Round-up: the Weinstein scandal

Raphael Duhamel reports on the ongoing story.

On October 5th, the New York Times published an investigation about Harvey Weinstein and let the world discover the odious acts of a perverted, powerful man. Since then, the ex-Hollywood mogul has been fired by the board of his own enterprise, The Weinstein Company, and a great number of women (thirty-three for now, though the number keeps growing), some of them famous, have shared their own dreadful experiences with the producer. What started as harassment complaints quickly escalated to sexual assaults. The New Yorker reported that three actresses were raped, including Asia Argento, daughter of Italian director Dario, who was only twenty-one at the time. Their accounts all converge on one point: they stayed in touch with Weinstein, afraid of his considerable influence and extensive reach in Hollywood.

Stories like these have a far too familiar ring to them. The Weinstein case echoes not only Casey Affleck’s recent sexual harassment claims but innumerable older ones which have surfaced in the last few years. Among these are the question of whether Maria Schneider consented to the activities on-set while shooting the infamous butter scene in Last Tango in Paris, and assault allegations against Bill Cosby spanning a period of forty-three years. Although not all scandals are comparable, there is a general feeling of injustice among women in the movie industry, as most perpetrators proceed in their professional life without much difficulty. This applies particularly to Harvey Weinstein, who appears to have been assaulting women since at least 1990 and has gotten away with it – helped by lawyers who negotiated settlements with the victims, dealing sums that went up to millions of dollars. The opening of a NYPD investigation now gives hope to the countless victims.

The producer’s predatory behavior was well-known in his workplace, but all employees were required to sign a non-disclosure agreement in their contract. Indeed, as the company’s “business reputation” was to be protected, dozens of cases were covered up. The New Yorker’s article reveals that Weinstein was almost prosecuted in 2015 for sexually assaulting an Italian model and admitting it in an audio tape. The charges were dropped following the intervention of the producer’s legal team. This accumulation of facts and hard proof is enough to question the complicity of many: it is hardly conceivable that these revelations were news for anyone in Hollywood, especially in his close circle of friends, which includes the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Ben Affleck. The latter expressed his anger and disgust when reading the stories about Weinstein; but his apparent dishonesty was noted on Twitter by Hilarie Burton, who complained about the Argo director groping her during a live MTV show in the past. He briefly answered by apologizing on the social network, but Affleck’s attitude seems representative of the typical Hollywood self-righteousness. Hypocritical behavior also prevails outside of the film industry, as audiences appear to have double standards on the subject of celebrities: how is it that Nate Parker, the director of The Birth of a Nation, got boycotted by critics and audiences because of a rape charge, for which he was acquitted in 1999, whereas Roman Polanski, who now faces a 4th sexual assault allegation, remains one of today’s most acclaimed directors? The same goes for Woody Allen, whose implications in assault cases are still widely overlooked by international audiences. [article continues below]

Worldwide reactions to the Weinstein scandal have been almost unanimous so far, but the question of safety in the movie industry now needs to be tackled effectively, in order to create a supportive environment for women. Most importantly, security in film festivals needs to be scrutinized, since at least four of the sexual assault charges against the producer took place in hotel rooms in Toronto, Cannes, or Sundance. These locations acted as sanctuaries for Weinstein, who took advantage of his status of “independent film god” to molest his victims. Some organizations, such as Women in Film, have put forward some proposals to help actively fight harassment. The two main points involve increasing the number of women in decision-making positions, and refusing to allow compromise and settlement in legal actions against abusers.

According to recent reports, Weinstein is now headed to a rehabilitation center in Europe. The BAFTA has censured him, as well as The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which has announced a special meeting to discuss the allegations directed at the Oscar-winning producer. AMPAS is known for giving the Best Director Oscar to Roman Polanski in 2003, for The Pianist, in spite of his abusive behavior and exile to Europe; but, as of today, a merciful decision from the Academy appears improbable. Weinstein has issued a statement explaining how devastated he is but, strikingly, instead of asking for forgiveness or expressing any remorse, he seems focused on being granted a second chance. His attitude only goes to show how despicable, pathetic, and most importantly oblivious this man is, as well as reinforcing the absolute necessity that he faces an uncompromising and symbolic trial.

UPDATE (October 19)

The Weinstein scandal has taken on another dimension in the past few days. In addition to the twenty new victims who have spoken out, he has now been effectively expelled from the AMPAS, as well as the Producers Guild of America. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has also announced that Weinstein’s Legion of Honor will be revoked in the near future.
Most importantly, the affair has evolved into a global fight against harassment and abuse. It first reached Twitter, where #WomenBoycottTwitter emerged after Rose McGowan’s suspension from the social network. The actress, who accuses Weinstein of rape, protested against Twitter’s suspicious terms of service: she was suspended for putting a private phone number in one of her tweets, while armies of violent misogynists and racists spread death threats on the website, free of harm. The first hashtag was closely followed by #MeToo, which started trending on October 15, encouraging anyone who has ever been sexually harassed or abused to speak out. It has been mentioned more than five hundred thousand times on Twitter, and twelve million times on Facebook. [article continues below]
One of the most notable participants in the #MeToo campaign is the Icelandic singer Björk, who asserts she was abused by a certain “Danish director”. She is clearly pointing at Lars Von Trier, who she worked with during Dancer in the Dark. The filming of the 2000 Palme d’Or has previously been described as a hectic and troubling period for both the actress and filmmaker, but this new accusation has much darker implications. It puts into question the broader subject of a director’s right to abuse his actors and actresses for the sake of film.
Others have voiced their concern about the campaigns. Woody Allen, himself the subject of longstanding sexual abuse claims, has warned about the danger of a “witch hunt”. This situation exemplifies perfectly the benefits and dangers of social media. Indeed, while there is no reason to believe any woman would be lying, most of the claims are unsubstantiated. The movement’s purpose is not necessarily to press charges, and take legal actions against harassers and abusers, but such an environment of chaotic denunciation might have undesirable consequences. This lack of control could jeopardize the campaign’s good intentions, making it potentially counterproductive. It is however likely the advantages of actions such as #MeToo outweigh their downsides, and their rapid spreading only shows how much this scandal has affected everyone.

This is a developing story and will be updated accordingly.

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