Not just a showbiz thing, up to everyone to fight it
In Hollywood, there are hopes that film producer Harvey Weinstein’s fall will give rise to change, writes
AS ALLEGATIONS of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein continue to pour in, many in the film industry are wondering what this means for a culture that has allowed not just the famed mogul but also Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen and others accused of predatory behaviour to flourish.
While some hope that the sheer number of women coming forward – and the subsequent firing of Weinstein from his own company – signals a shifting wind, others remain unconvinced that change will come any time soon.
“This is corporate culture,” says director Paul Feig ( Bridesmaids, 2016’s Ghostbusters), “and all business, all corporate culture is going to make excuses for the person who is making them a lot of money.”
Allegations against Weinstein, founder of Miramax and the Weinstein Company, have been, according to many sources, an open secret in Hollywood for decades.
They were first made public by the media in a scathing exposé in the New York Times on October 5, then bolstered and expanded in a New Yorker article on Tuesday and a second Times story the same day.
More than 20 women have now made claims against Weinstein, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette and Mira Sorvino.
Director Maria Giese, who has been outspoken about gender parity in the film industry, expects that more accusations will follow.
“We are at the beginning of a tsunami,” she says, “It’s rolling, and the force behind it is so strong, you can’t stop it.”
Caroline Heldman, a professor at Occidental College and a survivor advocate, worked closely with Cosby’s victims throughout his trial. Once allegations like these start gaining steam, she says, more people feel comfortable going public with their stories.
“The snowball effect is a real thing,” says Heldman. “With Cosby survivors, the number reached a critical mass of around 10, then suddenly it shot up to 62. We’ve seen it with Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes as well,” referring the Fox News veterans who left the company in the wake of harassment claims.
But there are still plenty of reasons that victims stay silent. Women in all industries who have experienced harassment or other forms of sexual abuse face potentially crippling repercussions for speaking out – a fact that Weinstein reportedly used to his advantage, admonishing women for refusing him and terrorising those who spoke of his attacks to friends and family. Many are traumatised by their experiences and would find speaking out to be re-traumatising. Plus, there’s no guarantee that going public will yield any meaningful change.
“I hope that (the allegations against Weinstein) will lessen the behaviour overall, and increase the number of men who put an end to the behaviour when they see it,” says Kirsten Schaffer, the president of the Los Angeles-based non-profit group Women in Film, “but history is not on our side.”
Screenwriter Diana Ossana ( Brokeback Mountain) has also experienced this fear firsthand. While she was never explicitly harassed or assaulted by someone within the film industry, she says, she was raped by a man she knew at the age of 19.
“You’re afraid to come forward because you’re afraid people won’t believe you,” says Ossana, “and you’ll be blamed for something, and you’ll be dragged through the mud.”
When an alleged attacker is a man like Weinstein, the deck is stacked even further against anyone who might publicly accuse him. The size, scope and influence of Hollywood is nearly unrivalled, even among other white-collar industries.
Drew Denny, an indie filmmaker whose movies have appeared in AFI Fest, Outfest and other festivals, says that right after film school, “I was treated in pretty disgusting ways by men who I wanted to hire me, and that discouraged me from working in the film business. The sad thing is, if something is your dream, it’s your dream.”
She was particularly disturbed by how many Weinstein accusers quit the industry after these incidents.
“You look at this landscape of storytellers and there’s so few women, and you realise that some of them are missing because they were harassed and abused,” says Denny.
“People like Harvey are gatekeepers to people’s livelihoods, people’s dreams, people’s reputations,” adds Feig.
“He knows that everybody wants something from him and he has the power to give it to them, and worse yet, he has the power to destroy them if he doesn’t get what he wants. That’s what makes this so horrendous.”
Which means that despite the avalanche of allegations against Weinstein, other powerful Hollywood players may be reluctant to speak out. Of the 10 film studios and talent agencies which The Washington Post contacted for this story, six did not respond, three declined to comment and one failed to provide a spokesperson in time.
Some insiders believe that until these allegations affect companies’ bottom lines or a massive cultural shift takes place, little will change.
In the meantime, the high-profile nature of the story might at least have a chilling effect on other predators, or those who are complicit.
“I’m optimistic we’ve turned a corner,” says Heldman.
“The very fact that Harvey was held accountable by his board, whereas Polanski and Allen have been celebrated, indicates that we are in a new place where we take these crimes more seriously.”
Giese adds that having these stories go public takes away a vile tool in attackers’ arsenals.
“The ability of women to speak out means that people can’t use blacklisting any more as a way of forcing women to have sex,” she says.
Schaffer hopes that the Weinstein scandal will also encourage other men to stand up for victims – even if the person being accused, or behaving inappropriately, is a friend.
“Men pay a critical role in calling this out,” she says. “Sometimes it’s as simple as nudging their buddy and saying, ‘Hey, cut it out,’ or ‘Hey, leave her alone.’ Those who are committed to gender parity and or a fair and equitable society have to be committed to putting an end to it.”
Challenging friends becomes particularly important in a culture in which the push for equality is often met with an opposing push to turn back the clock. Many of the people The Post spoke to had a hard time avoiding comparisons between Weinstein and another prominent public figure.
“This is not isolated just to Hollywood,” says Ossana. “Look at our own president. The way he speaks about women sets the tone for a lot.”
“This is not just a showbiz thing,” adds Feig. “It’s up to everybody to fight this and support victims, to take it seriously.”
“It’s 2017,” he adds. “This cannot be going on.” – The Washington Post
Allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein, founder of Miramax and the Weinstein Company, have apparently been an open secret in Hollywood for decades.
Claims of sexual predatory behaviour have been made against actor Bill Cosby, left, actor/ director Woody Allen, centre, and director Roman Polanski.