Over the last two weeks, since The New Yorker published a damning article exposing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein as a sexual deviant (which puts it mildly), the fairly swift response from the entertainment community has been nothing short of overwhelming. Even surprising. Though certainly deserved. But if this is really endemic of a larger issue, as many claim (including the great Jane Fonda), then will the revelations of Weinstein’s indiscretions lead to any actual change in the film industry?
The revelation of sexual deviance by men in the entertainment industry is nothing new. Elvis marries a girl he met when she was 14 year old. Woody Allen marries his daughter. Tiger Woods cheats on his wife… a lot. But these are personal matters made public, not emblematic of a larger problem, and only made our business because they’re in entertainment; because their famous. Then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Bill Cosby slips women a mickey. Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris are charged as paedophiles. They are seen as criminals; exceptions to the rule.
With Weinstein, however, we see something we haven’t quite seen blow up before: the Hollywood Executive stereotype. The sort of character who jokes have been made about for decades in shows like Mad Men, Entourage or Episodes, and countless movies. The other character at the end of the “how many dicks did you have to suck to get where you are?” line. Weinstein is the emphatic reality that this person exists, he ejaculates into pot plants and, no, it’s not just a joke.
It’s a stereotype for a reason; everyone acknowledges this sort of behaviour is rampant. But no one did anything about it – not to this level. Which plenty are now saying they regret (including Fonda). There may have been the odd firing by the more sound employers, but on the whole, comments were brushed off, accusations met with payouts, lawsuits or disgusting tactics to discredit and undermine the accuser. This massive industry exists with some sort of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about the inner goings on of Hollywood’s elite.
An example has been made of Weinstein, this much is for sure. The evidence was too damning for the industry to sit idly by. For once. It’s international news, after all, even if he may not be a household name, simply due to the barrage of household names who are speaking up about it. And it’s not the first time many have spoken up about it – this is just the first time the wider audience is truly listening and engaging. But is this enough to truly change things? if Hollywood would turn a blind eye for decades, why would Weinstein suddenly make any difference?
One thing is for sure, however – right now that there are dozens (at least) of industry figures who are panicking right now. You hope they would be. If Weinstein could get “caught”, so could they. This is a good thing. At the very least, no one should feel like they can get away with this level of sexual predatory behaviour anymore. But are we going to hear about dozens more cases like this in the coming months? Chances are we won’t. Amongst the panicking, files will be erased, lawyers will be utilised and companies will rally around anyone in their company that will might fall like Weinstein. All the while they’ll applaud Weinstein’s firing as a “sign that things have changed”. Anytime any discussion happens, they can point to Weinstein and say, “look, we did do something about it!” It’s moral licensing at its finest. The idea that by claiming to be a part of the solution “that one time”, they can continue being the problem the rest of the time.
Look at most industries and you’ll find examples of this. On Wall Street, a few “bad eggs” were put behind bars or fined after the financial crisis in 2008, but ultimately the industry is still up to their old tricks, and nothing has changed. And you can bet that once those behind bars are released (if they haven’t been already), they’ll find a way to get back up to their old tricks. And you can bet that Weinstein will find his way back in too.
But this isn’t about Hollywood ultimately. As the #MeToo campaign has shown – and as we all knew deep down – this behaviour is rampant everywhere. And the problem isn’t just those who use their position to gain sexual favours; it’s the person who turns a blind eye. The person who covers up for the person up top. The person who hears something and thinks “oh, this is normal” and doesn’t even think anything of it; or even worse, the person who straight out refuses to believe allegations because of such behaviour because “it’s their word over the accusers”. After all, as many are quick to point out, the behaviour of Weinstein was one of Hollywood’s “worst kept secrets”.
And you can bet there are hundreds more. And though I hope I’m wrong, I don’t think we’ll hear any names of anyone else, anytime soon. Just look at the headlines at the moment. Actresses are saying they were raped, or indecently assaulted – but the crime is nameless. We only know the victim. The fact they’re talking about it at all is a huge step forward – I just don’t want to see another Wall Street here and have it all for naught.
Personally, I hope that the accusations of rape against Weinstein end up being null, not because I don’t believe the accusers, but simply because this puts Weinstein firmly in the box of a criminal, and Hollywood can wash their hands of it and of him. As they did with Cosby and anyone else. Once he’s a criminal, he’s the exception. But the problem is in that grey area – the “well you didn’t say no, so…” – the behaviour that countless Hollywood hopefuls have endured, as well as in other industries by men in positions of power. This is not a Hollywood issue. This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue of men abusing their positions of power, and almost always getting away with it.
While the reality is that people like Weinstein will continue to get away with it, for now, the positive is that the tone of the conversation has shifted. Never before has there been fervent discussion on the realities of “making it in Hollywood”, outside of a joke at the Oscars or in a popular TV series. The public has put Hollywood on notice, and that tells the next generation of executives and producers that this sort of behaviour isn’t acceptable, and will not be tolerated. Hopefully that’s not instilling too much faith on behalf of an industry I’m clearly pessimistic about. But I don’t think it is. When the Oscars was deemed “too white”, they made sweeping changes. And it worked. And there’s no reason why real change can’t be made here too.
Here, I’ll do my part. If you’re working in Hollywood, please make sure you adhere to four simple rules:
- How about you just don’t sexually assault the people you work with in the first place?
- Unless you’re in the business of making pornography, no sexual misconduct must ever be encouraged in the workplace.
- If someone accuses someone else of sexual misconduct, listen, take them seriously and take action. Don’t cover anything up.
- And, for the love of God, please don’t ejaculate into the pot plants.
The header image includes the headline imagery from The New Yorker expose.