Alleged groping and spanking at Danish film studio Sexual harassment scandals

Sexual abuse accusations in the entertainment industry now stretch beyond Hollywood

LONDON • The abuse was so traumatic that some of the victims opted to exit the industry. The revelation surfaced after nine women came forward with stories of alleged "sexual harassment, degradation and bullying" at Zentropa, a Danish film studio co-founded by director Lars von Trier.

In accounts given to Danish newspaper Politiken, the women - all former employees at Zentropa - spoke of an "ingrained" culture of abuse.

Many of the allegations centred on Zentropa's co-founder and former chief executive Peter Aalbaek Jensen, with women claiming that he would grope their breasts and ask them to lie across his knee and "get spanked".

Further sexually degrading acts were carried out at the company's Christmas party, with Mr Jensen allegedly handing out awards to the trainees who undressed the fastest.

"I think that everyone who has been employed by Zentropa has been exposed to or witnessed certain things. Both sexually charged acts and bullying or 'teasing'," said a former producer at the studio.

Mr Jensen, who stepped down as CEO of Zentropa last year and still owns 25 per cent of the company with von Trier, said he had no recollection of the alleged incidents, but said they "probably happened".

However, he denied that there was systemic harassment.

I think that everyone who has been employed by Zentropa has been exposed to or witnessed certain things. Both sexually charged acts and bullying or 'teasing'.

A FORMER PRODUCER AT THE DANISH FILM STUDIO

"I'll say this: I have no interest in submission and degradation. I'm interested in testing boundaries, especially where the red line is," he said.

"There have been plenty of times when I've been over the top or gone too far. And I stand by that fully. But the question is whether you are an adored leader or not. And I am an adored leader," he added.

Speaking to Screen Daily, current CEO Anders Kjaerhauge said the Politiken report "does not match the Zentropa that I know". However, he added that changes would be made to the company's workplace culture. "We will initiate a process with our employees in order to prepare a more clear vision with regard to what is a good working place," he said.

Founded by von Trier and Mr Jensen in 1992, Zentropa is Scandinavia's largest film production firm. It has a reputation for producing challenging arthouse cinema.

Many of von Trier's films, including Antichrist, Melancholia and Nymphomaniac, were produced by the studio.

Von Trier was last month forced to deny claims that he had sexually harassed musician Bjork on the set of his 2000 drama Dancer In The Dark. The denial came after she accused an unnamed Danish director of harassing and touching her on the set of a film, and then "sulked and punished" her when she did not respond to his advances.

"That was not the case. But that we were definitely not friends, that's a fact," the director said.

The allegations made against Zentropa are the latest indication that the sexual abuse scandal in the entertainment industry stretches beyond Hollywood.

Last Friday, 685 Swedish female actors, including Oscar nominee Alicia Vikander and The Bridge star Sofia Helm, co-signed an open letter calling out sexual abuse in Swedish film and theatre.

"We will no longer be silent," the letter, published in Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, reads.

"We will put the shame where it belongs - with the perpetrator and those who protect him. We know who you are."

GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2017, with the headline 'Alleged groping and spanking at Danish film studio Sexual harassment scandals'. Print Edition | Subscribe