A Kiwi filmmaker has revealed she made a sexual harassment complaint about a camera operator while they were filming in a remote New Zealand location.

Joining the #Metoo movement, Chelsea Winstanley - wife of Thor director Taika Waititi - said the incident nine years ago has affected her work life with her seeking the safety of producing roles rather than directing.

READ MORE: Chelsea Winstanley: 'Why I'm more than just Taika's wife'

Winstanley was home in New Zealand last week, from the couple's base in Los Angeles to put the finishing touches to a documentary she is producing about the pioneering Maori film maker, the late Merata Mita.


In an exclusive interview, the 42-year-old told the Weekend Herald that she was directing TV documentary, One Land.

The camera operator, part of one of several crews who worked on the production, started making rude and lewd comments about her. The sound operator, also a male, could hear.

As she asked to look at a shot, the camera operator stood behind her and said: 'Yeah, bend over more'.

"He also said, 'You look real good in those shorts Chelsea','' she said.

"Then when we were driving back from location and it was just me and the sound operator in the van, he said 'You would look good in a maid's outfit Chelsea'.

"I was shocked. We were in a remote location and it was a very intimidating and scary moment. It literally pushed me to a point where I felt paralysed.''

Winstanley said she felt vulnerable and unsafe, and told the producer and series director, both men, about the incident. She claimed they both asked her if she wanted him fired.

"I wasn't expecting them to put that decision on to me, and in hindsight, if I had said, 'If your daughter had said that… would you in that moment ensure her safety or would you subject her to more danger?'."


She felt put on the spot, and uneasy that it should be her decision whether the camera operator kept his job.

"If he left the production, then we would be short a camera operator and the producer in me said I would let the production down. As if I was the issue, as if I was the one who would be making this situation worse.''

"And that's what hesitation, complicity and lack of support do.''

She told the producers to keep him on, thinking he might feel worse if he stayed on the job knowing everyone knew. In hindsight, though, she said: "The truth is, nothing actually happened to him, he continued to work and probably still does.''

Since then, Winstanley said she hasn't directed a production for a number of reasons, including having two daughters, now aged 2 and 6, supporting Waititi while he made four feature films, and her confidence being affected.

Kiwi film maker Chelsea Winstanley - the wife of Taika Waititi - says she was sexually harassed on a film set in New Zealand. Photo / Michael Craig
Kiwi film maker Chelsea Winstanley - the wife of Taika Waititi - says she was sexually harassed on a film set in New Zealand. Photo / Michael Craig

Her next directing role wasn't until she contributed to the 2017 collaborative film, Waru.

"It's part of the reason why I stayed in the producer role for so long. It was a safe spot for me because I was not in a vulnerable position. As a producer, I assumed I had the power but look what I put on hold - my passion, my goals.

"I have never talked to the people in charge about how it affected me and what that did for my confidence as a director. But I will never recommend that camera operator to anyone. Nor will I ever work with him. If anyone asks me I will call it out, I will call him out and every man who thinks they have the right to undermine, humiliate and intimidate women, timesup. No matter what the behaviour, bad behaviour is bad behaviour. ''

One Land director Greg Heathcote confirmed he had spoken to a crew member after the Winstanley had complained.

But he said his "recollection" wasn't that he had told her that it was her call if the crew member was to be fired.

"I went and spoke to the person and then I went to Chelsea and said I had spoken to them and asked her if she wanted to take it further, if there was anything else she wanted us to do.

"I guess at that stage dismissal was a possibility. I went back to Chelsea and she said she wanted to let it rest. That is my recollection of it."

He later emailed to say "my recollection is that the offending crew member was reprimanded for his behaviour and required to leave the set".

Over the years, she has mentioned being sexually harassed to close friends and women in the industry.

"Mainly because when you are put in these situations you are made to feel and question not only your account of what happened but when you are the only female among the perpetrators, you feel like who is going to believe you anyway? You are also embarrassed to some degree, you question how you could have handled things differently.''

When asked why she is speaking out now, Winstanley said: "It's time to call out bad behaviour in all its forms. The more we keep it under wraps the more it will happen and continue to happen.''

Encouraging other women in her industry to also come forward, she said: "As Merata Mita says, 'When you have children, you have an investment in the future'. And the future I want to create for my daughters is one where they never have to surrender their power.''

The #MeToo movement is a campaign against sexual assault and harassment, while #timesup is a legal fund to help fight cases. Since celebrities first made allegations of sexual assault and harassment by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, hundreds of thousands of women have shared their stories about assault and harassment in many industries.

The campaign has seen a surge in Kiwi women contacting sexual abuse helplines to report historic incidents.

Sexual abuse and mental health helplines and services have had backlogs of people seeking help.

In Canvas today, Winstanley also talks about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child, saying that in speaking out about her difficult past, she can heal from it and move forward.

Winstanley was named the mana wahine winner of the Women in Film and Television awards in 2015. She first worked with Waititi on Boy, and she produced four films and documentaries on her own before producing the award-heavy What We Do in the Shadows with him. They married in New York in 2012.

Where to get help:

• Auckland Sexual Abuse HELP Foundation – 09 623 1700
• Counselling Services Centre - 09 277 9324
• National Rape Crisis - 0800 883 300