Debra Messing was inspirational to many women in her role as Grace on Will & Grace, as she awkwardly felt her way through career and love with a cast of unruly best friends. I think a lot of us can imagine ourselves as Grace, triumphantly squirting her water bra all over some bad artwork painted by someone who was mean to her. But we don’t need fiction to be inspired by Messing. She is a badass feminist when the camera’s not on as well, from talking politics to calling out Hollywood for its nasty sexism.
If you didn’t notice, Messing spent the better part of last year putting herself in spaces to support Hillary Clinton and women everywhere. She spoke and sang at the Democratic National Convention back in July. She told Women’s Wear Daily, “I’ve been on the trail, I’ve been out to L.A. and I spoke out there. I was in Philly last Wednesday. I’m all in.” Which many remarkable Hollywood celebs were, but Messing was one of few to actually hit the trail.
When Clinton lost, she threw just as much gusto into supporting the resistance to Trump and the Women’s March on Jan. 21. She tweeted this fun comparison of stars participating in the inauguration vs. the Women’s March:
And she told Vanity Fair, “What I hope is that it will send the message that we are going to fight for and defend the civil rights, constitutional rights, human rights of every citizen in our country, and we will be actively resisting any attempt to dismantle any of those rights.”
So it’s no surprise that Messing recently decided to come out about a true Hollywood horror story that happened while filming her first movie A Walk in the Clouds in 1995. What happened? She was told that she needed a nose job, and was sexually humiliated by director Alfonso Arau. She wasn’t just told to get a nose job actually, she was debased during the filming of a sex scene, with Arau screaming, “Cut! How quickly can we get a plastic surgeon in here? Her nose is ruining my movie!”
Just let that sink in for a second while you consider all of the average-build, medium-attractive men who’ve never once been questioned as fuckable. All of the men allowed to play romantic leads across from women 20 years younger. All of the men who are allowed to play the romantic lead well into being late middle-aged, while women age into being the mom or the librarian around 35 years old. Can female directors start yelling at them, “Can we get a younger man in here? This guy’s wrinkly balls are ruining my movie,”?
What is even more horrific than Arau considering the nondescript nose of a beautiful 20-something to be in need of surgical intervention is the fact that he forced an unplanned nude scene on her. Messing revealed at this year’s Makers Conference that he lifted her cover to examine her nude body and then, “He dropped the sheet on top of me like a used Kleenex, and walked away without a word.” All of that demoralization also never even had any artistic payoff, with only Messing’s bare back being shown in the final cut. All of that, Messing said, was meant to “demean me, strip me of my pride, my power.”
Messing closed with, “I’m a fucking original. My nose and I have come this far, and like Barbra Streisand, I’m defiantly keeping it.” And God bless her for it. We need more women at her level in the industry to speak out. If anything is unfortunately true, it’s that with white men having dominated Hollywood for the past century almost — and women’s humanity being so often inconsequential — it’s likely that one of your film heroes has acted inappropriately at some point.
Much like when this past year it came out that Alfred Hitchcock tried to sexually assault Tippi Hedren on the sets of both The Birds and Marnie. And the even more horrific revelation that Marlon Brando and director Bernardo Bertolucci conspired to actually rape an unsuspecting 19-year-old Maria Schneider with a stick of butter on camera for Last Tango in Paris. It’s about time this trope got checked and scumbags who think it’s OK get put on notice. And by supporting and encouraging women everywhere to speak out, that is how we start making change.
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