Mere days after the New York Times broke a bombshell story that Harvey Weinstein had for decades sexually harassed actresses, assistants and other employees, he was fired from the movie studio he started with his brother.
This seems like a swift and sweet comeuppance, especially after his bizarre and halfhearted apology that began with the flawed logic that he “came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.”
It’s possible to imagine a scenario in which these allegations came to light — even in one of the country’s preeminent newspapers — yet Weinstein remained employed. That happens all the time. But this case was different, mainly because of one very important source: Ashley Judd, who recounted to the Times that, in her early days, Weinstein tried to persuade her to give him a massage or watch him shower. She had attended what she thought was a business meeting only to find a powerful man, who could make or break her career, in a hotel room wearing nothing but a bathrobe.
According to the Times story, all she could think was, “How do I get out of the room as fast as possible without alienating Harvey Weinstein?”
The fact that Judd came forward is hugely important. In recent years Hollywood actors have started opening up about the horrors of the “casting couch” and the harassment and abuse they’ve endured. But few have named names, even if they’ve attained A-list status. The risks — even at the top — just seem too high.
The stories have ranged from degrading to truly horrifying: Thandie Newton recounting how, when she was a teen, a director filmed up her skirt during an audition, then shared the footage with his friends; Megan Fox recalling her excitement to meet Hollywood legends, only to have them proposition her; Zoe Kazan talking about the producer who asked her gross, pointed questions about her sex life, then laughed it off as a joke. Corey Feldman has also talked about the abuse he endured as a child and the fact that his friend and co-star, the late Corey Haim, was raped at 11 years old.
And yet, in each of these stories, and so many more, the guilty parties have been protected by anonymity.
In a recent Twitter thread, television writer Carina MacKenzie (“The Originals,” “The Flash”) shed some light on why harassers go unnamed. She talked about her own experiences being hit on by an influential Hollywood agent, whom she rebuffed; he then lied and told others she had succumbed to his advances. The experience made her feel “vulnerable, unsafe, and undermined in front of industry colleagues,” she wrote. And yet she’s still not outing the man because of the very real ramifications it might have on her career.
Weinstein “set a tone in this industry and there are a thousand men who have been taught it’s okay to follow in his footsteps,” she wrote.
Women make up a small percentage of the writers, directors and producers in Hollywood, and there are fewer female roles in movies, which only helps reinforce a noxious environment in which women feel they can’t speak out against abuse and have to do whatever it takes to get a job.
“I’m sure things go on, as they do in every workplace, but the biggest problem for actresses is the shortage of roles for them,” casting director Debbie McWilliams told the Guardian last year. “A whole year can go past and I haven’t cast a single woman.”
Even in the wake of Weinstein’s firing, most high-profile Hollywood stars and decision-makers have remained mum. Late-night hosts, with the exception of John Oliver, didn’t touch the scandal; nor did “Saturday Night Live.”
There have been exceptions. Lena Dunham, Seth Rogen, Mark Ruffalo and Judd Apatow — also a vocal Bill Cosby critic — among some others, publicly rebuked Weinstein on Twitter:
Most notably, Meryl Streep released a statement condemning Weinstein. She called the women who came forward about the abuses “heroes” and called his behavior inexcusable, albeit a “familiar” abuse of power.
“Not everybody knew,” her statement to HuffPost read. “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 offenses: I did not know about his financial settlements with actresses and colleagues; I did not know about his having meetings in his hotel room, his bathroom, or other inappropriate, coercive acts.”
The New York Times story revealed another actress who was Weinstein’s victim. According to the article, “Scream” star Rose McGowan was one of at least eight women whom Weinstein settled with after abuse claims. McGowan has been vocal on Twitter following the news dump, especially calling out those who continue to remain silent rather than condemn Weinstein.
She also wondered how quickly the paradigm might change if bigger stars were more forthcoming about the toxic culture in Hollywood.
Obviously, coming forward is not easy. Women who make public claims about sexual abuse face shaming and disbelief, not to mention professional blackballing. And for what? In a lot of cases, the men accused receive no punishment. Roman Polanski continues to direct movies; Arnold Schwarzenegger still gets acting gigs; our own president has admitted to groping women without consent.
It’s possible Weinstein was only brought down now because his power in Hollywood is waning. After all, entertainment journalists have been trying for a long time to tell the exact story the New York Times broke. As Rebecca Traister wrote, in her shocking piece for the Cut about Weinstein’s verbal and physical violence, when she saw Weinstein recently, she was struck “by his physical diminishment; he seemed small and frail, and, when I caught sight of him in May, he appeared to be walking with a cane. He has also lost power in the movie industry, is no longer the titan of independent film, the indie mogul who could make or break an actor’s Oscar chances.”
Regardless, Weinstein’s firing could represent a very real change, thanks to a group of women who went on the record with all the details. Retribution isn’t a sure thing when people name names, but one thing is certain: Justice never comes when people don’t.