By Nicole Wensel
There’s a place in my memory that I don’t like to visit very often. It’s painful. It’s ugly. It’s also vitally important that women feel brave enough to speak up when they endure experiences similar to what I went through.
I was 22, had recently graduated from film school at USC and had just been offered my first screenwriting job.
Let me start by saying, as much as I love acting and directing and other forms of creative expression, writing has always been the most sacred to me.
As much as I love the people in my life, my journal has always been my best friend, from the moment I learned to write. It was my only salvation during a tumultuous childhood. It listened through every dream, sadness, crush, heartbreak and self-destructive act of my youth and was the only place I ever felt able to express myself fully without fearing judgment.
Writing has guided me through all of my worst and best moments – through the depths of self-doubt and depression and through the discovery of a light in me that is unwavering, in spite of the darkness I had been through and on rare occasion, slip back into. To me, writing is the one place where you always, under all circumstances, tell the absolute truth about life.
The thought of earning an income from doing something I loved so much was incredibly exciting, especially at such a young age. I had already started the research and first draft process for the script and was going in for a meeting to discuss next steps and pick up my first advance payment.
I remember as I sat there across from the man who had hired me, I felt like something was off. At first, he was talking about the project in a way that was growing increasingly inappropriate. He then turned the focus onto me and started saying unbelievably sexually explicit things as if they were perfectly normal things to say to someone who you’re working with. Then, the worst moment of all came: he implied that by taking this writing job, I would somehow owe him sexual favors at some undisclosed point in time. Suddenly, I felt like I was looking the devil in the eye.
Frozen from shock, I sat there in silence as he pushed the check forward on the desk. Before I could say anything, he left the room to attend another meeting.
I rushed out as quickly as I could and immediately afterward, called my brother to tell him what had happened.
His words hit me so hard, “Nicole, you were sexually harassed.”
Take back your power. The world needs your light, your voice, your goodness. We need more female voices and this is how they get shut out. Fight for your dreams like you’re fighting for your life.
I didn’t want to believe it. It was so confusing and unexpected and had come at me from someone who I had thought of as a trusted mentor. I consider myself to be pretty intuitive and have always had a good head on my shoulders – how could I have been so easily manipulated and gaslit?
I had managed to brush off years worth of casual sexual harassment from other men in the entertainment industry when I had worked on film sets and in development offices. Inappropriate comments and interactions had always felt like the norm and at the time, I thought that it was just what girls had to put up with if they wanted to prove they were thick-skinned and could hold their own behind the camera. But this time, something in me finally snapped. This wasn’t just another film job, this was an attempt to corrupt the purest part of me: my writing.
I ran like hell away from the Hollywood film world. I moved to New York. I worked in other industries; but something kept calling me back to my filmmaking passion. A voice deep inside kept telling me, “Don’t let sexism win. Take back your power. The world needs your light, your voice, your goodness. We need more female voices and this is how they get shut out. Fight for your dreams like you’re fighting for your life.”
I moved back to LA and decided to empower myself by becoming my own boss and launching my production company, “Conscious Cinema Co.” with an intention to set a new standard in the film and entertainment communities: a standard of compassion, respect, kindness and support for fellow artists and individuals. My films focus on creative personal expression, mindfulness and spirituality. I also focus on producing films ethically, with integrity and respect for all of the work that goes into creating movies. I recently released my first feature film, Quarter Life Coach, which is about an aspiring life coach who has a quarter life crisis. It’s a comedy with spiritual undertones that depicts a 20-something female entrepreneur who is hunting for greater meaning in life.
I hope over the course of my career to not only move audiences in a positive way through my films, but to also be a light for other female filmmakers who are feeling disempowered by the industry. I want to support other women and remind them that the power to create lies in each of us (not just in those with access to big budgets or high profile individuals). With technology at our fingertips, a resourceful attitude and a network of supportive women uplifting each other, we can empower ourselves and each other to live our dreams.