More than justice: What Hollywood needs in the aftermath of Harvey Weinstein

Before moving on from condemning Weinstein, we need to look at ourselves

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Jessica Doojphibulpol/Staff

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A month ago, you may not have associated Harvey Weinstein’s face with his name (who would blame you? He’s “only a producer”). You may not have known that he once worked with Disney, or that he co-executive produced “Pulp Fiction.” But if you worked in Hollywood, you’d probably have heard of Weinstein. You’d probably know that he was everywhere. You’d probably know that he systematically abused women in the industry for decades.

In recent years, abusers in Hollywood have been revealed, but rarely held accountable. Bill Cosby. Woody Allen. Casey Affleck. Roman Polanski. Mel Gibson. The list goes on. Sexual violence and the resulting publication of allegations are so frequent now that it seems Hollywood has a knee-jerk response — express disgust and move on, over and over again.

This reaction has always been insufficient, but the Weinstein scandal demonstrates this insufficiency all the more glaringly — because Weinstein’s power is palpable within the industry but near-invisible from the outside. This means that the onus has been on those on the inside to hold Weinstein accountable, and they have failed. The explosion of Weinstein’s history of abuse erases any question or doubt.

Hollywood is complicit in sexual violence.

This is important not only because Hollywood reflects cultural attitudes, but because it normalizes them as well.

Now is the time to take a long, hard look at ourselves and at Hollywood. Consumers of Hollywood media need to examine the reactions and plan constructive action. More than justice, we need change.

There is a difference in visibility for producers. Affleck’s visibility as an actor triggers the realization that after it was publicly alleged that he abused women he worked with, he still won an Oscar. Allen’s visibility as a director triggers the realization that, even though he sexually abused his daughter, some still herald him as one of Hollywood’s brightest directors.

Seeing these men continue to have careers in Hollywood is disgusting because society constantly celebrates their power and creativity. And their power and creativity are tied to their history of sexual violence.

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Miramax/Courtesy

Affleck is on screen. Allen, as a director, barks orders from behind a camera. But the role of a producer such as Weinstein is more nebulous, especially to those outside of the industry. His role isn’t necessarily creative — yet his power, his money and therefore his influence (along with that of the Weinstein Company, Miramax, etc.) are everywhere, unavoidably so.

Weinstein’s actions are atrocious, but some have taken too long to say so, and too many have moderated their condemnation with meaningless apologies and blatant denials. These people have failed to stand up for the dozens of survivors Weinstein injured.

The stories that have emerged reflect an issue media consumers must engage with before trying to answer the question of how they choose to interact with Weinstein’s body of work: the issue of the public responses and their failure to do little more than attempt to salvage reputations. It is the issue of how, in so many ways, the response has continued to disempower survivors.

Hollywood is complicit in sexual violence.

There are the apologists, who don’t take responsibility for their own lack of action.  

“I couldn’t believe he would do that so openly,” said director Quentin Tarantino, who admitted awareness of Weinstein’s abuse and ‘apologized’ for not having done anything to stop him. In 1995, Tarantino’s then-girlfriend Mira Sorvino told him that Weinstein had harassed her.

There are the pseudo-condemners, who seem to think that stating the obvious (“this is horrible” and “this is unacceptable”) exempts them from any accountability. The headline in an article from Indiewire reads “Kate Winslet Breaks Her Silence on ‘Disgraceful and Appalling’ Harvey Weinstein Sex Abuse Allegations.” The subtitle of the same article: “Winslet next stars in Woody Allen’s ‘Wonder Wheel,’ set for release December 1.”

“Unacceptable” is the word Ben Affleck uses to describe actions intended to “intimidate, sexually harass and manipulate” women — actions that include groping women, which he himself was accused of in the days that followed his condemnation. The list of pseudo-condemners even includes politicians who have received campaign donations from Weinstein in the past.

“What was previously accepted is now untenable to anyone of a certain consciousness,” said Tarantino.

