THE WEINSTEIN EFFECT
While the Harvey Weinstein scandal would ultimately prove staggering in its scope, it came as news to no one that the one-time Miramax head honcho was a bullying creep. In various articles and books that have chronicled ’90s Hollywood over the years – most notably Sharon Waxman’s Rebels On The Backlot and Peter Biskind’s Down And Dirty
Pictures – Weinstein was portrayed as a tyrannical figure, whose volcanic temper and appalling behaviour towards colleagues made him notorious in an industry not noted for workplace niceties.
The greatest indictment of Hollywood is that Weinstein’s conduct was given a free pass for one reason only: success. Miramax’s pioneering role in independent film, its various Oscar victories, box office hits and – especially – its long association with Quentin Tarantino gave the producer
carte blanche to indulge his repellent behaviour to the full.
If there is one heroine at the centre of this story, it’s Rose McGowan. In a singularly brave move, late in 2016 the actress sent a tweet indicating that “HW” was her rapist. Amongst investigative reporters who had heard rumours of Weinstein’s misconduct for years, the race was now on.
It is notable that in an era when people are loudly trumpeting the death-knell of “traditional” media, the Weinstein scandal was kickstarted by two of America’s oldest and most venerable media institutions, The
New York Times and The New Yorker. Indeed, it was the impecabble pedigree of the respective publications that underlined the gravity of the allegations.
In early October of 2017, two oustanding pieces of journalism – by
Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey in the Times and Ronan Farrow in The
New Yorker – arrived in quick succession, and blew the lid off Weinstein’s decades-long record of harassment and sexual assault. As the story developed, the extent of the scandal proved astonishing; aside from McGowan, Asia Argento, Paz de la Huerta and Annabella Sciorra were also among the women who made rape allegations.
In total, close to 80 women would accuse Weinstein of sexual harrassment or assault, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Cara Delevingne, Angelina Jolie, Lena Headey and Sarah Polley. As the fallout from the story continued, actress Alyssa Milano – picking up on a phrase long used by social activist Tarana Burke – encouraged other women to share their experiences of harrassment and abuse on social media, using the hashtag #MeToo. Even Ronan Farrow himself admitted he couldn’t have foreseen what followed.
As more and more women – and, ultimately, men – bravely came forward with their experiences, the story rapidly took on global dimensions, with incredible social and political ramifications. A wave of sexual harrassment allegations swept through Westminster, eventually claiming defence secretary Michael Fallon after he admitted to conduct unbecoming of a cabinet minister. Some reports even suggested the scandal could bring down Theresa May’s government.
In Ireland, meanwhile, numerous women made allegations of bullying and harrassment against ex-Gate Theatre director Michael Colgan. Elsewhere, Barry Walsh – a member of the Fine Gael National Executive – was forced to resign after he made a series of vile comments about various Irish female politicans on Twitter. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described the comments as “unacceptable”.
Back in the US, Kevin Spacey and Louis CK became the most highprofile figures outside of Weinstein to be accused of sexual misconduct.
Star Trek Discovery actor Anthony Rapp kickstarted the Spacey story by accusing the actor of making sexual advances on him whilst he was just 14.
In response, Spacey issued a statement claiming to be unable to recall the encounter, whilst simultaneously – in a widely derided move – coming out. Rapp’s account initiated a wave of allegations against the actor, including several from the production crew on his hit Netflix show House
Of Cards. Netflix swiftly axed Spacey from the series and several other of his projects were also canned.
In the case of Louis CK, five female comics – after years of rumours doing the rounds on the internet – made accusations of sexual misconduct, again in The New York Times. Apparently, the cult comic had a compulsive habit of masturbating in front of women. He quickly suffered the same fate as Spacey: cable network FX severed all ties with him and his movie I Love You, Daddy (given the alternative title Exhibit A If This
Ever Goes To Trial by comic John Oliver) also had its release cancelled. The stories kept coming. Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore was accused of inappropriate behaviour with girls as young as
14. Democratic senator and all-round left wing darling, Al Franken, was forced to apologise to news anchor Leeann Tweeden for behaving in an inappropriate manner during a tour of the Middle East to entertain US troops in 2006.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for Franken to be investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee and Moore to quit the Senate race – which led to Moore and McConnell squaring off against each other. Elsewhere, Donald Trump attacked Franken – thus reigniting the controversy around allegations made against Trump himself by numerous women.
Cumulatively, all of these events signalled a watershed social and cultural moment. Triggered by the courageousness of those who spoke out, truly disgusting male behaviour that had been tolerated for far too long was now in the firing line – and not a moment too soon. The only regret was that it hadn’t happened decades earlier.
One of the most eloquent statements came from US actress Ellen Page, in a Facebook post that quickly went viral. In the sort of account that had become depressingly familiar, Page spoke of encountering predatory behaviour on Hollywood film sets whilst still a teenager, and also became the latest in a series of women to accuse director Brett Ratner of inappropriate conduct.
Summing up, Page wrote, “I am grateful to anyone and everyone who speaks out against abuse and trauma they have suffered. You are breaking the silence. You are revolution.”