For one reason or another, I’ve always been good at getting myself out of sticky situations. When Regis Philbin interviewed me when I was 8 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucoW-RoSLBA), asking me if I had a boyfriend and that he heard he was older than me, I replied, “Yeah, I like older men.” He laughed. Even at a very young age, I had figured out humor was an excellent way of dealing with inappropriate questions. It was also my way of saying, “Fuck off! I know exactly what you’re getting at. I’m only eight but I’m not dumb, and what you’re implying is gross. So in your face…yeah- I like older men.”
But where do you think I heard that in the first place? “You like older men?” As an eight, nine, ten year old, and so on. When I got to be a teenager, it was “I can’t wait until you’re 18.” I would smile as if I was about to flirt back, “Why? So I can finally meet your level of emotional intelligence?” What they were really saying was, “I can’t wait until you’re eighteen so I can legally have sex with you.” They weren’t fooling me with their backhanded compliment. What they were implying felt creepy to me, and my survival instinct kicked into high gear.
I’m not really sure if I suppressed my sexuality as a result of this kind of predatory behavior, or if I was so determined to be a regular kid and mature at a slower rate than other kid actors I knew. Either way, I was naïve as a teenager when it came to sex, and let’s just say I wasn’t one of those young women who oozed sexuality. I prided myself in being a tomboy and holding the record for the most pull-ups in my school among the girls and the boys. I liked being physically strong and respected for my intellect, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t into boys.
When I was 14, I had only kissed one boy in real life. I hadn’t done anything else, ya know, hit any other bases. So, when I read in the GH script that I was to have a “long kiss” with an older boy when he dropped me at home after a date, I became sick to my stomach in anticipation. I showed up to set that day to find out the guy I was supposed to make out with was 22 -years old. I was 14! The boy I had kissed in real life was my same age and despite growing up on a soap opera and working with adults my whole childhood, kissing a 22-year-old man felt dangerous and wrong. He was much older than my two older brothers,and I couldn’t imagine being interested at that point in anyone my brothers’ age. During rehearsal, this guest actor along with another male actor joked around about having condoms for our date, “I didn’t get any because they didn’t have any extra large.” That was the first time I heard the word Magnum thrown around like a thinly veiled threat. They both thought they were pretty damn funny. My stomach tightened. I hadn’t even seen a penis at this point, so imagining an extra large one in my adolescence made me want to hurl. Never mind how disrespectful and inappropriate this conversation was… it wasn’t even in the script! It was the male banter and getting to know you improv. The guest actor felt entitled to make crude remarks in rehearsal with no fear of being fired. I on the other hand knew that if I made a stink about it, I’d be the one who would be fired. I’m the one who had the contract with GH. I was the minor in the situation. This was my story. And I was afraid of the potential consequences of speaking up.
Nevertheless, during the next break, I went to the fifth floor and asked to speak to the producer at the time, Gloria Monty. Gloria told me I had to do the kiss because it was in the script and to act as if I liked the guy. She said something about him being a good actor and I should be grateful to work with someone so talented. This actor did go on to do big movies, so she was right about that. Gloria mentioned that Genie Francis began doing love scenes when she was only a year older than I, and this scenario was very tame in comparison. I found out later that Genie’s character was date raped and she later fell in love with her rapist, so yeah… I would have to agree with Gloria. Very tame compared to that. Either way, I didn’t want to do it.
It was lunchtime and I couldn’t eat because my stomach was so upset. I do recall the actor trying to apologize to me, but I was so grossed out by him and I had already made my decision. My mother supported me in my decision and told me, “Let them fire you. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it, don’t do it. “ When it came time to do the scene, I refused to kiss him. With the director and the crew watching me, I stood my ground. He kissed me on the cheek instead of the “long kiss” at the end of the scene. Yes, it was a small victory on my part, but I’m sure people called me “difficult” as a result. These are the labels that are often put on young women. If we stand up for ourselves, we are called “difficult” or “little divas.” So it’s no surprise to me that to this day, young actresses are still caught up in this same type of dilemma.
When I saw the video of the Duffer brothers and Sadie Sink talk about how the now infamous kiss was sprung on her on set (http://variety.com/2017/tv/news/stranger-things-duffer-brothers-sadie-sink-kiss-1202608331/) , I became infuriated. Sadie says in the video, “I was so stressed out”, while the creator of the show goes on to say “the kiss was all her fault” and other manipulative vernacular. Sadie tries to laugh it off, but I can’t help hear the actual words that are coming out of her mouth… “It wasn’t in the script” and “I was so stressed out.” I also can’t help noticing she’s the only girl at a table with three grown men and two young boys. Matt Duffer later walked back his comments saying, “We were just teasing them. They all loved it.” After a publicist got ahold of Sadie, she changed her statement saying, “I wouldn’t’ have done it if I was uncomfortable.” But I know what I saw in that video, and no matter how you slice it, Duffer could benefit from a little former child actor knowledge. So, here goes;
You don’t understand that teasing a 15 year old girl about her first on-screen kiss isn’t funny because, well, you’ve never been a 15 year old girl. You were never a child actor, so couldn’t understand the societal pressures a young actor has to face on and off screen. IT WASN’T IN THE SCRIPT. Sadie wasn’t planning on the stress that comes with an on-screen kiss because IT WASN’T IN THE SCRIPT to begin with. Therefore, if you wanted to add a kiss, the right thing to do would have been to gently introduce it to her and her parents because she is a MINOR and kissing on-screen is a BIG FUCKING DEAL. That’s because kissing off-screenat that age is still a BIG FUCKING DEAL. After you made sure that she knew you had her back and she was totally comfortable with the idea, you should have then said to your brother and directing partner, “How can be make painless for Sadie?” Maybe you could’ve changed the framing of the shot to cut down on the number of background kids. Maybe you could’ve asked the parents to clear the set. Maybe you could’ve rehearsed it without the kiss with all the crew that is normally present and then cut down on the number of the crew for the actual kiss. Maybe you could’ve done any or all of these things. Instead, you went on the after show (Beyond Stranger Things) and teased her on camera, calling for being resistant, shaming her once again. Well… SHAME ON YOU Duffer. This is an impressionable talented young actress that has now learned the wrong lesson: Protect your older, male boss instead of yourself. Think about it, dude.
I have so much more to say, but let me leave you with this for now; the tide is rising and this isn’t right. This may seem like an innocent mistake but it’s not. It’s behavior is part of a culture that must die. As Brit Marlin explains in The Economics Of Consent: (https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/10/harvey-weinstein-and-the-economics-of-consent/543618/)… where young women are manipulated not because they are weak but because their job is at stake. But no more.
The times. They are a changin’.
To be continued…