(Preview copy – publish date 23 June 2022)
Winnie M Li is an author and activist, who has worked in the creative industries over three continents. “Complicit” is her second novel, and reflects her experience in the film industry. Her first novel also explores attitudes towards rape and this theme is revisited in this latest novel about the film industry. #metoo and the Weinstein story is familiar territory in this compulsive read. Although some of the characters are rather cliched, the film industry environment is rather unique. It is primarily run by men where women have secondary almost submissive roles in the production of a film.
The main character, Sarah is a hard-working Chinese graduate who finds employment as an assistant to a female producer with a small outfit in New York. They have a talented director and their first feature film is going to be a success. Sarah makes a big contribution, especially with the script. All is going well until Hugo North muscles in. He is a multi-millionaire with contacts and a big ego. The author’s experience with the film industry is central to the development of the story. Understanding the roles and the stages in the production of a film is interweaved with the plot and makes the story authentic.
It seems that traditionally male directors, producers and A-list actors have used their positions of influence, especially with females in the industry. They expect every whim to be satisfied by the unfortunate females – from actresses to industry support staff. As an aspiring actress or producer, the choice between advancement and subjugation is not a choice they should have to make. Hugo is uncompromising in his treatment of women and expects total control in every aspect. Eventually, Sarah is Hugo’s target and she barely escapes his clutches. Should she make a scene or report it, and lose her job? Such conflicts seem commonplace in this industry. She decides to keep quiet. Finally, Sarah’s young friend Holly (the main lead in the latest film) is invited to Hugo’s hotel room, and Sarah has the chance to warn her. She decides to avoid the situation, and Holly proceeds to Hugo’s room. It is not until the end of the book that suspicions are confirmed that Holly was raped by Hugo.
The story is told from Sarah’s point of view with interesting interviews with other female characters working on the film. The interviews are being conducted by a New York Times investigative journalist. At the end of the book, the report is published and Hugo North’s behaviour is exposed. Meanwhile, Sarah has become so disillusioned with the industry that she has left and is working as a college lecturer. Has she made the right decision?
This is a marvellous story of the moment with great insight into the film industry. The morals and ethics are explored in this fascinating expose. Change surely has to come!