"He just told you to get into bed without saying hello. If you didn’t go along, there were 25 girls who would."
This was Marilyn Monroe, and the man she describes was Harry Cohn, co-founder and former president of Columbia Pictures, the fifth biggest movie studio in the world. 60 years later, amidst revelations about Harvey Weinstein, the refusal of the motion picture industry to progress past chauvinism, exploitation, and abuse is more evident than ever.
Weinstein is the notorious founder of powerhouse production companies Miramax and The Weinstein Co., and has been thanked more times at the Oscars than God (quite literally).
He was also the subject of two investigative pieces this month in the New Yorker and New York Times, uncovering decades of sexual abuse of women in the entertainment industry, including three allegations of rape (nine at the time of this writing). Weinstein was fired from his production company and condemned by multiple other professional organisations, before his wife announced their separation. But the revelations, while explosive, were met with a disturbing lack of surprise within the industry. Countless stars denounced the movie mogul, yet admitted to “hearing rumours” of his actions for years. Many relayed their own stories of abuse from Weinstein, including Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Cara Delevingne.
"Oh, he’ll coerce you to do a thing or two." - Gwyneth Paltrow
Yet as these ‘rumours’ have built for some decades now, the question of silence becomes a question of complicity. Quentin Tarantino, whose success is at least partly owed to Weinstein’s early support, has publicly acknowledged and apologised for his awareness of Weinstein’s assaults. This includes an assault on Tarantino’s former girlfriend Mira Sorvino, who achieved success and an Oscar in the Weinstein-produced Mighty Aphrodite. Tarantino’s sentiment is echoed by many, including Colin Firth, who lamented his failure to act on his knowledge of an assault Weinstein made on actress and co-star Sophie Dix. Looking at Firth’s career, which went on to be greatly aided by Weinstein, it’s difficult to take this sincerely.
Public acknowledgement of Weinstein’s crimes goes deeper. In 2013, when announcing the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, Seth Macfarlane joked "Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein." In 2012, sitcom 30 Rock joked about an actress brave enough to decline sex from Harvey Weinstein. In 1998 on The Late Show with David Letterman, Gwyneth Paltrow said of Weinstein, "Oh, he’ll coerce you to do a thing or two." But if this knowledge was so public, for so long, why is it only now that consequences are felt as people come forward?
The issue is one of power, and the power of a talented and well-connected producer is their ability to transform a script into a blockbuster, and make a career in the process.
Ivana Lowell, a former employee of Weinstein’s, described her feelings towards an assault with the words, "I chose ambition over my instinct, which was to run (...) as long as we were in Harvey’s good books, everything was OK." Lauren O’Connor, another former employee and victim, commented in a memo addressed to his company: "The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10." It's easy to understand why so many lived in silence, considering how voiceless they were made to feel. He was an internationally respected figure, who counted powerful political figures like the Clintons as personal friends, and held sway over institutions and industries.
In 2005, when asked what advice she would give ambitious young women in Hollywood, Courtney Love said "If Harvey Weinstein invites you to a private party in the Four Seasons, don’t go." According to Love, she was then permanently barred from the Creative Artists Agency. Journalist Sharon Waxman alleges her planned New York Times expose on Weinstein in 2004 was buried by editors after Weinstein put pressure on them.
One of few victims that did immediately speak out was model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, who was soon involved in a sting operation against him in 2015, wherein she secretly recorded Weinstein attempting to coerce her into his room to watch him shower "just for five minutes." In the recording, Gutierrez says "no" multiple times, before being warned "don’t ruin your friendship with me for five minutes." Shortly after going public with her claims, tabloids like The New York Post attacked Gutierrez, portraying her as a desperate model chasing fame. Her claims faded into obscurity until they were revived again by the recent investigations.
Even outside of the Weinstein scandals, it’s clear some in the industry see abuse as an inherent part of the business. In 2013, former child actor Corey Feldman went on US television show The View to speak of his childhood sexual abuse by "some of the most richest, most powerful people in the business." On the show he warned parents there were active pedophiles currently in Hollywood, to which host Barbara Walters’ responded: "You’re damaging an entire industry."
Perhaps the thing to observe now, amidst his exposure and condemnation, is Weinstein’s numbers. With his films no longer as successful or acclaimed as they once were, his powers are waning. Perhaps this is why he’s no longer impervious to damage, as his profitability no longer exceeds the outrage generated by his openly acknowledged, morally reprehensible acts. It seems the only explanation for how some of his profitable Hollywood peers have escaped unscathed from their own transgressions.
For example, Ben Affleck, who shot to stardom from Weinstein’s support producing Good Will Hunting, for which he won his first Oscar. Affleck said the revelations that Weinstein "used his position of power to intimidate, sexually harass and manipulate many women" made him ‘sick'. So it’s surprising to discover footage of Affleck groping Hilarie Burton on live TV in 2003, or grabbing another interviewer in 2004 with the words, "They’d like it better if you did this show topless (...) Get those titties out." Rose McGowan, one of Weinstein’s rape accusers, has accused Affleck of being long aware of Weinstein’s past, tweeting at him "you lie."
Woody Allen, whose daughter accused him of regular sexual abuse from the age of seven, described the Weinstein news as "sad for all involved." Weinstein’s support is credited as having been instrumental in getting Allen’s career on track amidst said allegations, and in 2011, Allen won his fourth Oscar .
Not to mention, the still unpunished Roman Polanski, who pled guilty to statutory rape of a 13 year old in 1977, amidst charges of anal rape. He fled to France, where he is still a successful filmmaker. In 2009, when he was arrested by Swiss authorities, a petition for his release was signed by over 100 major Hollywood figures, including Natalie Portman, Harrison Ford, Martin Scorsese, and others. In 2002 he won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director for The Pianist, and received a standing ovation.
Countless abuse their power, in Hollywood and beyond, without ramification, contributing to the half of all women and 1 in 10 men who face workplace sexual harassment. The question of wider accountability still needs to be answered. Weinstein, while ostracised from Hollywood, has faced little legal fallout and continues to live in wealth. It is not enough simply to exclude sexual abusers when they stop making money.
Discover More CategoriesFilm