Almost four years ago, a group of high-profile Hollywood women — producers, agents, movie stars — formed Time’s Up, an ambitious initiative to fight sexual harassment in their own industry and beyond, as the #MeToo reckoning was taking hold.
“It’s very hard for us to speak righteously about the rest of anything if we haven’t cleaned our own house,” said producer Shonda Rhimes, one of those powerful women, at the time.
She was speaking about Hollywood. But now, Time’s Up itself is on a mission to clean its own house — and salvage its very existence -- after a damaging scandal that forced the departure of its chief executive, Tina Tchen, over revelations the group’s leaders advised former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration after he was first accused of misconduct last year.
Tchen’s replacement, Monifa Bandele, says that the embattled organization, currently re-evaluating its structure, will operate with a new openness and rededicate itself to “people power,” giving a strong voice to women from all walks of life.
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“What we need to do moving forward is to make sure … that in the driver’s seat of Time’s Up, we also have women who are farm workers, who are restaurant workers, who are domestic workers like my own grandmother was,” Bandele told The Associated Press in an interview this week, her first since taking interim leadership of the organization. (She said she's eager to take on the role permanently).
Bandele, 50, who joined Time’s Up last fall as chief operating officer, says she played no role in the highly criticized dealings with the Cuomo administration and was unaware of them until the release of the extensive report by New York’s attorney general, which concluded Cuomo had sexually harassed at least 11 women.
She said the revamped organization, currently working with a consultant, will pay close attention to the inherent dangers of being connected to people in power, asking itself: “What are our conflicts of interests, what are our guardrails?”
Asked the best way to do that, she said it was about “opening it up.”
“You have to involve the community that you represent in an ongoing feedback loop,” she said.
That might have prevented the damaging Cuomo episode, she added. “These are the mistakes that our organization has made and we want to learn from that,” she said. "We want to use this crisis as an opportunity to be in the right relationship with the other organizations in our movement.”
Tchen’s Aug. 26 resignation followed the earlier departure of the organization’s chair, Roberta Kaplan. Both women had angered Time’s Up supporters with the idea they'd offered any help to Cuomo, and that Tchen initially discouraged other Time's Up leaders from commenting publicly on allegations by one of his accusers, Lindsey Boylan.
A member of the now-dissolved Time’s Up global leadership board, Tarana Burke, the founder of #MeToo, described it as a young organization with good intentions grappling with how to handle the power that came with its highly connected and visible founding members.
“I think they have to do a lot of soul searching,” she told The AP in a recent interview. “It may come out the other end … that they have to figure out how to work differently, that they have to relinquish some of the power ... in order to do the work well, in the way that people trust.”
Power, Burke said, “can be really difficult to navigate if you’re not really careful.”
Bandele said she agreed.
“That’s one of my mantras, right? If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, you go together,” she said. “That’s involving a lot of voices. That’s making sure people who need to be seen and heard, that there’s an intentional mechanism for them to be seen and heard, because the default is for other folks who have a big platform to be seen and heard.”
Time’s Up was launched in January 2018 in the wake of stunning revelations over sexual misconduct by mogul Harvey Weinstein. More than 300 women in entertainment — from Rhimes to actors Reese Witherspoon and Eva Longoria — signed an open letter that established them as founders.
Days later at the Golden Globes, attendees donned black in solidarity, and sported Time’s Up pins. Oprah Winfrey made an impassioned speech saying that for powerful men who abuse, “Their time is up!”
Celebrities will still play a role in the organization, Bandele said. Earlier this month, governing board members offered their resignations, and the star-studded leadership board was disbanded; Bandele described it as an opportunity to reconstitute her leadership team. But she said some members would be returning.
“Our celebrities, our creatives and the industry of entertainment are going to be key in us moving forward,” she said. “But there will be equity in who is driving this movement."
Anita Hill, now a potent symbol of the #MeToo movement some 30 years since she testified against Clarence Thomas in Congress, said she was confident Time’s Up would rebound from its crisis “by placing survivors and victims first in all the work they do.” Hill chairs the Hollywood Commission, which combats harassment in the entertainment industry, and was part of the dissolved Time's Up advisory board.
Hill said in an interview she hoped people would remember the role of Time's Up in achieving legislation in New York that extended the statute of limitations for rape and sexual assault. “That’s permanent,” she said.
Boosters of Time’s Up point to its Legal Defense Fund. Housed and administered by the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, it was established to help people with workplace misconduct claims — particularly those who can't afford legal help — by either funding their cases or connecting them with lawyers. It has raised just over $27 million, most during its inception, and funded nearly 300 legal cases.
Bandele, a longtime activist and advocate, came to Time's Up from MomsRising, an advocacy group for mothers and families. She has also worked extensively on police reform. She took the helm as interim leader three weeks ago; she says she's been on a listening tour and also working on a new action plan.
“I can’t wait to share it,” she says. “Because people are waiting, right? People want Time’s Up. I haven’t talked to anyone directly who does not want Time’s Up to exist.”