I look up to and inspire me everyday.
Ageism. The news doesn’t cover it but it puts many women out of work in Hollywood. What I have come to accept about ageism is that it’s put in place for a reason, it communicates to women over 30 to go home, marry up and shut up. With an industry controlled mostly by older men who feel they’re entitled to sleeping with younger women, it’s no wonder we hate getting older. No youth, no job.
In my 20’s I blamed myself for years for not having the same amount of success after the leaving my group DREAM. Truth be told, I had the same opportunity to make it big on my own but said no to much of what was required. My opinions and convictions gave me a reputation of being “religious” “prudish” and “hard to work with”. Not something you want to be known for at the rip age of 18.
This is true for both the recording industry and film industry. I recall doing a music showcase for a major record head around 2005. The music industry was still suffering and navigating its way through the repercussions of music stealing sites such as Napster and Limewire. Labels weren’t signing as many new artists as before because A&R and label heads alike were worried about loosing their jobs.
I did a number of these types of showcases. This one in particular I remember clear as day. The male executive that I was essentially ‘auditioning for’ proclaimed without apology and with compliment, that “Melissa’s picture needs to be on every young man’s wall across the country to masterbate to.”
My entire team beamed with pride and fully agreed. I was confused.Since when is this an appropriate statement to make about anyone? Despite the raving reviews of my potential profitability selling my sexuality, he still didn’t sign me.
So I continued on and I struggled for years to find my voice as a recording artist. Hindsight is 20/20 and looking back I understand why. Everyone around me wanted to record songs entirely focused on sex despite my spiritual and moral opposition to it. I shifted my focus again to the acting side, hoping I would have better success with solidifying projects that reflected true to who I was as an actor.
Shortly after, I receive a call from my manager telling me he got me a page in a men’s magazine. He was aware of my moral and religious boundaries, he knew I wasn’t going to be excited about the opportunity but stressed the necessity of doing a spread like this in a publication like Maxim or FHM.
He told me “Melissa, this is how executives discover new talent. The executives and studio heads read these men’s magazines while traveling and bring in the actresses they like the most.”
Full of scantily clad young, upcoming actresses just hoping for an audition with some of the biggest names in hollywood.
My manager promised me the photoshoot would be tasteful and we’d be in complete control of what was printed. I hesitantly agreed and the shoot was scheduled. Upon arrival I gazed upon a rack chock full of thong underwear, lace sheer bras, garter belts and high heels.
Wardrobe gave me a few “options” to try on and to come out to get approval.
I couldn’t do it. I was expecting a corset or something the Pussycat dolls would wear not a thong bikini and a bra. I was 18. I panicked. I freaked. I froze.
I stared at myself alone in the bathroom looking at my reflection while holding the barely there fabric. I pulled my manager in and told him I couldn’t do it. I know I made his job hard because as I was told “most actresses would give their left arm to pose in something like this for a magazine like this.” I thought something was wrong with me because I didn’t feel the same way.
A middle ground was eventually reached. They gave me boy short options paired with camisoles and lacey pushup bras. My page in the magazine never made it to print due to not being sexy enough. Needless to say I was never called in by the studio heads.
I thought by making a stand, it would demand better projects. I grew up dreaming of being on a sitcom like FRIENDS, FRASIER, SEINFELD, I LOVE LUCY….and then it happened.
I was offered the lead in a “comedy” called Bald in 2008. The only joke that I could find in the script was the ‘genre’ it was given. It was a horribly written, male driven comedy about men making money off women doing soft core porn in their basement.
The only things meant to be bald are Eagles and Beaver!!!No Money. No Hair. No Shame.
They lost me at crotch shot as a relevant plot keyword. At the regret of my agency, I turned down the MPAA rated comedy. This was the beginning of what would become a long Hiatus for me.
I stopped auditioning all together and moved to San Diego. I decided that I would rather disappear and come back with a fresh start and a fresh perspective then to continue where I was. I got married, started a family and started to focus on volunteer work with animal rescues and the ASPCA.
In 2011, my husband and I decided it was time to move back to LA. I was older, not by much but hoped I was old enough to not be seen as a sex toy for projects or people. I wanted to be seen for my craft and not my tits.
Now later in my 20’s, married and a mom, I have discovered the other side of sexual harassment. Discrimination. I couldn’t even get an agent. It didn’t matter if I had previous work experience or sold 2 million albums or was referred by a reputable source.
I even had an major talent agency tell me,
If it hasn’t happened for you yet, it never will.
I look forward to proving them wrong.
It was clearly being communicated to me that I fucked up. I should have never said no all those years. If I have posed for the men’s magazine in a thong bikini and a lace bra or if I slept with power men that I was encouraged to do, I wouldn’t be a social pariah.
I pressed on further and did what everyone told me I further couldn’t do. Make people laugh.
So what did I do? I enrolled in acting classes focusing on comedy. I excelled in my class and was invited into the Master Class for the working professionals. Except, I was the only professional not working.
Then I did something I had dreamed of doing since I was 9 years old. I auditioned for The Groundling School in LA. I doubted myself and worried I wouldn’t pass the audition. and then, I did.
I worried I wouldn’t pass Basic.
And I did.
I worried I wouldn’t pass Intermediate.
And I did.
I worried I wouldn’t get invited passed Advanced.
And I did.
And now in level 4 of 5 of the program. Why am I pointing this out? I want to inspire others that despite the opposition of our industry or your life circumstances, despite what others say about you, you can go after whatever you want and more.
Have I achieved everything I dream of doing? No, but my story isn’t over and neither is yours.
Never give up. It’s never too late. Never let the harassment, discrimination or falsified reputation stop you from bring true to who you are and what you dream of doing. The Harvey Weinstein’s of the world may never go away or the culture in which they create in the workplace however we can speak up.
Don’t be silent. Be Brave. Be Bold. Be You.