Romanian actor’s #MeToo moment is greeted with a shrug
BUCHAREST – It looks like a showstopper.
Longtime actress Viorica Voda aired unscripted allegations of ingrained sexual harassment and other rot in the Romanian film industry at one of the country’s biggest entertainment awards shows.
But the Moldovan-born veteran actress’ tearful warning speech was met with flippant scorn from nearly everyone on stage at the annual Gopo Awards gala in Bucharest last week.
“I had no expectation of [actors’] guild, but it was hard for me that night,” Voda said to the Romanian service of RFE/RL in an extensive interview a few days later. “I was greeted with sarcasm, irony, hypocrisy. A colleague walked past me and whispered, ‘Yes, and who raped you?'”
Voda and other critics say it’s a mostly silent indictment of a system and society that shunned the lessons of the global #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and rape culture. They say this treatment is still trivialized in Romania, despite the humiliation and injustice it regularly inflicts on women.
Voda told Gopo attendees on May 3 that the “consequences of her exposure” as a teenage vixen in one of Romanian new wave cinema’s iconic films 20 years ago brought her to “psychotherapy for years for sexual harassment inside and outside the system.”
She played a shameless materialistic teenager and would-be seductress in the dark comedy Philanthropy in 2002. Her character, Diana Dobrovicescu, tricks a middle-aged high school teacher and struggling writer who aggressively woos her through her own cunning. .
“There are a lot of theater directors and directors who seem to have confused me with the character,” Voda said with Romanian Culture Minister Lucian Romascanu and Bucharest Mayor Nicusor Dan in the audience.
She was on stage alongside other former cast members to mark the 20th anniversary of the release of Philanthropy, none of whom expressed sympathy for Voda. “But the movie was good,” said one of the cast members, Marius Florea Vizante, in a clumsy effort to shift from Voda’s speech, prompting later criticism.
“It’s like an accident”
In fact, only one other person who addressed the Gopo audience, Katia Pascariu, who won an award for her role in the internationally acclaimed 2021 film Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn, noted the silence and praised Voda. for his courage to speak publicly.
“Many of us see [such abuses] every day,” Pascariu added.
Voda said her goal in speaking out was not to “start a ‘#MeToo from Moldova’ campaign” but because she wanted her 20-year-old daughter, who was in the audience, to be able to “build a career , be brave, [and] don’t be ashamed.”
Oana Bucur, casting director at SagaFilm, said via Facebook that she was “somewhat stunned by the complete lack of support” since Voda made her accusations. “It’s like in an accident: you pass quickly and you don’t look so you don’t see brains and blood on the asphalt,” Bucur said.
Director Ruxandra Ghitescu called Voda’s appearance an emotional and courageous moment that was minimized by others on stage. “Even though there were many women in the room [for Voda’s speech]we didn’t clap much, neither of us stood up,” she said. Women are often “scared” and even “apologizing for being sincere.” said Ghitescu, “we need solidarity”.
Razvan Krem Alexe, an actor and comedian, said on Facebook that Voda’s statements landed as “a blow to the solar plexus”. “It seemed to me that Ms. Voda showed extraordinary courage, and if a precedent was set, so much the better!” Alex wrote.
A landmark Eurobarometer study concluded that more than one in four EU citizens (27%) believe that there are times when “sex without consent may be justifiable”. More alarmingly, that number was around 55% among Romanians, the highest of any EU state.
The survey, conducted six years ago and not repeated since, presented respondents with nine hypothetical scenarios.
Activists warn that such attitudes remain stubbornly entrenched. “The reaction at the gala was unfortunate,” Andreea Rusu, executive director of the Filia Center, a nonprofit group supporting feminism, gender equality and education, told RFE/RL’s Romanian service.
Rusu blamed it on “a lack of … compassion and trivialization” of the experiences of Voda and other victims. “It’s no wonder, because in our country, the 2018 #MeToo campaign, with an impact on the entire civilized world, was invisible,” said Rusu, whose center runs anti-bullying programs. in schools and universities.
She cited a case from Romania’s publicly funded National School of Political Science and Public Administration, which highlighted the role of power dynamics in such harassment. In one case, a professor who harassed students and sent them sexually explicit photos was removed from class and research activities, but kept his salary. “It’s a power relationship that intimidates, and the embarrassment of saying anything publicly kicks in,” Rusu said. “In Romania, there is a tendency to blame the victim and protect the aggressor.”
Voda pointed out to RFE/RL some of the particularities of acting in which “you work with your body, with your voice, with your feelings and your moods”.
“That’s why acting is vulnerable, and a lot of young aspirants become dependent on someone helping them in their career in exchange for certain favors,” she said.
“When you’re conditioned like that, the first reaction is to curse the stalker and send them somewhere,” Voda said. “But then you start to put your head down, to accept, otherwise you disappear. And the fact that accepting the compromise contradicts your value system messes you up inside.”
Voda declined to name those responsible for the alleged abuse because “I would be sued for defamation or something.”
“To do something concrete against bullying, you have to have evidence. What evidence have I collected in these 20 years?” she told RFE/RL. “The law didn’t even help you 20 years ago, and it doesn’t help you today.”
She cited her “naivety” and idealism when, after receiving a scholarship for young Moldovans and graduating from the youth section of Romania’s National University of Theater and Cinema Caragiale, she first pursued a career of actress. “Theatrical environment is not very healthy, and young actresses are the first victims of theater directors and filmmakers,” she said.
She said the harassment wasn’t as direct as, “Hey doll, what would you do to get this role?” Instead, she says by way of example, “he gives you a private meeting on the pretext of work, he gives you a script to read, but on the back is a phone number. There follows a series of signs , messages that will make you understand that you can’t live without them.”
Voda described an itinerant acting career after Philanthropy that took her far from the “hustle and bustle of the capital” to a provincial theater, but where she found “the same atmosphere of intrigue, dissatisfaction, misery”. .
Additionally, she said, she encountered surprisingly wide discretion for directors doling out actors’ salaries, while technicians and other crews worked on set deals. “And they take advantage of it. We had to deal with the same story there: dinner invitations, innuendos, “Let’s get to know each other better”, etc. “, she told RFE / RL. “In my view, such administrators paid with state funds, taxpayers’ money, should be jailed for abuse.”
She cited additional challenges for women who have children.
After having her second child in 2016, Voda worked in low-budget independent films and regional theaters before eventually joining a Moldovan troupe for a short drama titled Dear Friends in 2017.
“Reconnecting is difficult,” Voda said. “There is no avalanche of offers or contracts.”