By now, everyone is at least semi-familiar with the public accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and the outpouring of similar stories that have followed in the last month.
To say it has been overwhelming would be a massive understatement. From Louis C.K to Kevin Spacey, to Brett Ratner, it seems that almost every day another titan of the screen is being laid bare. Weinstein’s story is the one that opened the floodgates and his remains the one that seems to do the best job of providing a comprehensive look at what assualt looks like in Tinseltown.
The allegations against Weinstein
On October 5th, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke their investigation of Weinstein in The New York Times. The piece explored allegations of sexual harassment and assault that go back to 1990. It was the first time multiple women made specific, public claims against Weinstein.
What followed were even more accusations against Weinstein, and while he has had his spokeswoman deny everything, an undercover video from an NYPD sting operation showed him admitting that he had groped women.
He took a leave of absence, and was then fired from The Weinstein Company. Emails were released that documented his appeal to other Hollywood bigwigs to vouch for him, just hours before the meeting wherein The Weinstein Company board fired him. And then the Producers Guild of America banned him for life.
I don’t have enough space to talk about all of the issues revolving around his non-disclosure agreements, or the fact that his wife is leaving him, or the reality that he used his presence in the fashion industry as “a pipeline to models.”
Certainly, on the surface, Hollywood gets that breaking ties is the way to go. But one of the most troubling components of the situation is that the layers of deceit and corruption seem to run all the way down to the earth’s core.
Plus, Weinstein’s debauchery extended beyond the crimes themselves.
In a harrowing report for The New Yorker Ronan Farrow asserts, “In the fall of 2016, Harvey Weinstein set out to suppress allegations that he had sexually harassed or assaulted numerous women. He began to hire private security agencies to collect information on the women and the journalists trying to expose the allegations.”
Farrow goes on to say that there are pages upon pages of documents that detail how Weinstein hired multiple firms and enterprises to collect personal information on dozens of individuals. His intent was clear: to suppress any possible story from reaching the light of day that could potentially tarnish his reputation or lead to a criminal investigation.
And Weinstein has only opened the proverbial floodgates; in the aftermath more and more has spewed from Hollywood, an entire line-up of terrible stories that seem to have been unleashed via the camaraderie that sometimes can only come from a collaborative effort.
Yet at this point, everything goes back to the demise of their public personas, and fails to reach any type of real responsibility or accountability. Weinstein is certainly not currently facing legal repercussions.
What does this say about Hollywood?
There are a couple troubling things to note here. The first, is that it would be remiss not to recognize that this isn’t a new story for Hollywood.
Ben Shapiro wrote for The National Review, “Let’s not be coy about Hollywood’s history: It was built on sexual peccadillos and, in particular, the casting couch. It has long peddled flesh, and its leading lights haven’t been shy about participating. Louis B. Mayer allegedly sexually assaulted teenage Judy Garland; Arthur Freed allegedly exposed himself to then-twelve-year-old Shirley Temple; Harry Cohn and Daryl Zanuck reportedly solicited prospective starlets on a routine basis.”
While Hollywood seems to be good at constructing a facade that suggests feminist priorities, there is too much happening here for us all to believe that that is the true backbone of the industry.
There are a whole host of people within Hollywood who have admitted that they knew about Weinstein’s crimes. It only makes sense to concede that there are many others who are currently more interested in saving face than in corroborating a story.
And that reality is the one that should be shaking us all to our very cores. It seems as though Hollywood unintentionally has become a striking case study on the psychological theory of desensitization.
The results are in, and they’re not favorable. Prolonged exposure to awful things decreases the general understanding that it is indeed awful; the more it happens the easier it is to look the other way.
What does this say about the nature of victimhood?
It’s important to preface this section by noting that each story is unique and each merits all the respect and empathy in the world. I’m not here to make claims about who has it worse or better, or who has more agency than anyone else.
But if this series of events proves anything, it’s that a victim of sexual harassment or assault can be anybody. Privilege and beauty can be as much a risk factor in some circles, as they are a safety net in others.
The irony, for the layperson at least, is that Hollywood is often synonymous with glitz and glamour, but it is a facade. Held within every star-filled selfie at ritzy parties, are people just as susceptible to mess and error and disaster as the rest of us.
Evil intent shows no preference for rich or poor, famed or unknown, pretty or ugly. Instead, those who seek to harm others utilize a power dynamic, in Hollywood it seems obvious: an aspiring actress (or actor) understands that her career will end before it begins if the likes of Weinstein is displeased.
But, power dynamics happen at every economic level in every industry, and even in family and friend circles. If you look at the history of these types of cases, there’s a pattern of disbelieving victims.
Any law office will tell you, “Victims have a role to play in the sentencing—they can tell the judge how the crime has impacted their life, the pain they have suffered as a result, and any other reason why the judge should impose a harsh penalty. Victims have a right to make such statements before the judge.”
But, if you’re dealing with someone who has a power play over you, has threatened you, has already hurt you, it’s not simple. And that’s not even bringing into the picture the issue of physical evidence. Google “Rape Kit Backlog” and prepare to be even more depressed: there are approximately 175,000 untested kits in the United States alone.
How do we move forward?
The obvious question as we move forward is will America send the same message that other Hollywood elites have, or will our position as consumers bring some humanity back to Tinseltown?
I simply see a photo of actors like Kevin Spacey and Ben Affleck, and I cringe. I can’t imagine a full two hours of them playing one of their leading roles. But, I’m sure that as a society, we will collectively continue to buy tickets. It’s likely that the further we move from this moment in time, the less the impact on their careers will be.
In Maureen Dowd’s op-ed for The New York Times entitled, “Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood’s Oldest Horror Story”, she wrote, “Women in Hollywood say social media, plus the anger about Trump getting into the Oval Office instead of Hillary, were propelling forces in the fire raining down on Weinstein. ‘I hope it’s a witch hunt,’ said a top Hollywood woman. ‘I hope it’s a purge. There are people we have to get rid of in our business. Everyone knows them.’”
Hopefully that is a positive aspect that continues to impact our society. Technology has made it so that it is easier for victims to see that they aren’t alone. Each time someone steps forward, the power dynamic shifts, and in this context we can see how community was fostered without physical proximity. Not only that, but it can provide a trail of incriminating documents that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
And in the meantime, may we all strive to create, as best we can, the kinds of communities where individuals never question whether or not they are truly valued by their community, and where the voice of the victim is immediately affirmed by the voice of the majority.