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A Romanian Actor's #MeToo Moment Is Met With A Shrug

Viorica Voda
Viorica Voda

BUCHAREST -- It sounds like a showstopper.

Longtime actress Viorica Voda aired unscripted allegations of entrenched sexual harassment and other rot in Romania's film industry at one of the country's biggest entertainment awards ceremonies.

But the veteran, Moldovan-born actress's tearful cautionary speech instead met with casual disregard from nearly everyone else onstage at the annual Gopo Awards Gala in Bucharest last week.

"I had no expectations from the [actors'] guild, but it was hard for me that night," Voda told RFE/RL's Romanian Service in a wide-ranging interview days later. "I was greeted with sarcasm, irony, hypocrisy. A colleague passed me and whispered, 'Yeah, and who raped you?'"

Voda and other critics say it's a mostly silent indictment of a system and a society that has avoided the lessons of the global #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and rape culture. They say such treatment is still trivialized in Romania, despite the humiliation and injustice that it routinely inflicts on women.

Voda told the Gopo attendees on May 3 that the "consequences of her exposure" in the role of a teen vixen in one of the iconic films of Romanian New Wave cinema 20 years ago landed her in "psychotherapy for years for sexual harassment inside and outside the system."

She played an unapologetically materialistic teenager and would-be seductress in the dark comedy Philanthropy in 2002. Her character, Diana Dobrovicescu, dupes a fortysomething high-school teacher and struggling writer who is aggressively courting her through trickery of his own.

"There are a lot of theater directors and film directors who seem to have confused me with the character," Voda said with Romanian Culture Minister Lucian Romascanu and Bucharest Mayor Nicusor Dan in the audience.

Viorica Voda speaks out at the Gopo Gala.
Viorica Voda speaks out at the Gopo Gala.

She was on stage alongside other former cast members to mark the 20th anniversary of Philanthropy's release, none of whom expressed sympathy for Voda. "But the film was good," one of the cast members, Marius Florea Vizante, said in an awkward effort to move on from Voda's speech, drawing subsequent criticism.

'It's Like An Accident'

In fact, only one other person who addressed the Gopo audience, Katia Pascariu, who won an award for her role in the internationally acclaimed 2021 film Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn, noted the silence and praised Voda for her courage to speak publicly.

"Many of us see [such abuses] every day," Pascariu added.

Voda said her aim in speaking out was not to "initiate a '#MeToo from Moldova' campaign" but because she wanted her 20-year-old daughter, who was in the audience, to be able to "build a career, to have courage, [and] to not be ashamed."

Oana Bucur, a casting director at SagaFilm, said via Facebook that she was "somewhat stunned by the total lack of support" since Voda leveled her accusations. "It's like in an accident: You pass quickly and you don't look so you don't see brains and blood on the asphalt," Bucur said.

Director Ruxandra Ghitescu called Voda's appearance an emotional, courageous moment that was minimized by the others onstage. "Although there were a lot of women in the room [for Voda's speech], we didn't applaud much, none of us stood up," she said. Women are often "afraid" and even "apologize for being sincere." Instead, Ghitescu said, "we need solidarity."

Razvan Krem Alexe, an actor and comic, said on Facebook that Voda's statements landed like "a blow to the solar plexus." "It seemed to me that Mrs. Voda showed extraordinary courage, and if a precedent was created, all the better!" Alexe wrote.

Wider Problem

A landmark Eurobarometer study concluded that more than 1-in-4 EU citizens (27 percent) believes there are times when "sexual intercourse without consent can be justifiable." More alarmingly, that number was around 55 percent among Romanians, the highest among all EU states.

The survey, taken six years ago and not repeated since, presented respondents with nine hypothetical scenarios.

Activists warn that such attitudes remain stubbornly entrenched. "The reaction at the gala was unfortunate," Andreea Rusu, executive director of the Filia Center, a nonprofit group supporting feminism and gender equality and education, told RFE/RL's Romanian Service.

Viorica Voda
Viorica Voda

Rusu blamed it on "a lack of...compassion and trivialization" of Voda's and other victims' experiences. "No wonder, because in our country the 2018 #MeToo campaign, with an impact on the entire civilized world, was invisible," said Rusu, whose center conducts anti-harassment programs in schools and universities.

She cited a case from Romania's publicly funded National School of Political Science and Public Administration that highlighted the role of power dynamics in such harassment. In one instance, a professor who'd harassed students and sent them sexually explicit photos was removed from the classroom and research activities but kept his salary. "It is a power relationship that intimidates, and the embarrassment of saying anything publicly intervenes," Rusu said. "In Romania, there is a tendency to blame the victim and to protect the aggressor."

No Names

Voda emphasized to RFE/RL some of the particularities of acting in which "you work with your body, with your voice, with your feelings and moods."

"That's why the actor is vulnerable, and many of the young aspirants become addicted to someone who helps them in their career in exchange for certain favors," she said.

"When you are conditioned like this, the first reaction is to curse the harasser and send him somewhere," Voda said. "But then you start to bow your head, to accept, otherwise you disappear. And the fact that accepting the compromise contradicts your value system is mixing you up inside."

Voda has declined to name the individuals responsible for the alleged abuse because "I'd be sued for slander or something."

"In order to do something concrete against harassment, you have to have evidence. What evidence have I gathered in these 20 years?" she told RFE/RL. "The law didn't even help you 20 years ago, and it doesn't help you today."

She cited her "naivety" and idealism when, after receiving a scholarship for young Moldovans and graduating from the youth section of Romania's Caragiale National University of Theater and Film, she was first pursuing an acting career. "The theater environment is not very healthy, and young actresses are the first victims of theater directors and film directors," she said.

She said the harassment was not as direct as "Hey doll, what would you do to get this role?" Instead, she said by way of example, "he gives you a private meeting on a professional pretext, he gives you a script to read, but on the back is a phone number. Following are a series of signs, messages that will make you understand that you can't do without it."

Voda described an itinerant acting career after Philanthropy that led her away from the "tumult of the capital" to a theater in the provinces, but where she found "the same atmosphere of intrigue, dissatisfaction, misery."

Moreover, she said, she encountered astonishingly wide discretion for directors in doling out the pay for actors, while technicians and other crew worked on fixed agreements. "And they take advantage of it. We had to face the same story there: invitations to dinner, insinuations, 'Let's get to know each other better,' and such," she told RFE/RL. "In my opinion, such directors paid with state funds, from taxpayer money, should be jailed for abuse."

She cited additional challenges for women who have children.

After having her second child in 2016, Voda worked in low-budget independent films and regional theaters before eventually joining a Moldovan troupe for a dramatic short film called Chers Amis (Dear Friends) in 2017.

"Reconnecting is difficult," Voda said. "There's no avalanche of offers or contracts."

Written by Andy Heil based on reporting by Brandusa Armanca of RFE/RL's Romanian Service in Bucharest

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