WEINSTEIN’S WEB — DOWNFALL OF A MOVIE MOGUL
The abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein have become an avalanche, writes Sarah Blake
Of all the stomach-turning disclosures about Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behaviour, none can rival for sheer impact the 113 seconds of audio captured between an aspiring Italian actor and the movie mogul outside his Manhattan hotel room two years ago.
Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, 22, is trying to avoid walking into a room she seems quite terrified of entering. At the door, Weinstein, a heavy-set, 2m tall, 63-year-old, is alternately insistent, pleading, desperate, frustrated and angry.
Gutierrez — who is wearing a wire after complaining to New York police the day before that Weinstein put his hand up her skirt at his Tribeca office — asks why he groped her breasts.
“Oh, please, I’m sorry, just come on in,” he says on the tape, obtained by The New Yorker. “I’m used to that. Come on. Please.”
Gutierrez is incredulous: “You’re used to that?”
“Yes. I won’t do it again,” says Weinstein, before warning her not to “embarrass” him and “cause a scene” at the hotel.
Weinstein, one of Hollywood’s most powerful figures with a reputation for bullying and whom Meryl Streep described as “God” onstage in her Oscar’s acceptance speech three years before, turns threatening.
“Don’t ruin your friendship with me for five minutes.”
When A-listers Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow revealed this week to The New Yorker, which ran a devastating investigation by Woody Allen’s estranged reporter son, Ronan Farrow, that they had also been subject to Weinstein’s unwanted attentions, the movie mogul’s fall became inevitable.
The producer of hundreds of films, including Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting and Shakespeare in Love, had been trying for days to bluster through the fallout from a New York Times report, which said he had been paying off his female accusers for decades, revealing details of settlements with eight women.
As Ashley Judd, the first actress to accuse Weinstein publicly in the Times piece, put it: “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.”
Weinstein’s initial mea culpa included an allusion to how he “came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behaviour and workplaces were different”.
He then tried a ham-fisted deflection, saying he was seeking counselling and taking a break from Hollywood. “I’m making a movie about our President, perhaps we can make it a joint retirement party,” he said.
While acknowledging that he had “caused a lot of pain”, he also alluded to Judd’s “troubles” (the actor has written of being sexually abused in the past), in an echo of how he had smeared his other accusers.
With a taste for revenge, an army of lawyers, wide-ranging media contacts and sheer determination, Weinstein had apparently for decades been able to out-muscle anyone who threatened to expose him.
Indeed, Gutierrez ended up settling her 2015 case against Weinstein after being dragged through the gossip pages, with revelations she had previously accused an Italian businessman of assault and attended one of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s notorious, sex-fuelled “bunga bunga” parties.
But any hope Weinstein would skate was dashed with the revelations from Paltrow and Jolie. At least 30 women have now accused Weinstein of preying on them, and the fallen mogul has joined the ignominious ranks of Bill Cosby, another huge entertainment name whose past caught up with him.
Three actors say Weinstein raped them and he has been wholly cast aside.
Fired from the company he helped found with his brother, publicly dumped by his fashion designer wife, and mother of his two young children, Georgina Chapman, Weinstein was last publicly seen flipping photographers the bird as he boarded a private jet to Arizona’s celebrity rehab centre, the Meadows.
Social media has played a pivotal role in Weinstein’s unravelling, with many of his accusers finding support and galvanising courage on platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
The new intersected quite neatly with the old when veteran actor Rose Marie, who played Sally Rogers on the Dick Van Dyke show throughout the 1960s, took to Twitter this week to offer her view.
“Anyone want to hear my thoughts on this Harvey Weinstein business,” she asked her 124,000 followers.
“I’ve worked since I was 3, I’m 94. W/Weinstein, finally women are speaking up to power. I have suffered my whole life for that. Don’t stop,” she wrote.
Marie went on to say of an upcoming biopic about her, Wait For Your Laugh, “it covers my music being cut from Top Banana film because I wouldn’t sleep w/ producer in 1950s”.
The term casting couch has been around so long it almost seems quaint.
It tells of a young performer — almost always a woman — who sexually “auditions” for a role, almost always with a powerful older man.
Joan Collins wrote that she missed out on the title role in 1963’s Cleopatra, which went to Elizabeth Taylor, because she wouldn’t sleep with the boss of the studio.
“I had tested for Cleopatra twice and was the frontrunner. He took me into his office and said, ‘You really want this part?’ And I said, ‘Yes. I really do.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘then all you have to do is be nice to me.’ It was a wonderful euphemism in the sixties for you know what,” she said.
“But I couldn’t do that. In fact, I was rather wimpish, burst into tears and rushed out of his office.”
