Late last 2017, Harvey Weinstein, arguably the most influential producer in Hollywood, was exposed for engaging in decades of sexual harassment against women, from employees, models, hopeful actresses, to well-known actors. Weinstein is known for his many Oscar-winning films, including “Pulp Fiction,” “Life is Beautiful,” “Good Will Hunting,” and “The King’s Speech,” and responsible for launching the careers of many famous actors and directors with his company, Miramax. When Weinstein’s indiscretions hit the headlines, he had already reportedly settled at least eight claims over the years, including with actress Rose McGowen in 1997, and Ambra Battilana, an Italian model and aspiring actress, in 2015 (after grabbing her breasts and reaching under her skirt, she called the police).
Weinstein released a statement following the explosive news, which read in part: “I came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when all of the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then…. I have since learned that is not an excuse… I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.” Since his statement, his list of accusers who have spoken publicly of varying degrees of sexual harassment and assault include more than 80 women, including actresses Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Lucia Evans, Annabella Sciorra, and Daryl Hannah. It has become apparent that Hollywood knew of Weinstein's indiscretions for many years and did nothing despite the tales of exposure in hotel rooms, explicit sexual requests in exchange for the promise of career opportunities, nudity, vulgarity, angry outbursts, and even violent behavior), except for the sporadic secret payoffs.
According to several recent articles published by Hollywood news outlets, Weinstein was mighty, a force of nature with influence well beyond imagination. You didn’t cross him without the risk of physical harm or retaliation. He could make or break you. The commentary that ensued was scathing–“Weinstein didn’t just exert physical power. He also employed legal and professional and economic power. He supposedly had every employee sign elaborate, binding non-disclosure agreements. He gave jobs to people who might otherwise work to bring him down, and gave gobs of money to other powerful people, who knows how much, but perhaps just enough to keep them from listening to ugly rumors that might circulate among young people, among less powerful people.” In another post, the author highlights that Weinstein’s behavior was an “open secret” and “had been going on unchecked.” She writes: “...in an industry as stratified and competitive as Hollywood, when the victimizer has almost godlike power over careers, the factors that dissuade women elsewhere from reporting sexual violence are only magnified…In circumstances like these, it’s the responsibility of the more powerful to fight on behalf of the weak. And the powerful dropped the ball.” Ashley Judd has filed a lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein for sexual harassment and defamatory statements that prevented her from receiving a role in the “Lord of the Rings” movies. Judd claims Weinstein invited her to his hotel room and asked for a massage and to watch him shower. When she refused, he made negative comments about her to the movie director for Lord of Rings and she lost the opportunity.
Weinstein is the perfect showcase of how power imbalance is key to sexual assault: a person in power imposing his will on another who cannot resist or defend herself for fear of retaliation concerning a job, opportunity, or reputation. The Weinstein Company, co-founded by Weinstein and his brother, Bob Weinstein, is rumored to have tolerated (and even facilitated) forced liaisons with women so has found itself under investigation and, for the moment, is cooperating. The board has since fired Weinstein and on March 19, 2018 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and released any Weinstein accusers from their nondisclosure agreements. Divisions of the N.Y.P.D., the L.A.P.D., and London’s Metropolitan Police have opened investigations, and women continue to come forward (more than 70 to date) with allegations of sexual harassment and assault. According to reports, Weinstein surrendered himself March 25, 2018, to police in Manhattan, charged with first-degree rape and third-degree rape in one case from 2013, and with first-degree criminal sex act in another case from 2004, and has since been indicted. He is expected to post $1million dollar bail, wear a monitoring device and surrender his passport. So it turned out, Weinstein, one of Hollywood’s most powerful supporters of women’s rights, is also a private champion of violating women, but in a ray of hope, Weinstein’s legal troubles (more severe with each passing day) may do more for the women’s movement than Weinstein ever did publicly.
Many more directors and actors have been exposed for their deviant behavior, in many cases, known and tolerated by others for decades just like Weinstein. Alleged violators include Hollywood director James Toback who’s accused of incidents “in a hotel room, a movie trailer, a public park and meetings framed as interviews or auditions…typically to dry-hump them or masturbate in front of them, ejaculating into his pants or onto their bodies and then walk away. Meeting over”. The accounts are disturbing and often the incidents, just like those involving Weinstein, were coerced as a requirement to being considered for an opportunity. As of late last year, the number of women who have come forward against Toback exceeds two hundred, including actress Julianne Moore. Another example, Warner Bros. TV Group suspended Andrew Kreisberg, Executive Producer on shows “Supergirl,” “The Flash,” and “Arrow”, amidst allegations that he engaged in a pattern of alleged sexual harassment and inappropriate physical contact over a period of years. Apparently, none of the people who came forward went to HR for fear of repercussions, and attempts by others who were aware of his behavior fell on deaf ears. Kreisberg vehemently denies the allegations.
It was disappointing to learn the sexual allegations about one of our favorite actors, Kevin Spacey, lead of the acclaimed Netflix show “House of Cards”. According to recent press releases, in 1986, when Spacey was 26, he allegedly assaulted 14-year-old Anthony Rapp, today known for his role in the Broadway musical “Rent." Spacey has since apologized on Twitter, blaming alcohol for his actions, and is now facing a series of other allegations, including from employees who have been working recently with him on “House of Cards”.
The consequences for Spacey have been devastating. Netflix has severed all ties with the actor and his role in the blockbuster movie “All the Money in the World” was recast, costing production approximately $3 million to hire Spacey’s replacement. In light of these events, The International Academy is not honoring Kevin Spacey with the 2017 International Emmy Founders Award. More men are coming forward, and Spacey is rumored to be receiving treatment for his behavior. Morgan Freeman, another one of our most favorite actors, has now been accused of inappropriate behavior on many of his movie sets for years, including sexual comments about body parts and clothes and inappropriate touching. His roles include “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Shawshank Redemption,” and “Million Dollar Baby.” Although Freeman has publicly apologized, advertisers who use his powerful voice, including Visa, are suspending commercials where the actor is featured. Freeman is crushed at the accusations and claims that his behavior was not with intent to harm. Louis CK, a well-known comedian (“Parks and Recreation” and “Louie"), was also accused of inappropriate behavior, dating back more than a decade according to five women, including masturbating in front of them even when confronted and told to stop. By late 2017, Louis’s New York premiere of his upcoming movie, “I Love You Daddy”, and his appearance on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” were both abruptly canceled, just prior to the news breaking about his sexual deviancy. Louis CK has since admitted to the alleged conduct and expressed remorse for taking advantage of his influence “irresponsibly.”
What about Bill Cosby? Now 80 years old, Bill Cosby was finally found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault in Norristown, Pennsylvania, for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home in 2004, a woman he was mentoring at the time at Temple University. The first trial in June of 2017 ended in a mistrial after jurors remained deadlocked after six days of deliberations. Constand brought a civil case against Cosby 13 years ago, but charges were not filed by prosecutors until 2015, just shy of the expiration of Pennsylvania’s 12-year statute of limitations. The guilty verdict exemplifies a victory for more than 50 women who have accused Cosby of similar sexual misconduct and is the first high profile conviction since the breaking of the #MeToo movement. Cosby has lost television deals, his reputation as “America’s Dad,” and honorary college degrees (estimated to be more than 60) from Fordham, Marquette, Brown and University of San Francisco to name a few, and is now facing possible jail time of up to ten years for each count.