5 Reasons the #MeToo movement got an epic boost
Terry Crews was a big part of the story, but just a part — and that was key
On June 26, the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary met to hear testimony regarding a review of the 2016 Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights. Testifying alongside Nobel Peace Prize nominee and founder/CEO of the national civil-rights non-profit Rise, Amanda Ngyuen, was well-known, author, actor, husband, father and former NFL football player Terry Crews.
In the case of Ngyuen, her story alone is inspirational and compelling. But Crews’ testimony was nothing short of a watershed moment in the societal history of Black men in America. Moreover, it was an epic moment for the #MeToo movement, for at least five reasons:
- Amanda Ngyuen spoke first. Despite the enormous amount of media coverage centered around Terry Crews and his bravery, he was there in a supporting role. Amanda Nguyen was the spearhead. She was the one who helped draft the legislation that would become the 2016 Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights signed by then-President Obama. Nguyen, herself a rape survivor, was speaking on behalf of Rise (Crews wore a Rise pin on his suit lapel).
Crews appeared in a supporting role and did not overshadow her. (Of course, it is difficult to eclipse someone who was introduced by committee Chairman Senator Chuck Grassley (R- Ia.) as, among other things, “a recently-named nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize”) Nguyen testified to the effect the 2016 legislation has had on rape victims and the changes she has seen in the work her organization does. She also put in a call for the federal legislation to become the standard at the state level nationwide. Senator Grassley also referred to Mr. Crews as “our second witness.” It wasn’t about Terry Crews.
- The two primary witnesses of the hearing were people of color and it wasn’t a major story. Much of the criticism for the current iteration of the #MeToo movement has been its focus on white, female victims, usually of some privilege or fame. The revolutionary concept of the movement is the fact that powerful, privileged, predominantly white, men have been met with accountability for their misbehavior, largely against traditionally attractive white women. Here, before a committee of the United States Senate, were two individuals of color who are survivors, and powerfully eloquent voices in the movement. Most importantly, their POC status was not made into a big deal. In fact, it came up only once during a significant moment when Crews was responding to questioning (more on that later). Both Nguyen and Crews present their own stories without wavering and boldly call for the implementation of the legislation in all 50 states. Their POC status was not a central theme or tenet of the hearing, though its significance cannot be overstated.
- Terry Crews called out an entire industry for its misconduct, and did it without naming names… sort of. Early in his prepared statement, Crews referred to a “cult of toxic masculinity that exists in our society.” He went on to describe in detail his own ordeal upon questioning by Senators Feinstein (D-Ca.) and Grassley, who asked about Crews’ Hollywood experience particularly. He described his assault which took place in 2016 in detail using the graphic phrase, “while he held my genitals in his hand.” He referred to his attacker as “ a successful Hollywood agent,” though he later told the panel that this person held a position of power in the agency which represents him. To be clear, Crews has in the past named the attacker directly, but he never used a name in testifying to the Judiciary Committee.
Crews didn’t stop there. He further testified that he had been subject to retaliation and backlash from all over the industry. Crews confirmed that he would not appear in the fourth installment of the (somehow) successful movie franchise “The Expendables” because the producer had indirectly tried to encourage him to drop his charges. Again, never uttering a specific name, but clearly calling out a person in a position of power whose identity is easily discoverable. He even went so far as to announce that the producer who urged Crews to drop his charges is, himself, facing allegations of sexual misconduct.
In doing all of this, Terry Crews put Hollywood on blast. His descriptions of conversations he’s had after the fact and the things that have been said to him regarding his experience shine a powerful light on a pervasive culture in Hollywood, and in society more generally, that is not only permissive, but that actively seeks to silence victims. For a Hollywood actor (of color) to call out the industry so boldly is nothing short of revolutionary.
