Laura Dern on How Men in Hollywood Can Support Time's Up (Beyond Wearing Black)
“It happened to be that a group of women were talking to each other, from actresses to agents to writers to producers,” says Laura Dern of how Time’s Up, the now-viral anti-harassment coalition of 300 Hollywood power women, was formed. “And suddenly we’re rallying each other to say, ‘How can we help all of us together to make a difference for friends across all industries?’” When it became clear that everyone wanted in on the same conversation, they said: “Let’s get in a room.”
With a members list that includes Dern, Reese Witherspoon, Shonda Rhimes, Jennifer Aniston, and more, it’s hard to imagine the weekly meetings that Dern describes, which, so far, have resulted in initiatives like a legal defense fund of more than $14 million and a "50/50 by 2020" gender-parity campaign.
Ahead of the Golden Globes, Dern, who is nominated for best actress in a supporting role for her performance in Big Little Lies, spoke to InStyle about how Time’s Up came together, why she and her comrades will be wearing black on the red carpet, and the tangible change she’s already seen since this wave of activism began.
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How did you first get involved in Time’s Up? It’s been pretty extraordinary. I think all of us were dealing with the news of various sexual harassments, accusations, and experiences among ourselves, our friends, our industries. I wanted to lend my voice. We were all having these side conversations about how to make a difference. Reese Witherspoon and I are very dear friends so we were talking a lot about it. I became actively involved at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, of which I’m a governor, and discussed with my fellow governor, Kathleen Kennedy, how a commission of a legal support team, psychologists, and advisors could help those going through this. And I include men in the conversation—which were some of my deepest conversations, one of which occurred with my dear friend Ted Sarandos at Netflix.
What were the group’s initial meetings like? A group of, I don’t know, 20 of us got together and started talking. It started with sharing personal stories and then moved to how do we take action and make a difference? How do we connect to so many women who’ve been doing this work for years, learn from them, and figure out what’s missing? That was at offices, at each other’s homes. There were meetings once a week just to sit and talk about where and how to make a difference.
How did you settle on the name Time’s Up? I was excited to be a part of a moment where the name just appeared for all of us and felt right. It really came out of: How do we feel? How do we support each other? How does it honor all industries? How does it honor women and men? And from that we said, we’ve got to do this—time’s up. [laughs] The time is up to rally, to unify, to have a name!
Why do you think this effort will be successful? I was marching with my mom at rallies when I was 8 years old, listening to her and activists and great actresses stand up for the same issues. This isn’t new. It’s just louder than ever, and it’s being given a voice because people are choosing to report it. I think we’re going to make an enormous difference.
It must have been hard to get this particular group of women together in one place—did you get the sense that everyone made Time’s Up their highest priority? Yes, and what’s amazing about the energy of 'it takes a village’ is that when you know it takes a village, no one has to be the leader. And that has been extremely refreshing. I had an enormous work week after taking the lead in one area, organizing and rallying the group, and suddenly I felt like I dropped off the planet, and there were six other women who just picked it up and ran from there. And then I would circle back when someone else was in the middle of an enormous week or a family circumstance. It’s a community.
What I love about Time’s Up is that in a time of understandably heightened emotions, it offers a concrete course of action. Was it difficult to get to that point? I appreciate how you phrased it, because we were all scrambling, and I think we have been in the last year for a million reasons. And now it feels like there’s more order and more organization. We were in this energy of how can we make a difference for our industry? For our friends who went through this on a college campus 15 years ago, on a movie, a flight attendant friend of mine went through this. And suddenly we’re rallying each other to say, "How can we help all of us together to make a difference for friends across all industries?”
Have you seen any measurable changes since this movement began? My favorite story, over Christmas, is a very dear family friend who’s at university told me she witnessed the very same people [who once contributed to] frat culture and date rape culture, even if it was because of fear, completely have a  in their behavior around women. I was really excited to hear it because when a culture changes, even if an individual doesn’t, they have to catch up to what is publicly expected, as do we.
I’ve normalized plenty of behavior. I was raised on movie sets, I was raised by actors, I had even been comfortable around people who talk crassly and are irreverent in the workplace. I just presumed that’s what it was—but it isn’t anymore. It isn’t my daughter’s generational experience as a 13-year-old. She is being raised in an environment where same-sex families aren’t being made fun of, where a child of divorce or a child who comes from a diverse family, as my children do, there are no comments to be made. It’s just the norm. And I pray that the same will be in the area of power—if something felt uncomfortable to her generation, that they would immediately shut it down.
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What has been the most moving part of joining this initiative? Not hearing “no.” To call an agency and ask how we’re going to be supported in terms of parity in their boardrooms, to have no push back within our own union at the Screen Actors Guild. To have prominent leaders commit to achieving 50/50 by 2020. I think all industries are learning that we are better served when we serve a community—and how can we serve a community when we don’t represent it? It’s a very exciting time to feel like everyone’s eyes that weren’t open will open unanimously.
Many Time’s Up members plan to wear black to the Golden Globes. What message does that send? Our first thought was how we create solidarity. This is not a new idea. But as actresses, the red carpet has been a place where a lot of people benefit from the moment of publicity, supporting a film, supporting a label, supporting a story. And for that story to be unity at the source of competition, it felt like a gorgeous place to say that—to say this is not a competition; this is a place of honoring each other’s voice, each other’s abilities, each other’s opportunity. To be a public figure and have voice is a luxury, so why not then use it for all those who haven’t had that luxury?
How would you respond to the critics who say that men wear black to awards ceremonies anyway? Well, if your attendance in a color is what it is about, then sure. But the men who have beautifully and bravely [called out] abusive power has been moving. From the Rock to my friend Mark Ruffalo, there are men who’ve made it clear that they will stand together in this mission statement. Beyond wearing black, they can wear a pin to support the Times Up legal defense fund. But also, in terms of what they talk about, sharing what Times Up is, asking for diversity and gender equality, asking their agencies, board rooms, labor unions for 50/50 by 2020, we need those voices desperately. And if we’re all saying it at the same moment together, maybe it gets so loud that it drowns all the other options out.