NEW YORK, N.Y. – If in a movie, Harvey Weinstein would probably cut the scenes of sexual harassment that have been described against him. They’re too cliché.
The hotel room seductions, the massage requests, the coercive suggestions. They are, as the Los Angeles Times editorial board called them, “classics of the genre.” The encounters depict a Hollywood culture immediately recognizable, one where power-broker sleaziness is an accepted and acknowledged part of the business.
Hollywood now finds itself in a crisis not just because one of its most prominent moguls has been disgraced and fired from the company he co-founded, but because the allegations against him describe a dark underbelly of the movie business rarely scrutinized outside the industry. It’s a moment of reckoning for a Hollywood that has faced increasing scrutiny over its treatment of women, from pay equality to fair employment opportunity behind the camera.
Weinstein’s ouster may have been a long time coming, with allegations going back to 1990. (Weinstein is yet to respond to directly though on Thursday he apologized for the pain he’s caused.) But by apparently bringing down such a pivotal figure — the kind that has long been considered untouchable because of industry and legal might — many see a watershed moment for the industry.
“There is a tectonic shift going on with people having the courage to say, ‘No more,'” said Melissa Silverstein, the founder and publisher of Women and Hollywood, an influential blog that advocates for gender equality in Hollywood. “The climate about the conversation in gender in Hollywood has clearly shifted in recent years.”
“There’s no going back anymore,” added Silverstein.
The movie business has found it increasingly difficult to shy away from questions about how it treats women. Studies have shown year after year how few female directors are hired for major productions. Just four per cent of the top movies at the box office in 2016 were directed by women, according to the University of California’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. The disparity prompted a federal investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
A pay gap, too, has been brought to the forefront by vocal stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone. The best-paid stars, the majority of the executive jobs and most of the filmmakers remain overwhelmingly male in Hollywood.
Such a male-dominated culture could have contributed to the conditions that allowed the alleged incidents involving Weinstein to occur, and to remain quiet.
“It’s been an open secret,” said Greta Gerwig, who makes her directorial debut in the upcoming “Lady Bird.” ”It just makes me really sad and it makes me really depressed but not surprised. What can you say? I really admire Ashley Judd. It’s scary to do.”
On Thursday, The New York Times reported that Weinstein reached settlements with at least eight women over sexual harassment allegations. Judd also described an incident two decades ago in which she said Weinstein invited her to his hotel room, greeted her wearing a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or if she would watch him shower.
In the aftermath of the expose, many have voiced their support for Judd and other alleged victims. On Monday, some of the actresses who have frequently starred in and won awards in Weinstein’s movies spoke up, including Meryl Streep and Judi Dench.
“One thing can be clarified. Not everybody knew,” said Streep, who called Weinstein’s behaviour “inexcusable.” ”Harvey supported the work fiercely, was exasperating but respectful with me in our working relationship, and with many others with whom he worked professionally. I didn’t know about these other offences.”
Patricia Arquette, Lena Dunham, Mark Ruffalo, Brie Larson, Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow, Julianne Moore and many others have voiced their support for the women involved. But among Weinstein’s associates, the majority of responders have been women. Others, including Lena Dunham in an op-ed piece for The New York Times, have implored a stronger reaction from male stars and industry leaders.
“The reason I am zeroing in on the men is that they have the least to lose and the most power to shift the narrative, and are probably not dealing with the same level of collective and personal trauma around these allegations,” Dunham wrote.
If this is to be a turning point for Hollywood, more must be done, Rose McGowan told The Hollywood Reporter. The Times reported that McGowan settled with Weinstein in 1997 after an incident in a hotel room during the Sundance Film Festival. Last year, McGowan said on Twitter that she was raped by a studio boss whom she declined to name.
“Men in Hollywood need to change ASAP,” McGowan said on Sunday. “Hollywood’s power is dying because society has changed and grown, and yet Hollywood male behaviour has not. It is so not a good look.”
It’s been an especially bad look lately for realms of the movie business both high and low. In August, allegations of sexual assault led to the exits of two high-ranking executives at Los Angeles’ independent film venue Cinefamily. Last month, the Alamo Drafthouse underwent a scandal of its own, severing ties with Fantastic Fest co-founder Harry Knowles and contributor Devin Faraci over sexual harassment allegations.
Amazon also launched not one but two investigations into Amazon Studios head Roy Price for saying unwanted sexual remarks to “The Man in the High Castle” producer Isa Hackett. Kim Masters, editor-at-large for The Hollywood Reporter, was among those who investigated the incident. Price, she noted, hired the same legal team as Weinstein.
“There’s been a kind of moment in the industry where more and more women are coming forward and therefore more and more men who may be aware that they haven’t behaved properly are obviously going to be anxious,” said Masters. “This stirs up the resentment of women who put up with this in the past and felt powerless to act. Maybe now they feel more emboldened.”