Sexist double standards in the land of "Star Wars"

Tabitha Totah, a Lucasfilm employee who managed Star Wars memorabilia events around the world, was about to leave for Chile in February 2009 when she was called into her supervisor's office at the company's Presidio complex.

"I was told that I had a reputation for sleeping around," Totah recalls. "I told my supervisor, 'I'm not comfortable with this; I want to speak with human resources.'"

Instead, she was told not to mention the matter to anyone.

One of several books featuring boys in erotic poses, promoted on the personal website of Howard Roffman, Lucasfilm's president of product licensing.
One of several books featuring boys in erotic poses, promoted on the personal website of Howard Roffman, Lucasfilm's president of product licensing.

She suspected the rumor came from a colleague, modelmaker Don Bies, who incidentally had been one of the original operators of the Star Wars android R2-D2. She asked him if he was the source of the rumors, but he denied it.

When Totah returned to San Francisco from Chile, she got another call from her supervisor, this time to tell her she was being fired for disobeying an instruction not to ask about the rumors.

Totah hired prominent S.F. attorney Angela Alioto to sue for sex discrimination. In a deposition, Bies acknowledged he'd reported on Totah's supposed reputation to Howard Roffman, president of Lucasfilm's toy licensing operation.

"It was a bit of a joke, you know, that — among the crew — that she was, in quotes, loose, unquote," Bies said.

Ultimately U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney determined that Totah had failed to prove she'd been discriminated against. She had signed an at-will contract, which allowed Lucasfilm to fire her.

But whether Totah had a legal case against Lucasfilm isn't as interesting as another issue: The Star Wars maker seems to operate under an otherworldly double standard when deciding whether to weigh in on perceptions surrounding employees' sex lives.

Roffman isn't just any old toy salesman. He's worked for George Lucas since 1980. But he also has a sideline as a photographer whose work has the potential to cast Lucasfilm in a light at least as bad as Totah's rumored reputation. Roffman has produced 15 books with titles such as The Perfect Boy and Loving Brian, depicting naked boys in erotic poses.

"Brian was more sexually open than almost anyone I'd ever known, yet still a complete sexual novice," Roffman wrote in a blurb for Loving Brian on his website. "He longed for experience. In that longing I sensed an opportunity for both of us."

Roffman, who declined to be interviewed for this column, wouldn't be the first person in the media seeking to profit by sexually exploiting young people. Controversy over MTV's new sexually explicit teen soap, Skins, is testament to that. And there's no evidence that Roffman's apparent sexual obsession with boys has affected his work overseeing global licensing of children's toys. But it does seem clear that in the land of Anakin Skywalker, a senior executive is permitted a sideline making youth-centered porn, yet a female staffer can be fired after co-workers speculate about her private sex life.

As odd as the Lucasfilm corporate culture may sound, it's easy to imagine a not-too-far-off future where this kind of double standard becomes common. Everyone grows up learning some version of women's role in society. But in some parts of the country, it can be rare to meet overtly gay people. In a common trajectory, a person moves to a more modern-thinking place such as San Francisco, makes gay friends, and decides, without much cognitive dissonance, to discard antigay prejudice. But patriarchal attitudes toward women can be ingrained and hard to shake. At the sci-fi-fanboy-populated universe at Lucasfilm's Letterman Digital Arts Center, they still seem to hold some sway.


Totah began working at Lucasfilm in 2004, coordinating Wal-Mart toy marketing events around The Revenge of the Sith. Later, she was put in charge of overseeing museum and other exhibits in countries such as Portugal, England, Belgium, and Chile.

During a months-long European Star Wars memorabilia tour, co-workers began gossiping that Totah may have had drinks with a Portuguese toy license-holder. Next, according to depositions from several employees, the rumor spread that she tended to drink too much, was allegedly promiscuous, and thus "not a good representative of Lucasfilm on the road," Roffman said in a deposition.

Totah vehemently denies the accusations, and says nobody ever asked her directly about them. Notwithstanding, after Bies informed Roffman of the rumors, Totah's superiors began fretting by phone about what to do with her.

Alioto says she'll appeal the judge's ruling. In the meantime, Totah has separately sued Bies for defamation. Bies' attorneys say this is a specious effort to end-run the decision. A Lucasfilm spokesman told us Totah's claims have no merit.

George Lucas has famously located himself and his company hundreds of miles from Hollywood. Totah believes the distance has fomented an isolated corporate culture. The sci-fi-fanboy values cultivated at Skywalker Ranch and Lucasfilm's Presidio complex may seem as remote from modern sensibilities as the sands of Tatooine.