The most famous sex symbol of all, Marilyn Monroe, talked scathingly in her memoir, My Story, about her encounters with lecherous filmmakers and studio chiefs, saying they
Three actors say Weinstein raped them.
treated Hollywood as “an overcrowded brothel”.
“I met them all. Phoniness and failure were all over them. Some were vicious and crooked. But they were as near to the movies as you could get,” she wrote.
“So you sat with them, listening to their lies and schemes. And you saw Hollywood with their eyes — an overcrowded brothel, a merry-go-round with beds for horses.”
One of child star Judy Garland’s biographers said she was just 16 when she was propositioned for sex by some of Hollywood’s most powerful men.
The worst offender was MGM chief Louis B. Mayer, according to author Gerald Clarke.
“Mayer would tell her what a wonderful singer she was and he would say ‘you sing from the heart’, and then he would place his hand on her left breast,” Clarke wrote.
The infamous case of filmmaker Roman Polanski, who pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with then-13-year-old aspiring actor Samantha Geimer has still not full been resolved.
Polanski, who is still a celebrated filmmaker, plied Geimer with champagne and Quaaludes during a 1977 Los Angeles photo shoot. “I didn’t want to have sex,” Geimer wrote in her memoir. “But apparently that is what was going to happen.”
Polanski fled the United States before sentencing and is still wanted by judicial authorities. He has since faced more rape allegations.
Some argue harassment of women is endemic in films because so much of the industry is based on the fact that sex sells.
“Sexual harassment in Hollywood has a history as long as that of the industry itself,” says Professor Kathleen Feeley, from California’s University of Redlands. “The industry was built, in part, on female harassment behind the scenes, female objectification in front of the cameras, with the use of celebrity gossip to both titillate and forewarn about the so-called casting couch.”
Weinstein’s unmasking has caused shock waves around the entertainment industry, but any lasting change will be hard-fought.
“The Harvey Weinstein scandal marks a sharp break with the past in its exposure and high-profile censure of an active (if flagging) film industry mogul,” Professor Feeley said.
“But the exposure and punishment of Harvey Weinstein, like that of (former Fox figures) Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, won’t effect lasting change unless it helps to diversify the industry power structure, workplaces and narratives.”
Many of the high-profile detractors who have piled into Weinstein in the past week have claimed ignorance of his actions.
A detailed response to the Daily Beast by George Clooney offers insight into why so many women are reluctant to complain about harassment from prominent men.
“I’ve heard rumours, and the rumours in general started back in the ’90s, and they were that certain actresses had slept with Harvey to get a role,” Clooney said.
“It seemed like a way to smear the actresses and demean them by saying that they didn’t get the jobs based on their talent, so I took those rumours with a grain of salt.”
Clooney, who credits Weinstein with giving him his “first major big-screen role”, said the producer’s actions were “indefensible”.
“The other part of this, the part we’re hearing now about eight women being paid off, I didn’t hear anything about that and I don’t know anyone that did. That’s a whole other level and there’s no way you can reconcile that,” he said.
It’s hard to overstate just how far Weinstein has fallen.
As the co-founder of Miramax studios in 1979 with his brother Bob, he is credited with bringing art house films into the mainstream, among them Sex, Lies and Videotape, My Left Foot and Cinema Paradiso.
Quentin Tarantino’s breakthrough was in part from the support of the Weinstein brothers, who financed Pulp Fiction. Best picture winners Matt Damon and Ben Affleck credit Miramax with their discovery after the studio made their breakthrough film, 1997’s Good Will Hunting.
Affleck has found himself caught up in Weinstein’s unravelling.
He released a statement after being accused of ignoring the scandal, only to have two actors accuse him of groping them and demanding apologies.
Damon was also entwined in the saga when a former New York Times reporter claimed he and Russell Crowe pressured the paper to pull its planned reporting on Weinstein’s proclivities in the 2000s.
“As the father of four daughters, this is the kind of sexual predation that keeps me up at night,” Damon later said.
“This is the great fear for all of us. I did five or six movies with Harvey.
“I never saw this. I feel horrible for these women and it’s wonderful they have this incredible courage and are standing up now.”
Just who knew what and for how long is now being dissected. Jolie admitted she had been aware of Weinstein’s behaviour for decades.
“I had a bad experience with Harvey Weinstein in my youth and, as a result, chose never to work with him again and warn others when they did,” Jolie said.
Another actor, Jessica Chastain, said she had known for decades to avoid him.
Others described the situation as spread well beyond Tinseltown.
“The women who have spoken about their abuse are brave and heroic and although I didn’t have a personal experience like this with Weinstein, I unfortunately cannot say I’m surprised,” actress Charlize Theron said.
“This culture always existed, not just in Hollywood but across the world.
“Many men in positions of power have gotten away with it for far too long.”
Weinstein with his wife Georgina Chapman.