"Disclosure"'s gender war -- The controversial film has got both sides weighing in on sexual harassment

By Benjamin Svetkey and Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
Updated December 16, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST
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He says tomato, she says tomahto. He says potato, she says potahto. Let’s bring the whole thing to court.

With Disclosure, Hollywood tackles one of the biggest hot-button issues of the 1990s: sexual harassment in the workplace. Naturally, certain showbiz liberties have been taken — the harasser is female (Demi Moore), the harassee is male (Michael Douglas). But even if the film isn’t the Hill-Thompson hearings in terms of educational impact, it is chock-full of ’90s buzzwords (E-mail! Virtual reality! Seattle!). It’s also, as the year’s most unabashedly politically incorrect movie, bound to stir up trouble on the gender-war front.

How to cover such an incendiary topic? Two reporters — one of us male, one female — visited Disclosure‘s set last July, expecting equal time with the stars and crew. We hoped that how we perceived our separate interviews, how the stars responded to each of us, and how we described our experiences would say something meaningful about the prevailing psychosexual dynamic. Either that, or this magazine spent twice as much airfare as it needed to.

Day One: We arrive on the set at 11 a.m. sharp — in time to observe filming on the 10th floor of an old office tower in downtown Seattle. Douglas has already been here for hours, shooting a scene in the office of his lawyer (played by Roma Maffia). Between takes, he is cordial and polite to us both — although his eye may tend to linger on one of us more than the other. When he breaks for lunch, he promises, the interviews will commence.

Rebecca: Waves lap at the dockside Seattle restaurant, reflecting prisms of sunlight so brilliantly that even the diners inside keep their sunglasses on. I have requested an hour to interview Michael Douglas. Instead, he’s granted me twice that amount of time, plus the opportunity to slurp salty oysters and drink chardonnay. At 50, he is no Brad Pitt. But he’s still sexy enough to play opposite the luscious Moore, 32, and make moviegoers believe that her character can’t help herself when she paws at Douglas’ pants. With a reporter, Douglas does his job and does it well: He’s thoughtful and attentive, and if the words are canned, the spin is smooth. ”I think there’s a gender war going on — I don’t think we’re comfortable with our roles,” he says, sounding utterly comfortable in his. ”Everything is breaking down, and harassment is an issue one can identify more clearly. But it’s existed throughout time. We’re not comfortable with each other, and we’re acting out in lots of different ways.”

For the next hour, he plays the diligent interviewee. ”Have you ever talked to ladies about the dichotomy in what they want in a man? They say ‘understanding,’ but then they end up being attracted to a dominating guy,” he purrs, running his fingers through his hair. ”On one hand we’re promoting understanding, and yet women tend to s— on those guys. But the guy who dominates sexually or is aggressive turns them on.”

Throughout he is lobbing questions at me. When I question the comparative likelihood of a woman’s harassing a man, he says: ”Are you not secure enough in the thought that there might be people doing it? You feel to a degree that it does not exist?” And later he gets personal, with questions like ”You’re married? How long? You want to have kids? You got married very young, huh?” He breaks off, only to focus on a spot on my neck. ”Did you scratch yourself or rub yourself?”

Ben: ”Try the tuna on whole wheat,” one of my luncheon companions suggests. ”They make dynamite tuna fish in this place.”

This place is a neo-hippie cafeteria-cum-bookstore a few blocks from the set. While Rebecca is interviewing Douglas, I’m stuck with the movie’s publicists, a pair of seasoned vets with long, illustrious careers in the publicity game. For the next hour or so they regale me with spine-tingling tales of their adventures in flackdom.

I’ve been on the set less than three hours, and already it’s abundantly clear where our bold experiment in he-says-she-says journalism is heading: Rebecca gets to clink wineglasses with a movie star at a fancy restaurant. And I get tuna on whole wheat.

Of course, having read Disclosure — the 1993 Michael Crichton best-seller on which the movie is based — I should be prepared for the worst. The story presents a nightmare scenario of sexual politics run amok. The plot: A male computer-company executive (Douglas) gets harassed by his hot-to-trot female boss (Moore) and must fight to save his career and marriage. There’s also a wily story line about industrial intrigue in the high-tech biz (Donald Sutherland plays an oily computer-company founder-president), some nifty virtual-reality special effects, and one of the steamiest sex scenes ever not consummated on the big screen.

Like Fatal Attraction, in which Douglas wrestled with infidelity, or Indecent Proposal, in which Moore wrestled with Robert Redford, Disclosure will undoubtedly be a movie that has men and women debating gender politics as they file out of the theater. The book certainly stirred up trouble, outraging feminists with its harassment-happens-to-men-too plot twist. In fact, one can’t help but wonder if that’s a reason Douglas was attracted to the project in the first place. The man has certainly shown a penchant for contentious material (see Wall Street, The War of the Roses, Basic Instinct, Falling Down). I’d love to ask him about it — if I ever get the chance.


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