"Seventy-five percent of the entertainment world's population would be terminated if they were not supposed to have a reputation for sleeping around," Totah says.

 
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18 comments
Sazander
Sazander

google Howard Roffman and see his "art".

Jdw
Jdw like.author.displayName 1 Like

If 18-22 year-olds are "boys", does that mean that 25-35 year olds are "teens"? Gotta love the redefinition of words for prurient effect the writer is pulling here.

Emelio Lizardo
Emelio Lizardo

We knew Lucas was gay friendly. All those cute boys and bad writing.

Fear of sex has many employers intimidating or discharging employees, and even CEOs for their sex lives. Time do discredit the sexual harassment industry.

Miss Green Orchid
Miss Green Orchid

I WORKED FOR LUCAS ARTS.... six days a week, 12 hour days. I asked for a couple days per week corporate daycare so I could occasionally see my children. My manager thought it was a great idea and told me to ask about it in their human resources dept. They laughed when I asked in h/r, told me perhaps this was the wrong job for me since I was a single mother. This is not a joke, it's very real. If you go to Lucas' website they espouse a great deal about how they respect family values, and have corporate day care, and will help you adopt a kid etc... it's all lies. Don't be fooled, when it comes down to it, all they really want are single men working there with no kids, that is their target workforce.

Asa DeMatteo
Asa DeMatteo like.author.displayName 1 Like

I wonder how many of the comments here were posted by people who have actually seen Mr. Roffman's art photography. I can't believe that Matt Smith has, or, having seen it, hasn't constructed his cheap, tacky, and malicious concoction to further his own career. I have followed Roffman's work for some time; his photographs are beautiful, technically brilliant, compelling, and erotic. So are Reuben's paintings, Michaelangelo's David, ancient Greek statuary. Roffman's subject is young men, not boys. His art is in no way pornography, and for Mr. Smith to describe it as such, plucking "The Perfect Boy" from the list of fifteen titles, tells us much more about Smith than Roffman. To call such work pornographic is as nonsensical and obnoxious as Attorney General John Ashcroft draping partially nude statues in the Great Hall of the Department of Justice. I know nothing about Tabitha Totah, though I feel compassion for her plight despite any actions on her part that led to her demise at Lucasfilm. I do know a good deal about Angela Alioto, however, and this tawdry case would seem right up her ally. Her actions in most of her cases give offense to other lawyers, and that's pretty hard to do.

JOHN SCOTT RIDGWAY
JOHN SCOTT RIDGWAY

The sickness of any patriarchy is going to seem normal to the men in charge. That this sick person, who flaunts that he is a pedophile, is in charge of Star Wars toys, should be a big story. Makes me kind of sick that I have a few vintage dolls from the first Star Wars... thank God, none of them are of children.... No, I will not be buying anymore Lucas films products at all after hearing this.

Yogi
Yogi

I bet Roffman had just wished he'd kept his mouth shut now, lol! Serves him right that his own 'business' has been outed like this now...

Arnt
Arnt

All I know is that a guy who takes pictures of barely legal boys having sex in order to turn a profit is promoted and taken into Lucas' inner circle, but a woman who complains that someone spread rumors she got drunk and might have gotten hot and bothered with a colleague gets fired. There ya go. Protect the rich pornographer. Let him go make more long, thick lightsabers for boys. Let the Star Wars legacy rest on the shoulders of a dirty little old man who lures boys in to his inner sanctum and salaciously goes on and on about how hot it is. Yeah, THAT'S the guy who should be making decisions about what our boys play with. Astonishing. Why wasn't THIS guy let go years ago? Oh, because he made money and kisses up to George the Bearded, Sainted One.

BLaw
BLaw

Wow. Didn't know SF Weekly "reporters" subscribed to the Glenn Beck School of Reasoning.

There's no double standard here because Rothman didn't get drunk with business partners and sleep around in the company as Totah did. If there was another male employee that did exactly or close to what Totah did and was not fired then you could show that there's a double standard but you can't here. I don't think publishing books (that are legal to publish) on your own time is disruptive to company operations but getting drunk on business trips and with business partners is damaging and proper grounds for termination.

Claims of sexism are serious and when a "reporter" uses it in such a casual fashion without any real serious thought about whether it actually exists, really hurts future claims of real sexism.

