I don't always agree with Judd Apatow. While I don't hold to the long-held argument that his female characters belie a misogynist viewpoint, he's not always a feminist paradigm either. But, since the allegations against Bill Cosby became headline news last year, Apatow has been one of the only major celebrities to condemn the legendary comic. He has consistently tweeted support for each of the 33 women accusing Cosby, despite a general silence from Hollywood and the comedy community. Some have turned on Apatow himself, calling on him to let it go. Last night's awkward Cosby joke by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler at the Golden Globes seemed to spark the same reaction: The rest of Hollywood would rather just wait for this particular elephant in the room to leave on its own.
"It is dead silent out there," says Apatow. Acknowledging that a handful of actors and comics have spoken up in support of Cosby's alleged victims, he affirms that no major figures in the industry have come forward to say, "'People who commit these acts should be in prison, and I believe these women.'"
Host Marc Maron (who had only briefly alluded to the Cosby situation in a previous episode) supports Apatow's efforts. "If you don’t keep it in the public sphere, those people that refuse to believe it will just evolve into giving him a pass...eventually, it’ll just fade from public memory."
Above all, Apatow says, "It makes women who are assaulted not speak up," particularly when the assailant is a powerful figure. "That's why everybody has to say, 'I just want to go on the record. I believe these women.'"
Apatow's interview underscores the alarming truth that no one seems to acknowledge: Despite 33 accusations of assault, numerous detailed testimonies, and a mounting heap of historical evidence, almost no one will publicly stand by these women.
The response from Hollywood can essentially be divided into three categories: Ambivalence, denial, and shitty jokes.
Fey and Poehler pulled off pretty good Cosby impersonations at the Globes, making a crack about Sleeping Beauty getting her drink spiked with pills. While it was perhaps brave to even bring up the C-word at the event, joking about rape rarely elevates the conversation. After the punch line, the camera frantically whipped around to Lena Dunham, as if to say, Oh God, whose face does America want to see in response to an awkward, not-so-funny comment on a legendary man's numerous allegations of sexual assault?! I know, that girl! She talks about rape all the time!
But, she doesn't. At least, not when it comes to Bill Cosby. Dunham is one of many women in Hollywood who consistently vocalize support for survivors of sexual assault. She was an advocate of Dylan Farrow, giving her own no-holds-barred interview on WTF last year. When she herself came under fire for the passages on assault in her own memoir, Dunham maintained a remarkable grace. Rather than receding, she used the spotlight to educate and advocate for survivors in the press. So, where is she in this conversation?
Where is everyone? Where is Sarah Silverman, Oprah, Louis CK, Amy Schumer, Angelina Jolie, Janeane Garofalo, Mariska Hargitay, Ben Stiller, Charlize Theron, Robin Wright — all of whom have publicly aligned themselves with the issue of sexual assault? Some of them are survivors themselves, while others devote time, work, and money to the cause.
Apatow acknowledges that there is often a kind of inertia when news like this comes to light, saying, "When I first heard about these accusations [years ago], it probably took way too long for it to sink in." As with Woody Allen, the allegations against Cosby are not new. One woman brought charges against him in 2006, prompting 13 others to come forward. Cosby quickly offered a settlement, and the news made headlines only briefly. Despite the woman's public recounting of being drugged and raped by Cosby, the entertainment industry — and the media — quickly and quietly turned their backs on her.
As a writer with a platform, I, too, feel shame in not having covered this sooner. After writing an essay about Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen last year, I saw for the first time how vital and impactful it is simply to say, "I believe you." I had known about the allegations for years, but it took Ronan Farrow's tweet (during the 2014 Golden Globes) to make me consider it newsworthy. It's as if I needed permission to be outraged — and that sad fact may be the greatest cause and symptom of rape culture.
In the wake of Woody Allen, I thought of Cosby — another man whose history we'd deliberately forgotten. I reached out to comics, hoping they might weigh in, but got no response, and so I dropped the story, consciously forgetting once again. Months later, Hannibal Buress' on-stage comments brought the allegations back to the forefront. It was Ronan Farrow's tweet all over again, and suddenly we had permission to remember these women.
So, why are so many still keeping quiet? Some argue it's an issue of justice — "innocent until proven guilty." But, that defense is a flimsy cop-out, missing the point entirely. There is a difference between putting Cosby through a Twitter trial and saying, "I believe you" to his alleged victims. The fact is, Cosby may never see a courtroom, since the statute of limitations prevents most of his alleged victims from bringing charges. But, what of the others who might still be out there, afraid to speak up? What if there are other women with more recent, viable cases against Cosby? What does our vast silence say to them?
Moving on is how we got here in the first place. Letting it go is what enables sexual predators to prey on new victims. In our silence, we keep them safe. In our desire to play nice and save our own necks, we become complicit bystanders to sexual violence. It's as simple as that.
Even more simple is the solution: "I believe you." That statement requires neither judge nor jury. You don't need to pass judgment on the assailant to stand with the survivor. Each of us with a platform, be it a celebrity following or a personal Facebook page, can take that step. It may be awkward and uncomfortable to say it out loud. You may hesitate and squirm, afraid of losing friends or family or fans. It is but a sliver of desperate fear that shoves an assault survivor into silence, sometimes forever. That's when it's up to us to make a racket.
I believe you.