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IndieWire/Courtesy

There are the self-deniers, who claim to have had no knowledge of Weinstein’s actions, despite having been close to him for years. You might also call them “blissful ignorants.” Executives at Disney may claim that they had “no idea,” and that may even be true. Director Oliver Stone may pledge to “wait and see” if any of the allegations hold up in a court of law because he can’t say for himself if the allegations are true. Matt Damon may deny allegations that assert he tried to shut down a story from The New York Times about Weinstein allegations in 2004.

“Everyone who was close to Harvey had heard of at least one of those incidents,” said Tarantino.

And then, there are those who are the worst combination of all three: those who knew, down to grotesque details, exactly what Weinstein was doing and who he was hurting and yet are so selfish that their core reaction is only to say, “Everybody fucking knew.” These are the monsters who, rather than condemning Weinstein’s actions or admitting responsibility for allowing them to continue, see sexual harassment as a prerequisite for the industry. These are screenwriter Scott Rosenberg as well as Tarantino, among others.

And then there is Allen, who warned of a “witch hunt” for other abusers in Hollywood. Such as himself.

Not to mention that when Allen was almost ousted from Hollywood after he sexually abused his seven-year-old-daughter, Weinstein agreed to distribute “Bullets Over Broadway.” Yep, you read that right. Weinstein was the man who gave Allen his career back.

What’s most frightening about men like Weinstein — men with immeasurable influence and the power to make or break careers — is that nearly everyone around them is aware that they are wielding their power for abuse. But these same people fear for their jobs. These same people convince themselves that sexual violence in Hollywood is inevitable.

And then there is Allen, who warned of a “witch hunt” for other abusers in Hollywood. Such as himself.

Women warn each other. Other men are aware. Allies should say something so that survivors don’t have to.

Survivors may choose not to come forward for many valid reasons: Justice is rarely served, they may face condemnation or retaliation, and powerful, male abusers, such as Weinstein (or Allen, or Cosby, or even Casey Affleck), end their careers. But women have come forward about Weinstein in the face of these and other barriers anyway. The onus should not be placed on survivors to hold Weinstein and men like him accountable (though in the past most anti-sexual violence movements have been lead by survivors due to passive “allyship,” which is insufficient allyship) — it’s on the people who have been been bystanders in the past, silently watching as men like Weinstein abuse their power.

The onus of action, the responsibility and the shame is on men who see or hear about other men abusing their power and allow it to continue out of selfishness. Those who have stood by with full awareness of Weinstein’s violence, but have said nothing for fears of jeopardizing their own careers.

Career-motivated silence has never been an acceptable excuse for inaction.

Sorry, Mr. Tarantino. You were right when you admitted that anything you say now sounds like a “crappy excuse.” It does. Your shame is not enough. You, and everyone who helped Weinstein cover his smarmy tracks, should be ashamed.

Still, there are a bright few who have come forward in support of survivors with suggestions of actionable change and more than just words. “Broad City” showrunner Ilana Glazer “fired a couple of dudes” for harassment on her set and acknowledged that those with power in the industry have the chance to do something about harassment that others do not.

#metoo – big queenly thanks to @tracelysette & @violadavis posting this so i felt brave enough to!

A post shared by ilana glazer (@ilanusglazer) on

Filmmaker Kevin Smith is donating the residuals from the films he made with Weinstein to Women in Film, a non-profit dedicated to providing resources and training programs to aspiring women filmmakers.

USC’s School of Cinematic Arts rejected a $5 million pledge from Weinstein — funding ostensibly to support women filmmakers. To accept funding from a perpetrator of sexual violence is wrong (particularly if he’s doing so to salvage his reputation under the guise of his clearly farcical feminism), but now the university must compensate for that choice by supporting its women filmmakers with funding from elsewhere.

Actor Channing Tatum dropped an upcoming film he was set to direct because of the film’s ties with the Weinstein Company.

Survivors have stepped forward to share their own stories— including Oscar-winners Lupita Nyong’o, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Lawrence — not all of which involved Weinstein.

