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The Stranger Things creators were accused of verbally abusing female employees. Now what?

Why Netflix’s tepid response to the Duffer brothers controversy matters.

2018 Writers Guild Awards L.A. Ceremony - Inside
Ross (L) and Matt Duffer at the 2018 Writers Guild Awards
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Matt and Ross Duffer, co-creators and showrunners of Netflix’s Stranger Things, have been accused of being verbally abusive to their female employees, and … not much is happening as a result.

H. Peyton Brown, a former grip for Stranger Things, wrote on Instagram last week that “I personally witnessed two men in high positions of power on that set [Stranger Things] seek out and verbally abuse multiple women.” The Independent reports that in now-deleted comments, Brown confirmed that she was talking about the Duffer brothers themselves.

Brown also shared an Instagram post from an unverified account purporting to belong to Lori Grabowski, a former script supervisor for Stranger Things. “I am one of those women Peyton referenced,” the post says. “It was very real not only to me, but other women on the set that also want to share their story.”

The Duffers issued an apology/denial of wrongdoing in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter on Saturday, saying, “We are deeply upset to learn that someone felt uncomfortable on our set.” The statement continued, “Due to the high-stress nature of production, tempers occasionally get frayed, and for that, we apologize. However, we think it is important not to mischaracterize our set, where we believe strongly in treating everyone fairly regardless of gender, orientation, race, religion, or anything else. We remain totally committed to providing a safe and collaborative working environment for everyone on our productions.”

Netflix said in a statement: “We looked into the concern that was raised when we heard of the allegation on Thursday, and found no wrongdoing. Maintaining a safe, respectful atmosphere on set is important to us, and we know it is to the Duffer Brothers as well.”

This isn’t the first time the Duffers have faced criticism of their treatment of female employees. They were widely lambasted after the release of Stranger Things’ most recent season for joking about pushing one of their young actresses into doing a kissing scene against her will.

Fifteen-year-old Sadie Sink (who plays Max on the show) said in interviews that she found out that she’d be doing a kissing scene when she showed up on set the day of the shoot:

“It was not written in the script. The kiss was not written in the script,” she said. “I get there the first day of filming the Snow Ball, me and Noah [Schnapp] are walking in, seeing the decorations and stuff. One of you — I think it was you, Ross — was like, ‘Oh Sadie, you ready for the kiss?’ I’m like, ‘What? Nope! That’s not in the script. That’s not happening.’ And so the whole day I was stressed out.”

“You reacted so strongly to this. I was just joking,” replied Ross Duffer. “And you were so freaked out I was like oh, well, I gotta make you do it now. That’s what happened. That’s why it’s your fault.”

Teasing or not, Ross Duffer’s response that Sink being uncomfortable with the situation is what inspired him to push forward with the kiss struck many as inappropriate. Summarized one Twitter user, “The director, an adult man, saw that a teen girl was uncomfortable with a situation, which made him MORE EAGER to put her in the situation.”

Sink later walked back her characterization of the kiss in an interview with the Wrap, but when pressed on whether her response was coached, a publicist intervened. The controversy soon died out.

A similar deescalation seems to be happening around Brown’s allegation. Following its initial statement, Netflix has given no sign that it’s treating the accusations against the Duffers as credible. And regardless of the veracity of Brown’s claims, that’s an issue.

The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements may be going strong, but there’s still very little incentive for any woman to accuse a powerful man of hurting her

It’s of course important for anyone accused of improper behavior in the workplace to receive due process and not be fired without reason. But it’s also important to remember that the myth of the false accusation is just that: a myth. If a woman wants to come forward with accusations against powerful men — especially the two men who brought Netflix its hottest original property — there’s very little for her to get out of it, and a lot for her to lose.

“Do you all understand how big the blacklisting problem is in Hollywood?” wrote filmmaker Lexi Alexander in a series of tweets. “It’s fucking gigantic and there is no way to defend yourself against it. So the fact that there isn’t a crew member backing her accusations means absolutely nothing. Frankly the fact that she dared to say something should tell you that something must have been going on. Because a grip who worked on 9 episodes so far isn’t just jeopardizing a good paying gig for nothing. JFC people, let’s have due process but not the mafia kind, okay?”

The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements are getting a lot of attention right now, but the fact remains that Hollywood is a system that still favors the entrenched and powerful. A lowly crew member who speaks out against a major talent at a heavy hitter like Netflix can look to gain nothing but a reputation as a troublemaker, a reputation that can cripple her future employment prospects.

And until that system changes, Time’s Up still has a lot of work ahead of it. Because a system that habitually waves away accusations of misconduct against those in power is a system where predators will continue to flourish in the shadows.

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