The Har­vey We­in­stein scan­dal

Irish Independent - - News - Gaby Wood

ONE week on from the ‘New York Times’ ex­posé of movie mogul Har­vey We­in­stein, its ef­fects have fol­lowed a cu­ri­ous path. In an age of celebrity, news is of­ten only news if some­one fa­mous says it. How­ever, in the mat­ter of We­in­stein, the whistle­blow­ers have mostly not been well known.

The story has come from temps, for­mer em­ploy­ees, un­named em­ploy­ees, ac­tresses with quiet ca­reers.

Days later, af­ter the less cel­e­brated had stuck their necks out, the con­dem­na­tion band­wagon got rolling.

It in­cluded his brother, Bob We­in­stein, who knew of the set­tle­ments with some of the ac­cusers; for­mer Dis­ney CEO Jef­frey Katzen­berg, We­in­stein’s “close friend” of 30 years (al­beit the kind of close friend who shares pri­vate emails with the ‘Hol­ly­wood Re­porter’); and Gwyneth Pal­trow and An­gelina Jolie, who had worked for We­in­stein and fi­nally lent their voices in or­der to say “me too”.

When those two ac­tresses ex­pe­ri­enced We­in­stein’s un­pleas­ant over­tures they were young and scared – so there is, re­ally, no judg­ment here. But their late ar­rival to the story, along with so many oth­ers who knew or could have known, begs a ques­tion, be­cause they have since be­come very pow­er­ful, and this is a story about power: who has it, how it’s wielded, the forces that keep it in place.

Could th­ese peo­ple re­ally have been fear­ful of speak­ing up? Had they signed up to their in­dus­try’s omertà? Or did they as­sume this was par for the course, in their busi­ness and oth­ers?

What­ever the an­swer, their si­lence must be seen as part of the prob­lem.

Jodi Kan­tor and Me­gan Twohey at the ‘New York Times’, and Ro­nan Far­row in the ‘New Yorker’, found three decades’ worth of ev­i­dence against We­in­stein.

Was there a clear way for him to have been ex­posed sooner?

The ques­tion of whether We­in­stein’s habits were an “open se­cret” is cru­cial here. One of the ironies of such ac­cepted prac­tices is that they don’t ap­pear to need to be ex­posed be­cause they are al­ready so vis­i­ble. Some of Far­row’s sources re­port al­le­ga­tions of ac­tual rape, and one hopes the law will ad­dress that. But gen­er­ally the al­le­ga­tions con­cern more in­sid­i­ous be­hav­iour: it was part of the sys­tem – an ex­ten­sion of the cast­ing couch.

Agents booked the meet­ings, as­sis­tants booked the rooms, staff brought the “tal­ent” to the wolf’s door. So one has to ask: who are the body­guards, what ex­actly are they defending, and why have they now given up their jobs?

Some of the close pro­tec­tion per­son­nel are ob­vi­ous: Bob We­in­stein, the mem­bers of the board of The We­in­stein Com­pany, so-called friends and for­mer col­leagues.

Brad Pitt, who was dat­ing Gwyneth Pal­trow when she was ha­rassed by We­in­stein, and was mar­ried to An­gelina Jolie, al­legedly con­fronted him. Yet he made sev­eral films with We­in­stein af­ter­wards. Why are most of th­ese peo­ple de­sert­ing We­in­stein now?

Well, maybe be­cause the mat­ter can no longer be hid­den, but the op­po­site pos­si­bil­ity is sig­nif­i­cant enough for some to sus­pect an in­ten­tional leak: it can be un­hid­den be­cause We­in­stein’s po­si­tion in the Hol­ly­wood strato­sphere is fad­ing. This is a con­ve­nient mo­ment – he is, in ef­fect, al­ready emas­cu­lated.

More broadly, though, one an­swer to the ques­tion of what the sys­tem is de­signed to pro­tect is: our own de­sires. Ever since the birth of the stu­dio sys­tem, de­mand has been cre­ated by the moviego­ing pub­lic, and sup­ply pro­vided by Hol­ly­wood.

We pay for tick­ets; We­in­stein’s suc­cess may have been cre­ated in part by the Academy – whose mem­bers are now hold­ing an “emer­gency” meet­ing – but it has also been de­ter­mined by the box of­fice.

In F Scott Fitzger­ald’s last, un­fin­ished novel, ‘The Last Ty­coon’, a movie mogul based on Irv­ing Thal­berg en­ters a cut­ting room in which “dreams hung in frag­ments… suf­fered anal­y­sis, passed – to be dreamed in crowds, or else dis­carded”.

If we the crowds didn’t want those movies, there would be no need for Har­vey We­in­steins. And if we the crowds don’t like the cir­cum­stances in which movies are made, we need to show that clearly.

Of course, the prob­lem is not re­stricted to a sin­gle in­dus­try. We­in­stein is metonymic: a part rep­re­sent­ing a much vaster whole. But Hol­ly­wood is as good a place as any in which to hatch a story, and we can think of it as we do any other of its prod­ucts – made in movieland, but about the world.

Years ago, when I was re­search­ing a story about Hol­ly­wood in the Fifties, I spoke to an age­ing lawyer and asked about a friend of his who ran what I de­scribed as “a pros­ti­tu­tion ring”. The lawyer begged to dif­fer. “I wouldn’t call it a ring,” he said. “It was just a place where you could get a guy a girl.”

IHAD to think about the fil­ter through which I chose to tell this story – it was a mat­ter of de­scrip­tion rather than opin­ion. If I por­trayed it through 21st cen­tury eyes, that would be anachro­nis­tic; yet if

I didn’t show the fun­da­men­tal misog­yny that al­lowed such a ca­sual ac­cep­tance of the prac­tice, that would also be his­tor­i­cally in­ac­cu­rate, be­cause I’d be omit­ting one of that mo­ment’s es­sen­tial char­ac­ter­is­tics.

What to do about the “gen­er­a­tional” de­fence? How far will it fly? “He was an old-school movie mogul,” the Bri­tish pro­ducer Ali­son Owen told the BBC.

Lisa Bloom, a lawyer ini­tially said to be ad­vis­ing We­in­stein on “gen­der and power dy­nam­ics”, told the ‘New York Times’ that he was “an old di­nosaur learn­ing new ways.”

I would ar­gue both that the “old guard” plea is pa­thetic, and that re­spon­si­bil­ity for re­quir­ing new ways lies with all of us.

An­gelina Jolie: Ac­tors’ si­lence was part of the prob­lem. In­set: Gwyneth Pal­trow

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