Sunday Times

Court of pub­lic opin­ion in ses­sion

When the We­in­stein scan­dal broke a year ago, a Bri­tish ac­tress de­cided to tell her own story — here’s what hap­pened next

- By ALICE EVANS Austria · Houston · Paris · Hollywood · Harvey Weinstein · Belarus · Ioan Gruffudd · Australia · Belgium · Burbank · Alyssa Milano · Milan · Iceland · Twitter · Facebook · Tarana Burke

Let’s sit down at the ta­ble with kind­ness, and work out where to go from here

Last Oc­to­ber, when a friend sent me a text that sim­ply read, “OMG Har­vey”, I thought she was talk­ing about the hur­ri­cane that had dev­as­tated Hous­ton two weeks pre­vi­ously. But then an­other friend e-mailed me: “How much do you know?” As it turned out, quite a lot.

It had been al­most 20 years since I’d sat op­po­site a friend in a café in Paris and watched her go to pieces as she told me how Hol­ly­wood’s most pow­er­ful film pro­ducer, Har­vey We­in­stein, had set up a meet­ing with her in his ho­tel and then ex­posed him­self. There had been other friends, since, too. Aw­ful, hor­ri­ble sto­ries. But no­body in the in­dus­try re­ally knew all the de­tails. Be­sides any­thing else, we were all too scared to talk.

My own story, which I told in print al­most ex­actly a year ago, was tame com­pared with those of my friends. There was an of­fer to en­gage, fol­lowed by a loose threat that, if I turned him down, nei­ther I nor my hus­band [ac­tor Ioan Gruf­fudd] would ever work again. That’s not rape. That’s not even at­tempted rape. But it did sup­port the hy­poth­e­sis that we all be­lieved about We­in­stein and the very thing he was deny­ing — that for years he had been black­list­ing peo­ple who didn’t agree to sleep with him.

I wanted peo­ple to know this. I wanted to sup­port the women who had done the un­think­able — the ones who had been the first to jump — who had told their sto­ries with no guar­an­tee that any­body would sup­port or be­lieve them. The Tele­graph gave me a dead­line for the next day, and I just wrote — al­most with­out think­ing. I called my hus­band in Aus­tralia to tell him what I was do­ing and he was dis­traught. “But why?” he kept ask­ing. We were a fam­ily that was en­tirely de­pen­dent on the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try to sur­vive, he kept say­ing. What about the back­lash?

What if no­body hires ei­ther of us again be­cause of it? What if he comes back? I knew all this. But how would I for­give my­self if I just sat and waited it out — and it failed and every­thing went back to nor­mal? The back­lash came quickly, although it was less up­set­ting than I had thought. Al­most all of the at­tacks were on me, not my hus­band or kids, about which I was re­lieved. Many won­dered why I would want this kind of at­ten­tion, or sim­ply la­belled me a wannabe. But I also started re­ceiv­ing the most ex­tra­or­di­nary emails. A lot were from women I’d known for a long time but never known they’d also had a Har­vey ex­pe­ri­ence. Some were passed on from strangers, ea­ger to tell sim­i­lar sto­ries. And a lot, un­ex­pect­edly, were from men. One scriptwrit­er told me, in an e-mail, he was ashamed that We­in­stein had once made him cry. An­other said: “Just re­mem­ber we are all you, at this minute. Har­vey has touched all of our lives, and not in a good way.” Mostly, they couldn’t be­lieve it was fi­nally OK to talk about it.

Af­ter the dust had set­tled, though, a gnaw­ing feel­ing be­gan to kick in. I’d told my story. I’d in­sisted that oth­ers were telling the truth. But We­in­stein was still on the loose — ad­mit­tedly fired from his com­pany and in a re­treat some­where, but free. And, most frus­trat­ingly, noth­ing sub­stan­tial seemed to have been al­tered in Hol­ly­wood as a re­sult of the rev­e­la­tions. Char­ac­ter break­downs from cast­ing di­rec­tors still called for ac­tresses to be “sexy”. The f-word — “f***-able” — was still whis­pered in the of­fices and halls of the big tele­vi­sion stu­dios in Bur­bank.

Change takes time, it’s true. But the slow pace of it and the feel­ing that, in the end, noth­ing had been achieved was high­lighted by the “more of the same but worse” that seemed to be hap­pen­ing on the Hol­ly­wood A-lis­ters stage. A group named Time’s Up, which raised a lot of money for vic­tims funds, asked ev­ery­body to wear pins on the Golden Globes red car­pet in Fe­bru­ary, show­ing they were “against sex­ual ha­rass­ment”.

They also re­quested that all the women wear black as a mark of … ac­tu­ally, I’m not sure what it was a mark of, be­cause no­body re­ally ex­plained it.

Some also brought along their very own “plus one” in the form of a “nor­mal per­son” who had been the vic­tim of sex­ual as­sault. I could see what they were try­ing to do — but it felt mis­guided and cringe­wor­thy.

Ac­tress Alyssa Mi­lano brought back Tarana Burke’s 2006 hash­tag #MeToo, a stroke of ge­nius if there has been one in this whole af­fair, since sud­denly the move­ment was no longer con­fined to Hol­ly­wood and women every­where were able to tell their sto­ries. But while We­in­stein had, or has, at least 100 ac­cusers, and wit­nesses to boot, as the #MeToo frenzy took off and peo­ple with fake names and avatars (and per­haps grudges to bear) be­gan throw­ing vir­tual stink bombs into the pub­lic arena, the cer­tainty that an ac­cuser was in fact telling the truth be­gan to wane.

And this is where I feel we’re stuck. The crim­i­nal court of law, with its due process and right to anonymity and prom­ise that a per­son is in­no­cent un­til proven guilty, has gone by the way­side.

What we have now is Twit­ter and Face­book, the court of pub­lic opin­ion where any­body, for any rea­son, can tap on a key­board and ruin a rep­u­ta­tion for­ever. And they will. It’s hu­man na­ture. You can’t say, “Oh, but if the men would just keep them­selves to them­selves, we’d be able to sort this out”, be­cause it’s not that sim­ple. Be­cause what one per­son con­sid­ers to be of­fen­sive is less so for an­other.

Just read any ran­dom thread on Twit­ter to see how this works. Not ev­ery wit­ness is cred­i­ble. This sys­tem is go­ing to catch the wrongly ac­cused, along with the justly ac­cused. And we have ab­so­lutely no way of know­ing which is which.

What to do? Well, we need to stop mak­ing it a par­ti­san af­fair, for a start. It’s not a man’s prob­lem. Or a woman’s prob­lem. If Hol­ly­wood is the mi­cro­cosm whence this dis­cus­sion be­gan, then I can say that, as much as I have come up against men who have made it clear I won’t get past them with­out giv­ing them what they want, I have also come up against women who have said I won’t get past them sim­ply be­cause they don’t like me.

Any­where you have a sys­tem of power, you have the op­por­tu­nity for abuse. And the in­ter­net has given us the power to speak out against that abuse where we had none be­fore. Be­cause of anonymity; be­cause of the sheer num­bers in­volved.

All we’ve done so far is open the door and let peo­ple in. Peo­ple with­out power now have a voice. This is a great thing. Let’s use it. Let’s sit down at the ta­ble with kind­ness, and work out where to go from here.

 ?? Pic­ture: Getty Im­ages for Va­ri­ety/Joe Scar­nici ?? Alice Evans
Pic­ture: Getty Im­ages for Va­ri­ety/Joe Scar­nici Alice Evans

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