Mexico And The #MeToo Movement

Mar 21, 2018
Originally published on March 23, 2018 7:16 am
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Women working in Mexico's entertainment industry have started coming forward with accusations of sexual harassment, inappropriate behavior and even rape. The Me Too movement appears to have arrived in Mexico. Several actresses told their stories in a series of recent TV interviews. But within days, the women were the targets of heavy criticism.

As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, for now, Me Too Mexico is experiencing more backlash than movement.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: As sexual harassment complaints mounted in the U.S. against powerful men in Hollywood politics and the media, Mexico's entertainment industry was silent. Then, last month, Mexican actresses began speaking out.

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KARLA SOUZA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Actress Karla Souza went on CNN en Espanol to tell her experience with a director who she said had started pressuring her sexually during the filming of a movie early on in her career. Souza is well-known in Mexico for a string of hit movies and has broken out in the U.S. as a recurring character, Laurel Castillo, on the TV show "How To Get Away With Murder." Stopping to catch her breath, Souza says the pressure by the director one night went from uncomfortable advances to violence.

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SOUZA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "One night, he attacked me violently. And he raped me," she said, wiping away tears from her eyes.

Souza did not name the director. But the following day, "Televisa," the Mexican media powerhouse, sent out a statement saying it was severing ties with director Gustavo Loza. Loza vehemently denies any inappropriate behavior. Souza declined to speak to NPR through her agent.

More actresses then came forward, also a comedian and an Olympic diver. Mexican playwright Sabina Berman, now 62, says sexual harassment in Mexico's entertainment industry has a long history. She says when she picked up her first paycheck from Mexico's Writers Guild, the then-president, Jose Maria Fernandez Unsain, molested her. She was 19.

SABINA BERMAN: He appeared behind me, and he put his hand inside my pants. And from there, harassment happened for 10 years.

KAHN: Berman says every time she picked up her check, Fernandez would call her into her office and molest her. Finally it stopped, she says.

BERMAN: Because I became successful enough to have an assistant. And then I sent him to get the checks (laughter).

KAHN: A spokesman for the Guild told NPR they would not comment on Berman's accusations. Former Guild President Fernandez died in 1997.

Berman made the same claims on CNN en Espanol. She also related an incident that she says occurred during the filming of the movie "Gloria" in 2014 involving underage girls. Berman accused the casting agency of the misconduct.

The company sent out a scathing denial. And within hours, Berman retracted her accusation, citing a faulty memory and issued an apology. Berman's gaffe was severely criticized, fueling the backlash already underway against Souza and the other actresses.

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HORACIO VILLALOBOS: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: TV Azteca host and actor Horacio Villalobos echoed the sentiments filling social media platforms. "It is irresponsible, sorry," he said, "but irresponsible of these women to go on TV and refuse to name names and make false accusations." Others question why the women didn't report the crimes at the time.

Mexican actress Natalia Cordova-Buckley, who plays superhero Yo-Yo Rodriguez in the U.S. TV show "Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D." defended her fellow actresses on CNN en Espanol.

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NATALIA CORDOVA-BUCKLEY: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "You speak out, and they assassinate you in the media," she added. With no new revelations since Me Too Mexico made its debut last month, it appears the movement has lost steam. Sabina Berman, the Mexican playwright, says she won't be silenced.

BERMAN: We have to transcend this backlash, this immediate machista backlash.

KAHN: And not just for actresses, she says, but for the millions of Mexican women who don't have access to an open mic. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.