For Matt Smith to draw this false comparison reminds me of Glenn Beck's futile attempts to draw comparisons between liberals and...well we all know what. I just hope Matt doesn't have a chalkboard.

captaingrumpy
captaingrumpy

You can't read. Can you stupid??? They were gossip and alleged actions.At no time were they proven or was she even asked. Are you upset because the left are losing their grip on SF ????? Poor boy.

DavidI
DavidI

Take it from someone who knows -- Howard Roffman's group was notorious for getting shit-faced at events, saying and doing extremely inappropriate things that should have gotten them fired, then getting everything swept under the rug because they were the "good ol' boys." The way it works there is astonishing. This is sexism at its best -- an intelligent, capable young woman being fired for nothing more than salacious allegations, while direct evidence of the behaivor of Lucasfilm employees isn't mentioned. As soon as an employee at Lucasfilm complains about improper treatment they are fired under the "at will" employment clause. "Sue us" is the mantra, followed by maniacal laughter. Lucasfilm ain't nearly anything it's cracked up to be.

magdelyn c. prossii
magdelyn c. prossii

She wasn't fired for sleeping around or getting drunk on the job. The article plainly states that she got fired for insubordination for discussing the matter with the shithead that was passing along the rumor. That is a pretty piss poor excuse to let somebody go. Victimize the party girl, and let the sleaze who poisened her career continue? I don't think so. Snitches get stitches.

LawyerDan
LawyerDan

"The article plainly states that she got fired for insubordination for discussing the matter with the shithead"

Well if the article says so, I guess I won't bother reading the court records and her deposition that paint an entirely different picture.

BLaw
BLaw

Considering the rest of the depositions cited, disobeying the request to not discuss was one factor but, in your words, the rest of the article plainly states that there were other factors the company considered in terminating her e.g. getting drunk and being a bad example of the company.

Companies can fire people at will employees for things like that. Doesn't make it right AND it doesn't necessarily make it sexist.

GWT
GWT

Since lucasfilms itself decided that a pornographer is a good representative and that it listens to rumors, this whole sorry state of affairs says more about the company that is held up as an exemplar of SF's business community than I care to imagine. This is deplorable.

HOrizons
HOrizons

Wasn't George Lucas's whole point in getting out of LA was more artistic freedom? The result has been plantation-mammy aliens and wooden actors combined with convoluted stories. He lost his touch. But now ... Keeping on and promoting a purveyor of questionable pornographic tastes in lieu of someone who has a drink and flirts? This must be what corporate in-breeding does -- clouds your judgment. Reinstate the two women you fired and fire the independently wealthy Roffman so he can go find exploited boys in third-world countries to have sex with.

If this story ever broke into the mainstream, I wonder how many billions in value Star Wars would decline as parents learned everything their kids played with was the work of a man who seduced 19-year-old boys and took photos of them copulating and sometimes ejaculating before flying back to California for more meetings about what toys 12-year-old boys would really like.

h. brown
h. brown

A little background,

George's Presidio digs sit on the site of the old Letterman hospital. When UCSF tried to take over the intact building, Willie Brown worked with Feinstein and Pelosi on the federal level and on the state level with old cohorts to make the price of the doctors move to the Presidio too expensive.

Why? To force UCSF to build in Mission Bay where Willie's longtime clients needed a deep pockets anchor tenant.

So, Lucas beats out Shorenstein (no easy feat) in the bid for the Letterman Hospital site by promising to bring lots of high tech jobs into the City on the site.

Then?

That old boy (Lucas) ... he outsources most of his work to India and then leases most of the structures he just built to anyone not named Darth Vader. The Examiner had a great sardonic headline on the move: "May the Force be with your sublet". George is a lying sack of you-know-what.

You also failed to mention that Angela is quickly becoming Joan of Arc to Lucas' Hannibal Lector. What's up with George's dislike of pregnant women and females who have sex? You know me and I'm not one to cause trouble but it does seem kind of suspicious when Lucas risks millions to cleanse his environment of any evidence of sexually active women while embracing a top exec who revels in young boy porn?

People ask me how I know all of this stuff about Lucas and you know what I tell them? I tell them that I've been reading about it in the Weekly for ten years or so now.

Go Giants!

h.

Tomisaburo Arashikage
Tomisaburo Arashikage

Though not directly affiliated with Lucasfilm, I have it on good authority that Scarlet, an action figure manufactured by the same company that produces Star Wars action figures, is a total tramp. The only reason she wears hoop earrings is so that she'll have somewhere to rest her ankles.

At least that's what my sword brother said. Er, well...told me. Because you know, he doesn't talk. Out loud.

Nevermind.

 
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