HOLLYWOOD’S DARK HEART
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