Weinstein: fear and loathing in Los Angeles

Photo by Casey Gomez

That Harvey Weinstein was able to harass and assault women unimpeded  since the nineties reveals something is deeply wrong with Hollywood culture — and what is especially infuriating is that this is a story that should have broken over a decade ago.

Weinstein, a co-founder with his brother Bob of both Miramax and the Weinstein Company, was always known by his peers to be somewhat of a bully, unafraid to unleash legal, economic or emotional pains upon those who crossed him.

The overarching story outlined by news reports suggests a combination of fear and power dynamics with a culture of tolerance and secrets.

While the many victims of Weinstein’s harassment and assaults cannot be blamed for choosing to remain silent in the moment, those around Weinstein with the power to do so — his fellow executives at Miramax, or later at the Weinstein Company, or others within the know-all circles in Hollywood — should have spoken out earlier.

According to a New Yorker story, sixteen “former and
current executives and assistants at Weinstein’s companies … witnessed or had knowledge of unwanted sexual advances and touching.”

Those sixteen people said that Weinstein’s behavior was well-known within Miramax and the Weinstein Company — and yet no one spoke out due to fear.

Within Hollywood circles, Weinstein’s sexual misconducts was at least a well-established rumor.

During the 2013 Oscar Nominations, host Seth MacFarlane openly joked about Weinstein when announcing the nominees of the best supporting actress, saying “Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend you’re attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”

MacFarlane’s comment was based on actress Jessica Barth’s personal encounter with Weinstein and his unwanted advances, a story which she had confided to MacFarlane back in 2011.

But MacFarlane’s Oscar joke holds a sad kernel of truth: that in order to become prominent in the movie industry, women feel they need to stay quiet when they are harassed, and bystanders decide to not speak up when they see abuses happening around them.

It is unavoidable to recognize that several people, whether in ignorance or in tolerance of Weinstein’s sexual misconducts, had their careers made by Weinstein, and ties run deep out of history and loyalty, as well.

“He financed the first 14 years of my career — and now I know while I was profiting, others
were in terrible pain. It makes me feel ashamed,” tweeted director and actor Kevin Smith, speaking of Weinstein.

The clout that Weinstein had with the media prevented the story from getting out for over a decade. Sharon Waxman, a former New York Times reporter, claimed on Sunday that she had had the scoop on Weinstein’s misbehavior back in 2004, but her editors decided not to run the story.

It would then take 13 years, and countless more harassment incidents, before the New York Times would finally break the news.

Ronan Farrow, an NBC News contributor, had been working on the Weinstein story for months, but NBC executives repeatedly told Farrow not to report on it.

The New York Times broke the Weinstein case open on Oct. 5.

Knowing that the movie and media industries enabled Weinstein’s behavior is troublesome for me, as a film viewer and lover.

I am a big fan of Quentin Tarantino, who is probably my favorite director. Ever since watching Reservoir Dogs a few years ago and delving into his oeuvre, I have admired his bold cinematic style that is a perfect mixture of sharp dialogue, colorful aesthetics and non-linear chronology.

But every single Tarantino film has been distributed by companies that Harvey
Weinstein or his brother Bob controlled — meaning that in my casual enjoyment of
Tarantino films I unknowingly helped to support the regime of a sexual predator.

That is the definition of a double standard in Hollywood: While men are allowed to calmly advance their careers, living in blissful ignorance of the abuses of those around them, women do not have that luxury — because people like Weinstein choose to abuse their power to harass them.

Sitting in my dorm here in Atlanta, writing a story about people who divy up their days
between New York City and Los Angeles, I honestly do not know how deep the culture problem in Hollywood runs, but I know this scandal will not be the last of its ilk.

As with any scandal, the vast majority in Hollywood were quick to denounce Weinstein for his actions, leaving those who knew about and tolerated Weinstein quite indistinguishable from those who were ignorant.

Personally, I find it difficult to believe that some of Weinstein’s longtime collaborators, such as Tarantino, remained ignorant about Weinstein’s misconduct.

In any case, the long, delayed emergence of Weinstein’s misconduct shows that in our society, those in the know are too apt to let rumors stay rumors and not help bring the truth come to light.