David Schwimmer confronts sex harassment in new campaign

NEW YORK — A lewd photographer, a handsy doctor, a smooth-talking politician: Sexual harassment happens every day and it's time to amp up the conversation, actor David Schwimmer said.

Schwimmer, Cynthia Nixon, Bobby Cannavale, Emmy Rossum and Noah Emmerich, among others, appear in a series of short films launched this week as part of a campaign called "That's Harassment." Each offers a disturbing glimpse into how abusers assume control, whether they're bartenders, co-workers or bosses, and how such abuse can play out in plain view of bystanders.

One of the films depicts a fashion photographer verbally abusing a young model at a shoot, asking that she touch herself under her jeans as others watch. Another shows a physician who caresses the breast of a weak and ailing female patient complaining of a headache, under the guise of demonstrating a self-exam.

A third has a hipster bartender feigning a friendly warning about over-the-line co-workers to a new female hire by demonstrating. He grabs her buttocks. Yet another of the films has a TV actor on set telling a wardrobe assistant, "Look who came to say hello" as he exposes himself during a clothing change.

Some of the short scenarios, presented through a fly-on-the-wall perspective, were based on real events. Each film, available on the project's Facebook page, is three to five minutes long. All were directed by Sigal Avin, who first launched the project in Israel in December.

The goal, Schwimmer and Avin said in a joint interview Tuesday, is for "people to speak up against sexual harassment, whether they themselves have been victimized. ... Our whole hope is that men and women will watch these and that we have put a face on what sexual harassment is."

The initiative, as National Sexual Assault Awareness Month is underway, comes amid the rapid defection of advertisers this week from Bill O'Reilly's Fox News Channel show because of sexual harassment allegations. It also follows the contentious presidential election, which included video of President Donald Trump talking about grabbing women by the genitals.

"Many people elected the president in spite of that," Schwimmer said. "I don't think most people are excited that he was boasting of committing sexual assault. I think that was a flaw but they overlooked it. For me, personally, that's not something I can really condone in terms of character of a leader that I would like. That is something that is hard to explain to my daughter."

Schwimmer, who played the goofy Ross on "Friends," said sexual harassment has impacted his own family, including his mother. Avin said she, too, has been harassed, wounding her for years.

"I wrote the first script, which was something that happened to me around 18 years ago that I didn't even realize was sexual harassment," she said. "I was wondering what does sexual harassment even mean?"

It's the segues to harassment out of mundane interactions that are most disturbing about the films. Avin wanted to focus on the gray areas, hopefully lending courage to victims to speak out "when they realize, oh, that's it."

The photographer-model film plays out in a room full of people, showing how the photographer's encouragement to the model to be sexy crossed the line.

"It shows the complicit nature of all of the bystanders," Schwimmer said, "the culture of sexual harassment that we continue to allow."

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Follow John Carucci on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jacarucci

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