To mark the release of her new feature, director Kitty Green tells Huck why she approached the fictional story like she would a documentary.
Hailed by many as the first great Me Too movie, Kitty Green’s new feature tracks a young woman over the course of a single day in her job at a production company. To mark its release, the director tells Huck why she approached the story like she would a documentary.
As the dust began to settle following the initial shockwaves of the Me Too Movement, it was only a matter of time until the sexism and gross misconduct of Hollywood titans became the subject of films themselves.
Right from its premiere at Sundance Film Festival, Kitty Green’s The Assistant was hailed as the first great Me Too movie. The film follows Jane (Julia Garner), a young, fresh-faced assistant who works at a film production company, tracking her over the span of a single day.
Some of her work tasks are familiar: Jane makes coffee, she empties bins. Others, however, hint at something sinister going on behind closed doors. In one scene, she takes a new teenage assistant to a hotel room; in another, she is tasked with disinfecting stains on her boss’ couch.
Set before the Me Too Movement rippled through Hollywood, The Assistant dramatises the varying levels of workplace misconduct through Jane’s eyes – from being gaslit by the head of HR to the casual sexism of the other male assistants. Although the film is a drama, Green approached it like she did her previous documentary features, speaking to those in assistant positions and creating Jane as a stand-in for these collective experiences.
“When I read about assistants in the press – particularly the assistants working for predatory bosses – people were labelling them as enablers,” Green explains. “When I started speaking to assistants, I realised it was so much more complicated than that. I wanted to demonstrate what a day is actually like in the shoes of someone in that position.”
I’m interested to know the timeframe for The Assistant. Were you working on it pre-Me Too and the Weinstein revelations, or did it come about after all of that came to light?
I was working on something about consent and power structures, and looking at misconduct before the rise of the MeToo Movement. I was on college campuses because, if you wanted to talk about consent at that moment, that was the best place to be and where the conversation was happening.
Then the Weinstein story broke. Because I work in the film industry, and a lot of my friends do too, it made sense for me to focus on that industry but with the same kind of themes as what was happening on college campuses.
Did moving from college campuses to the film industry feel more personal to you as a filmmaker?
I had heard a lot of stories about misconduct in the film industry. I had seen bad behaviour. I [had] witnessed and experienced a lot of sexism. I felt uncomfortable in the film industry after a point, because I didn’t know if anyone needed or wanted my voice. I was asking myself and my friends those kinds of questions and about their experiences – I was angry and started to research around all of that.
Why did you decide to make the film’s protagonist an entry-level assistant?
A lot of the coverage of the Me Too movement focused on the bad men – like, if we got rid of Harvey Weinstein, then the problem would be fixed. But a lot of people in the industry, including me and my friends, were saying, ‘Well, the problem is much bigger than that.’ We need to look at why there aren’t more women in positions of power.
In order to do that, I started looking at the problem from the bottom-up, rather than top-down. If you take the person with the least power at a production company and she’s a woman, what’s preventing her from climbing the ladder – what’s in her way?
The culture of the system became really important to me: all of the microaggressions that can affect a woman’s self-confidence and career trajectory, like the way Jane’s male colleagues treat her and the way the HR department dismisses her.
Why did you decide to set the film over the course of a single day?
I wanted to present the day as it would unfold in Jane’s eyes, so every task she does has equal weight – whether that’s making the coffee or picking something provocative off her boss’ couch. All of those things to her were part of her job, part of her daily routine.
The structure was based around presenting one authentic day the way she was experiencing it, [which] allowed me to explore a whole spectrum of abuses – from the microaggressions to the darker, more serious misconduct. It also meant that I could hone in on the bad behaviour that men ignore or don’t notice, but women pick up on.
The film is very much about Jane. We never meet her boss – although we very much feel his presence.
We’d heard enough about what goes on inside those offices. What’s interesting to me is what goes on over on the other side of the door. I wanted to look at the scenery around the predator and what supports him, from the HR department to the other male assistants. Essentially, the culture of silence in that kind of work place.
If we were to track the beginning of your research up to the film’s release, do you think things have changed in the industry?
In a way, the film is a period piece in that it’s set pre-rise of the Me Too movement. But I think a lot of the behaviour in the film is still going on today. I think we still need to examine the behaviour that goes unnoticed.
It’s interesting to call the film a period piece.
I mean it is and it isn’t one – because a lot of it is still happening. Some male critics saw the film and said, ‘This subject was relevant until two or three years ago.’ But that’s such an easy cop-out. A lot of this is still going on. Sexism in work environments is still happening and needs to be weeded out. The more conversations we can have about that, the better.
In terms of the film industry specifically, are you hopeful for it to be fairer in the future?
I think so. I feel like it’s getting better. My friends who are female filmmakers are getting opportunities they weren’t getting a few years ago. I’m seeing some change and I think people are finally taking female filmmakers more seriously. But there’s still a lot that needs to change. Frankly the whole system needs to change.
We need to get more women into film school in the first place. So, from the very bottom to the very top, everything needs to shift. It’s happening, but it’s slow. We just need to keep these conversations going and calling out inequality until things get permanent.
The Assistant is released digitally on 1 May.
Follow Katie Goh on Twitter.