Here’s how the next few weeks are going to go. Harvey Weinstein is going to offer both apologies and excuses, one on top of the other. Multiple Hollywood celebrities, commentators, and insiders are going to condemn him and his actions. Legal procedures will get carried out. Victims will offer testimonies, details, and depressingly vivid accounts of the experiences they went through. All through it all, people are going to say quote “This must never be allowed to happen again.” And then Hollywood will allow it to happen again, and then again, and then again, again and again.
This is not a pessimistic viewpoint. This is a fact. We live in a society where rape culture is in a constant flux of victim-blaming and lies, and through it all we lose focus and consistently fail to advocate for the victim. Weinstein’s history of sexual harassment extends well beyond three decades. His accusers consist of more than 32 women, including actresses Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie, Gweneth Paltrow, Cara Delevigne, and Rose McGowan. How many people knew about this? How many complaints were filed to the Weinstein Company? How many times did they overlook those claims? His reputation was such an open-secret in the industry that “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane even joked about it at the 2013 Academy Awards nominations announcement, saying to the best supporting actress nominees “You five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.” The room was met with a mix of awkward laughs and uncomfortable silence.
Yet, the most bothersome thing about this is not Weinstein’s egregious behavior. It’s not how far back the allegations extend. It isn’t even the Weinstein Company’s reaction to throw everything under the rug. It’s how much of a recurring trend it is in Hollywood to not only excuse criminal behavior, but to also silence and deflect the accuser’s voices away from the conversation.
Observe, for instance, the following names: Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, and Casey Affleck. They all share three things in common with Weinstein. They’re all prominent Hollywood figures. They’re all Academy Award-winners. And they all have a history of sexual harassment.
Look at Allen, for instance. Winning four Oscars for Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Midnight in Paris, Allen is highly regarded by many Hollywood award ceremonies, yet his controversies follow him just as closely as his award statuettes. For one thing, during his relationship with actress Mia Farrow in 1992, Farrow discovered that Allen was having an affair with her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, who at the latest would have been 19 years old at the time they started dating. The fact that Farrow’s teenage daughter started a relationship with her 53-year old boyfriend is disturbing all on its own, but only a few months later her seven year old daughter Dylan said she was molested by Allen while Farrow was out of the house. The case has been reviewed back and forth, with Dylan’s own siblings both defending and criticizing Dylan’s testimony. If it means anything, however, Allen’s biological son Ronan sympathizes with Dylan. The case was closed and Allen was released of all charges, going back into the moviemaking world to win more accolades.
Roman Polanski. Directed the movies Rosemary’s Baby, Macbeth, and Chinatown. Won an Oscar for directing The Pianist. Raped a 13-year old girl in 1977. Entered a plea bargain with the judge to serve his time under probation. Fled to France when he learned the judge was going to ignore the bargain and sentence him to 50 years in prison. You can think whatever you want about the events themselves. It doesn’t change the fact that when he won his best director Oscar in 2002, he was met with thunderous applause from everyone in the auditorium. He continues to work with many notable celebrity figures well into this day.
Casey Affleck. Won a Oscar last year for his performance in Manchester by the Sea. Was sued by producer Amanda White and cinematographer Magdalena Gorka for sexual harassment while he directed the 2010 mockumentary I’m Still Here. That controversy was so under-the-radar that it didn’t even hit mainstream conversation until Affleck’s win on Oscar night. I didn’t even find out about it until after I reported on it the day after.
As a film critic, I often find myself in a difficult position where my job is to critique the art and not the artist. Earlier this year, I received criticism for giving the superhero film Wonder Woman four stars out of four, mostly because of Gal Gadot’s position on the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The issue is that I wasn’t reviewing Gadot’s social views: I was reviewing her performance in a movie. And the fact of the matter is that she was outstanding in the picture, regardless of whatever real-life causes she advocated for.
The same thing goes for Weinstein. Here is a Hollywood media mogul responsible for the takeoff of so many successful careers and filmmakers. Quentin Taratino and Pulp Fiction. Lasse Halstromm and The Cider House Rules. Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings. Multiple accolades have been garnered from his productions. Six of them won the Academy Award for best picture. He has without a doubt had a huge impact on Hollywood culture and storytelling, and will continue to influence it years beyond this controversy as well as his own lifespan.
But here’s the thing: his successes does not excuse him from his cruelties. Yes, he has produced multiple masterpieces throughout his career. So what? He still sexually harassed, abused, and assaulted more than 30 women for three decades. Where is the accountability? Where are his consequences? He’s been exercising this reckless sexual ego since 1984. Why is it that 33 years later he’s suddenly facing the music for what he’s done? As viewers, we are required to suspend our personal cultural opinions in order to observe the film and review it on its own merits. But as human beings, how can we be responsible for no less than holding each other accountable for our actions?
I am reminded of a quote by the iconic Marilyn Monroe, who’s life creepily enough was adapted into the Weinstein production My Week With Marilyn. In her book My Story, she writes “In Hollywood, a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hair-do. You’re judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul. I know because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.” I read this somberly, imagining her 40 years after her death still singing “Happy Birthday” to the man in the chair. Only this time, it isn’t president John F. Kennedy sitting in it. It’s Harvey Weinstein, and Hollywood’s executives are all sitting right behind him.
– David Dunn