The Meaning, History and Evolution of Casting Couch in Hollywood

In Hollywood, stories abound about what goes on behind the scene amidst actors, actresses, producers, directors and just about anyone that works in the industry. Such stories include the good, the not so good and the bad. As always, it is the not so good and the obviously bad stories that make the news the more. Stories in this category include cases of sexual exploitation of actors and actresses by directors and producers who often play a big role in the progress or detriment of the former’s career progression. Sexual exploitation in Hollywood has become a thing associated so much with the industry that the term “casting couch” was coined for it.

In this write-up, we present an in-depth report of casting couch in Hollywood with a particular focus on its history and how it has evolved over the years. First, let us find out the various meanings attributed to the phrase.

What is the Meaning of Casting Couch?

The term casting couch in a broader sense refers to the asking of sexual favors by someone in a position of authority from another person, mostly their subordinate who needs a favor from them. In other words, the request of sexual indulgence by a superior person from a subordinate before such a subordinate will get what he or she is ordinarily qualified for. Such demands often come with a threat that should the subordinate refuse to grant the superior’s demands, it spells doom for their career if not a possible end to it. Thus, most times the perpetrators of this act often end up getting what they want from their subordinates.

Casting couch in Hollywood does not have a different meaning from what it means in the broader sense. In the industry, it is most prevalent between casting directors and film producers asking for sex in exchange for giving aspiring actors and actresses a role in a project that will advance their careers. As inferred, such requests are often made to upcoming performers who are yet to make a name for themselves in the industry. In other climes, Casting couch also exists and has been given other names. In Japan, it is called Makura Eigyou (the pillow trade).

How Has The Practice Evolved In Hollywood Over Time?

Casting couch is most often seen as a practice that is exclusive to Hollywood. Though it is something that goes on in other industries at various degrees, the term actually originated in the film industry. It was coined in reference to the couch in offices of film directors and producers where such sexual exploitations often take place. It is a metaphor that explains what some term another form of audition where what matters most is the sexual fulfillment the exploiter obtains from the exploited and not necessarily the latter’s talent to convincingly land a deserving role in the film project.

The practice is a toxic occurrence in the film industry that has actually been going on for years. The first publicly known case of casting couch in Hollywood was recorded in the year 1921 when then Hollywood star Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle was found having carnal knowledge of actress Virginia Rappe who was screaming out of severe pain. Sadly, Rappe died a week after the incident from what documents revealed to be a ruptured bladder and secondary peritonitis. Arbuckle was arrested and stood trial for the act, however, he was later acquitted but his career never recovered thereafter.

Despite the dangers casting couch was shown to portend for Hollywood right from the onset, the practice thrived in its budding stages and grew to a point of being something easily associated with the industry. In the years of its sordid growth, the victims of this sexual exploitation both male and female remained mostly mute while the perpetrators had field days as they went about carrying out this heinous act against persons that could someday be in the position they are in. The victims of casting couch often get trapped with the threat that should they refuse their exploiters’ demands, their careers will suffer for it.

The Changing Narrative in Hollywood

Casting couch in Hollywood, Harvey Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein arrested after turning himself over to the police following sexual allegation claims made against him

As the years went by, some victims of casting couch started becoming vocal about what has been going on in the film industry as they began naming film directors and producers who have been doing this. Some of the most notable persons that have been the perpetrators of casting couch in Hollywood include Harvey Weinstein who was accused by more than 30 women of exploiting them within a period that has spanned 3 decades. Some of these women include Angie Everhart and Natasha Henstridge. Another director is Bill Cosby whose tally of accusers reached up to 60. Robert de Niro and Alain Sarde have also both had their own share of accusations too.

The victims of sexual exploitation or to a much lesser degree in this instance – inappropriate sexual advances – have also not only been women. Some gay actors like Wilson Cruz and Charlie Carver have also all admitted to powerful directors and producers in the industry making sexual advances at them at the early stages of their careers.

The good news, however, is that casting couch in Hollywood is up against a big fight especially with the #MeToo movement. Many of its victims are speaking up without fear while those found to be guilty get the punishments deserving of their evil acts.


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