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Illustration: David Alvarado

Ensure that the Chicago film industry is a safe space for all

Chicago film industry veteran Angie Gaffney explains the policy she's helping craft to keep local sets safe

Written by
Grace Perry

Working in the film industry is a dream gig for many, but the recent string of sexual assault allegations in Hollywood (and beyond) has exposed some ugly, unavoidable truths. “It’s all so blatant and over-the-top that we can feel distant from it,” says Angie Gaffney, a producer at Black Apple Media and cofounder of Stage 18 Chicago. But, as most women can attest, workplace sexual misconduct often starts with subtler concerns: comments, power dynamics, tone, assumptions.

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Gaffney is no stranger to sexual harassment in the Chicago film industry. As she and seven other moviemakers penned in a November 14 open letter to the film community, the onslaught of high-profile assault allegations over the recent months isn’t “unusual or even surprising. Many of us in the Chicago film industry are well aware of such conduct happening right here on our own sets.”

To combat this culture of sexual misconduct, many Chicago filmmakers have mobilized to enact systemic change. Gaffney, along with Nicole Bernardi-Reis, Aymar Jean Christian, Ky Dickens, Mercedes Kane, Jack Newell, Eugene Sun Park and Ines Sommer, is drafting an adoptable code to protect victims of harassment in Chicago’s film industry. They’re calling it the Chicago Media Standards.

“It’s a no-tolerance policy: no tolerance for sexual harassment or any sort of harassment or discrimination,” says Gaffney. The group is modeling its policy on the Chicago Theatre Standards, written and adopted in the wake of Profile Theatre’s sexual-assault–induced downfall in 2016. No such overarching protocol exists now in the city’s film industry.

Gaffney intends the forthcoming policy to be posted online, with signatures made public. It would be available for all within the community to adopt, easing smaller companies’ need to hire a lawyer to write a similar in-house policy.

The group trusts that the Chicago movie world will embrace such a policy, given its desire to make diversity and safety a reality. “Our film community is filled, for the most part, with wonderful, creative, well-intentioned, beautiful human beings,” says Gaffney. “I want it to be a celebration of those people who believe in those ideas.”

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