- During a brief emotional moment Crews spoke to the intersection of masculinity, perception, race and incarceration in America. Feinstein was diving deeper into Crews’ ordeal, even going so far as to ask why the actor did not become violent in response to his attack when, as he stated, violence was his first thought. What followed was a significant moment. Crews paused, looked down, took a deep breath and, after being urged by Feinstein, became visibly emotional and responded; “Senator, as a Black man in America you only have a few shots at success. You only have a few chances to make yourself a valuable member of the community.” He explained further, “I have seen many, many young Black men provoked into violence. And they are in prison, or they were killed. They are not here.”
With that statement, Terry Crews spoke to a truth that has been missing from the conversation. It bears repeating that when Black men become violent, the knee-jerk societal reaction is to incarcerate or kill them. At the very least, he could have (and likely would have) lost his livelihood. He knew this on a fundamental level because he had seen it growing up in Flint, Michigan. This knowledge further underscores the imbalance of power that was in place during his attack. What Crews was saying was that his perceived power — being a strong, athletic, muscular, Black man — meant nothing to his attacker. Moreover, he made it clear that simply fighting back is almost never a viable option for Black men. In so doing, Terry Crews not only stood in solidarity with victims of sexual assault, but he proclaimed that being a large, muscular Black man does not make one immune to abuse.
Until he did speak out, it wasn’t easy to tell just how much his voice, and voices like his, are needed in the #MeToo movement.
- As a defiant act in the face of several hyper-masculine subcultures (i.e. the Black community, Hollywood, professional football, etc.) Terry Crews gave all the credit for his self-control to his wife. “For years, she prepared me. She said, ‘if you ever have anyone try to push you into any situation… don’t be violent.’ She trained me… And I will be honest with you, it was the strength of my wife… The training worked.” At the beginning of his testimony, Crews made reference to his upbringing in an abusive home and how it informed his maturation and development, pushing him to be a man of brute strength, control and even misogyny. Here, in this moment, he admitted that his instinct was violence, to use physical prowess to control situations. He also explicitly referred to receiving and heeding ‘training’ from the woman in his life, speaking of her with admiration and respect.
Personally, for Crews, it was a moment of triumph, over the misogyny he learned at an early age. Not only was he not provoked to violence, but he relied on the strength of his wife during his time of victimization. He took her hand, she protected him, he recalled her “training” and support and cooler heads prevailed, making possible the impactful, seismic, sea-change sort of rhetoric he employed during his testimony. Moreover, he proudly and publicly admitted that his strength came from his wife. Now, this strong, muscular Black man sat proudly next to Amanda Nguyen in support of sexual assault survivors all over the country. He stood, and continues to stand, with victims everywhere and says, I hear you and I believe you. It was a moment in which the actor exhibited vulnerability, resolve, and courage in proportions that can only be described as inspirational.
“I have seen many, many young Black men provoked into violence. And they are in prison, or they were killed. They are not here.” — Terry Crews
Though there appeared to be plenty of news reports of Terry Crews’ appearance before the Judiciary Committee, the coverage seemed to focus on the actor’s appearance and his vocal support for the #MeToo movement. However, subtle but significant nuances of this hearing seemed to have escaped media attention. The current iteration of the #MeToo movement is considered to be slightly more than a year old, but it is growing up. Accountability has been solidified as more people are coming forward and being heard. Waves of victims, too long silenced, are speaking up, and the responses are starting to look different. Male victims are being listened to and supported like never before. They now have a champion in Terry Crews.
The “cult of toxic masculinity” is in trouble. Crews’ appearance was important, not because he is a famous actor, but because he is a Black man who publicly said things that had never been publicly said by a Black man before. He spoke his truth in a supporting role. He admitted his victimhood and his failings. But he also made a powerful call to action; “I was a member of this toxic system. I didn’t assault anyone, but I was complicit. I turned a deaf ear. The silence is deafening. I now say, that men need to hold men accountable. THAT is the only way this is going to change.” You’ve been heard loud and clear Mr. Crews.
Welcome to the movement. Let’s go.