Eliza Dushku Deserves Better
This week, it was announced that former CBS President Les Moonves would not receive the $120 million payday promised to him by the network following an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct during his time as head of one of America’s most popular television networks. This came after reports in both the New Yorker and The New York Times that alleged multiple incidents of sexual assault, harassment, improper behaviour towards women, and manipulation of power. It seems like such a small example of righteousness, to see a very wealthy man face no other repercussions than to be denied an obscenely high amount of money, but such is the world we live in. Even in a year where we saw such a magnitude of change in attitudes towards systemic misogyny and abuse in the entertainment industry, it still feels like the only form of justice we can hope for is to see powerful men be marginally less rich or beloved than they were before.
Of course, this does not solve CBS’s own myriad problems. Their rot runs far deeper than the one bad apple at the top of the tree. This is the same network who brought Charlie Rose to morning television after years of quietly shared allegations against his behaviour. This is the channel who finally had to let go NCIS: New Orleans showrunner Brad Kern after he’d been investigated three times for HR violations. After the second violation, he was demoted to consulting producer on the series, but eventually, the third time was the charm. This is the network of 60 Minutes, where CBS paid a $5 million settlement to a woman who accused TV legend Don Hewitt of multiple cases of sexual assault as well as destroying her career. Hewitt’s successor, Jeff Fager, was fired in September for sending threatening text messages to a CBS reporter looking into allegations about harassment under his watch.
And this is the network of Michael Weatherly, the man who was seen as more worthy of defence than the woman he harassed, manipulated, and humiliated in her own workplace. Her name is Eliza Dushku.
Dushku is a familiar face to many, having worked in the industry for over thirty years. She was beloved as Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. She took the lead in the series Tru Calling and Dollhouse. She’s voiced She-Hulk and Catwoman for various cartoons, and worked with directors like James Cameron, Peyton Reed and Kevin Smith, as well as having directed her own work. She is a known entity and someone who has worked steadily since she was 12. Any network would be happy to have her leading their series. To CBS, she was expendable the moment she spoke out about what she faced in the workplace.
It’s been well reported now what happened to Dushku on the set of the CBS show Bull, which she starred in with Michael Weatherly. The second season of the show averaged around 14 million viewers per episode, which makes it easily one of the most popular shows on network television. Dushku was given a guest role that was intended to become a main one in the second season, but as reported by the New York Times, she was dismissed from her contract after a discussion with Weatherly over his inappropriate behaviour. Eventually, she received a $9.5 million settlement, which she had assumed would mean she’d be unable to talk about what happened. She also assumed CBS and Weatherly would not comment in the New York Times piece, but they did. So, Dushku wrote an opinion piece for the Boston Globe. It is eloquent and heartbreaking and all too familiar a story, yet one that still left me utterly agog at the audacity of CBS.
To read Dushku’s article is to watch in action a woman who has played this horrid and crooked game so many times before. Dushku has been candid in recent months about being molested at the age of 12 by a stunt coordinator on the set of True Lies. Last year, she talked about being a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, something that started during her adolescence. For much of her adult career, Dushku has been cast as the sex object, the minx, the bad girl. It’s all too easy to find reports, reviews, and forum gossip where people glory in slamming Dushku’s acting while drooling over her appearance. Dushku has lived with all of that and knows the tools required to get through the system in one piece. Her article is full of these asides that act as reminders to the reader - but particularly the inevitable doubters - that she doesn’t mind compliments or a bit of bawdy chat. She even says at one point ‘I can handle a locker room’. Even now, she, like so many of us, feel the need to place disclaimers before our stories. ‘Hey, we’re not lacking in humour, we’re not above a compliment, we’ve dealt with all this s—t but we know where the line is’. This is not to knock Dushku for telling her story, but a prescient reminder of how, even when there’s a harasser or abuser at the table (and his actions are all on tape), the need to placate is urgent.
Dushku details the extent of Weatherly’s behaviour, how flagrantly he manipulated and demeaned her in front of cast and crew, and how CBS weaponized her own past against her. It is extensive, far beyond what the New York Times reported. The ceaseless barrage of Weatherly’s behaviour is documented, thus allowing Dushku to show how such behaviour builds up and wears you down. It’s never just a one-off joke: It’s endless remarks that women have heard time and time again. It’s being made to feel unwelcome, like you’re not a ‘team player’, like you’re the thorn in everyone else’s side. It’s knowing that your harasser knows he’s breaking the rules - or, in Weatherly’s case, has received anti-harassment training - and watching as he flagrantly rubs his rebellion in your face. It’s being painfully aware that because you swear or wear swimsuits or enjoy being sexy on your own terms that such things will be used as ‘evidence’ against your character.
Bull showrunner Glenn Gordon Caron defended Weatherly’s behaviour as ‘frat’ stuff and said Dushku shouldn’t complain because she once posed for Maxim. CBS used a photograph of Dushku in a swimsuit, pulled from her Instagram page, as ‘proof’, either that she deserved to be sexually harassed or that she couldn’t truly be offended by Weatherly. Twitter is full of dismissals of Dushku’s experiences because she took the money from the settlement or is just another example of a frigid b-tch who can’t take a joke. Eliza Dushku may not be one of the first major names who comes up in discussions of the post-#MeToo entertainment industry but she is certainly the example that exposes the hypocrisies of the business and patriarchy at large: Even when you play the game, even when you have all the evidence in your corner and even when you go above and beyond to placate those who don’t deserve it, you’ll still be treated as the problem in the room. Sometimes, the money is all you can hope for in terms of justice, even with all the legal strings attached.
I hope Dushku is in a good place and keeps fighting for what’s right. As for CBS, their toxicity has seeped into every corner of their network and they’re long past the point of ignorance, wilful or otherwise. If they must be publicly humiliated into making company-wide changes then so be it. Michael Weatherly should not have a job on CBS, much less the blanket of security that hangs from the top downwards. The status quo is bull and it should be annihilated.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.