HOL­LY­WOOD’S DARK HEART

Sunday Herald - - FRONT PAGE - Vicky Al­lan Pho­to­graph: Getty Images

SEX ABUSE AND MISOG­YNY: NIGHT­MARE IN THE AMER­I­CAN DREAM FAC­TORY

THROUGH­OUT the week, among the many heart-break­ing tes­ti­monies al­leg­ing abuse, ha­rass­ment and even rape by Har­vey We­in­stein, was an ar­ti­cle writ­ten by the award-win­ning French ac­tress Léa Sey­doux. “I meet men like Har­vey We­in­stein all the time,” she wrote. “I have starred in many films over the last 10 years and have been lucky enough to win awards at fes­ti­vals like Cannes. Cin­ema is my life. And I know all of the ways in which the film in­dus­try treats women with con­tempt.”

This is one of the things we were re­minded through­out the week as what be­gan as a small trickle of brave voices, among them Rose McGowan, Ash­ley Judd, Asia Ar­gento and Rosanna Ar­quette, be­came a crash­ing wave of ac­cu­sa­tions. The world would have to be blind not to see that women are treated with con­tempt in Hol­ly­wood. And, at the same time, the men who run the in­dus­try are pro­tected, on so many lev­els, by their power, priv­i­lege and the fear they in­spire. How else could it be that We­in­stein was al­lowed to con­tinue with be­hav­iour that, as many have put it, was “an open se­cret”? Ro­nan Far­row, the jour­nal­ist who wrote one of the key ex­poses in The New Yorker, de­scribed a “cul­ture of com­plic­ity” that ex­ists in the in­dus­try.

There are two el­e­ments, in other words, in the mak­ing of this scan­dal. One is the fear and aura wielded by power and money; the other is the ram­pant de­hu­man­i­sa­tion of women, their re­duc­tion to com­modi­ties. Echoes of the lat­ter un­der­score al­most ev­ery ex­cru­ci­at­ing We­in­stein-re­lated story that has come out over the last week – al­most ev­ery one of them a tale of ma­nip­u­la­tion and hu­mil­i­a­tion, each of which seems to un­fold in the same man­ner. An in­vi­ta­tion from We­in­stein to an in­ter­view at a ho­tel that turns out not to be an in­ter­view, fol­lowed by We­in­stein in his bath robe, towel, or naked, and then We­in­stein not tak­ing “no” for an an­swer. Though We­in­stein, for his part, has said he com­mit­ted no non-con­sen­sual acts.

But it is also acutely there in the ob­ser­va­tions by the ac­tresses of the po­si­tion of vul­ner­a­bil­ity they un­der­stood them­selves to be in. Asia Ar­gento, for in­stance, who said the rea­son she had not spo­ken out about her al­leged rape be­fore was that she feared We­in­stein would “crush” her.

“If you’re a woman work­ing in the film in­dus­try you have to fight be­cause it is a very misog­y­nis­tic world,” wrote Sey­doux. “Why else are salaries so un­equal? Why do men earn more than women? ... Hol­ly­wood is in­cred­i­bly de­mand­ing on women. Think about the beauty dik­tats. This is an im­age of women that is bizarre – and one that ends up con­trol­ling women.”

Many have been ask­ing why We­in­stein was al­lowed to get away with this for nearly three decades. Why the women didn’t step for­ward un­til now is clear: fear, hu­mil­i­a­tion, and a sense that their ca­reers would be over once they were no longer a “friend” of Har­vey We­in­stein. But the big­ger ques­tion is why the men, and there must have been many of them who knew, stayed silent. There has been a de­fen­sive ring to many of the com­ments from male film in­dus­try fig­ures of shock and hor­ror. Too many seem merely keen to show they didn’t re­ally know what was go­ing on. Among them is the state­ment from the all-male board of The We­in­stein Com­pany it­self, which said: “Th­ese al­le­ga­tions come as an ut­ter sur­prise to the board. Any sug­ges­tion that the board had knowl­edge of this con­duct is false.” But last Fri­day, David Boies, a New York lawyer who rep­re­sented We­in­stein in 2015, re­vealed in an in­ter­view with the New York Times that The We­in­stein Com­pany had been made aware since then of three or four cases in which We­in­stein had made set­tle­ments with women.

THEN there are the ac­tors closely associated with We­in­stein. Matt Da­mon and Ben Af­fleck – who had to apol­o­gise this week over grop­ing an MTV pre­sen­ter on air in 2003 – seemed to take too long to ex­press their out­rage, so much so that Rose McGowan, on Twit­ter, ac­cused them each of be­ing a “spineless prof­i­teer”. When they did com­ment their state­ments seemed hol­low. Da­mon was even forced to deny, or at least ex­plain, why he had been in­volved in an at­tempt to quash a We­in­stein-re­lated ar­ti­cle – although the ac­tor just saw it as vouch­ing for some­one he had met and liked.

But the sus­pi­cion of com­plic­ity ex­tends out­wards from the film in­dus­try. So many ques­tions hover around the story. Why did Man­hat­tan District At­tor­ney Cyrus Vance de­cide to drop a case against We­in­stein in 2015? “They Had the Goods on Him,” de­clared a head­line last week in Slate mag­a­zine. “Man­hat­tan District At­tor­ney Cyrus Vance needs a bet­ter ex­pla­na­tion for why he didn’t charge Har­vey We­in­stein.” And why did it take this long for it to come out in the press? Were el­e­ments there pro­tect­ing the man? We­in­stein was very close to Amer­i­can show­biz reporters.

As with all scan­dals like this, we find our­selves hop­ing this will be a water­shed: that from now on, women will find it eas­ier to ac­cuse those in power, and men will un­der­stand that any com­plic­ity with such ap­palling be­hav­iour is un­ac­cept­able. But re­cent decades have told us it doesn’t hap­pen as eas­ily as that. Progress is painfully slow. We al­ready look out on a world in which those who have abused, or even boasted of abuse, still seem to roam the world stage with im­punity. Trump can brag about p***y-grab­bing and still be pres­i­dent.

Women may slowly be find­ing it eas­ier to put their heads above the para­pet. But it still feels that each year has brought an­other hor­ror. More and more it seems ap­par­ent that change will only hap­pen when more women are in a po­si­tion of power. An in­dus­try in which women have more of a share of the run­ning, surely, would help end this con­tempt.

Har­vey We­in­stein with Quentin Tarantino. The We­in­stein al­le­ga­tions have re­vealed a cul­ture of con­tempt for women in Hol­ly­wood

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