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The actions of these Hollywood figures show that the industry has no excuse to continue facilitating the work of men like Weinstein or Allen.

It is not just Weinstein; it is a culturally pervasive phenomenon that has gained traction in response to the high concentration of power and money within the entertainment industry. It has never just been Weinstein. And what’s more, defending sexual predators — as over 100 filmmakers did in a 2009 petition to bring Polanski back from Switzerland — is also inadmissible. These people have no place working in Hollywood, period.

The Oscars, meanwhile, are Weinstein. He essentially invented the concept of an Oscar campaign; the Weinstein Company’s six highest-grossing films were all major Oscar contenders in their respective year of release. The Academy, too, should take a stand against men like Weinstein and deny his company any future nominations.

Why should survivors have to relive the trauma of harassment when, in so many cases, they are not the only witnesses to it?

The media are also not exempt from accountability. Reporters from Variety, one of the most powerful outlets in Hollywood, have recently exposed the publication’s history of protecting Weinstein. Employees both current and former have stated that Peter Bart, Variety’s former editor-in-chief, would pull reporters’ stories if they spoke ill of the vulgar Hollywood mogul.

At the time, employees revealed, Bart and Weinstein shared not just a professional relationship, but a personal one. They were mutually entangled in each other’s professional ascensions.

“You’d never find a critical piece about Harvey or about his company, which at the time was Miramax,” said one former Variety employee. “You just wouldn’t.”

Variety’s history and the numerous defenses — both of Weinstein and lack of action against him — show Weinstein’s omnipresence in the industry. By creating personal and professional ties within the industry, the “gluttonous ogre” was able to charm his way into the careers of already-established media elite and thus insidiously attempt to exempt himself from accountability.

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Miramax/Courtesy

This is how those who knew of Weinstein’s actions are responsible for his abuse as well. Journalists, as participants in the media industry, cannot be afraid to call out sexual violence.

But most people aren’t in Hollywood, nor are they journalists. This takes us back to the question: How should the public engage with Weinstein’s films?

It can choose not to engage at all. While many Weinstein Company films have been pulled in the wake of the allegations, there are a few that remain on the docket, and filmgoers can choose to spend their money elsewhere. They can avoid “The Current War,” “The Upside” and “Mary Magdalene,” among others.

This solution doesn’t accomplish enough, though it can be supportive. What is more important is that we all refuse to remain quiet, and that survivors’ voices are foregrounded.

That being said, while movements such as the #MeToo campaign across social media can provide visibility as to the pervasiveness of sexual violence and be potentially liberating for some, they must acknowledge that not everyone can safely share their experiences so publicly.

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Dimension Films/Courtesy

Survivors are in no way obligated to share their stories. Campaigns such as this may trigger feelings of guilt if survivors don’t feel comfortable participating. One might feel as if they are perpetuating stigma, when in fact this is not so.

Weinstein’s case has made clear that sexual harassment persists precisely because bystanders don’t intervene. Why should survivors have to relive the trauma of harassment when, in so many cases, they are not the only witnesses to it?

If you consider yourself to be an ally, do not participate in this silence. If you feel you cannot speak, you can listen. You can always support survivors.

Our work is not done just because we’ve read a few articles. Your work is not done just because you’ve read this one.

By now, almost everyone knows what Weinstein is. Now, not only his actions but the plethora of responses to them have been made known — and so has their inadequacy.

But this knowledge, and the potential actions that can come of it, are not complete upon reading about them. To know and not to do is to not really know.

Our work is not done just because we’ve read a few articles. Your work is not done just because you’ve read this one.

More than justice, more than words, we need change.

Shannon O’Hara is the arts & entertainment editor. Sophie-Marie Prime is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Current and former arts & entertainment writers Samantha Banchik, Kyle Kizu and Katie O’Connor, as well as current film beat Anagha Komaragiri, contributed research. Contact the Arts & Entertainment Department at [email protected].

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