We mostly stayed quiet. Almost all of us. We feared retaliation. Being called a whistleblower. Being labeled a troublemaker. We kept our mouths shut. We watched as our co-workers treated those workplace sexual harassment seminars like a joke. (Several supervisors we know have had their assistants take their online harassment quizzes for them.) Only a brave few ever went to human resources to file an official report. They were often out of work for years. Or never worked again. So the rest stayed quiet. And we rose up the ranks.
This silence, the silence of both men and women in this business, created a Harvey Weinstein who, according to reports, felt entitled to touch and grope and assault the woman in his path. Allegedly to masturbate in front of whatever woman he deemed worthy of the degradation. Even when they repeatedly and clearly said “no.”
We all knew. We heard the rumors. That stuff we discussed over martinis. We talked about how Harvey was slime. But we didn’t know the specifics. Now it appears we have the facts: It was systematic and pathological.
Speaking out loud is what brought us those facts. It’s thrilling (and, obviously, incredibly distressing) that finally we’re talking about it. But for how long?
Here’s our fear: that The Great Harvey Weinstein Implosion of 2017 could become the Great Harvey Weinstein Rebirth of 2018. Or 2020. Or 2025. Or however long it takes for us to forget his deeds. We’ve seen this before — moments when we call out celebrity wrongdoers, then get complacent and continue to support their work. Mel Gibson was a pariah after his drunk, racist, misogynistic rants. He was banned by famous reps such as WME Agency’s Ari Emanuel. But time passed, and Gibson is talented. And there isn’t a single agency out there today that wouldn’t put its clients in the new films by one of last year’s Oscar nominees.
We believe Weinstein still doesn’t understand the gravity of what he has done. “We all make mistakes,” he said in a video Thursday, and a representative added that “Mr. Weinstein is hoping that, if he makes enough progress, he will be given a second chance.”
He may well get it. Weinstein is a very rich man whose job was about harnessing his network. Even if his peers are a little more skittish about working with him for now, Weinstein has talent and connections. A lot of people have made money off his work, and there’s a good chance they’d take the risk again to have his magic touch. Other producers, directors and talent embroiled in scandal have gone on to create lucrative art. Just look at the performance of Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge,” which netted $175 million in ticket sales. Or the career of Roman Polanski, who, after raping a 13-year-old girl, made many more movies and won an Oscar for “The Pianist.”
Weinstein may be toxic to Big Talent for a while, maybe even forever. But he will find some writers and directors desperate to make films. Actors craving work. Financiers eager for someone with a track record to invest in. “No, I don’t want your money to make a Hollywood movie” is something very few people have said, ever.
Most moviegoers aren’t aware of what goes on behind the closed doors of a Hollywood office (or a Peninsula Hotel room). If the movie looks good, they go. There are small handfuls of boycotters, but more often than not, their financial impact is negligible. And then there’s the approximately 20 percent of this country’s population that voted for President Trump, a man caught on tape confessing with glee to many of the same sins that Weinstein allegedly committed. Those customers will not care what Harvey did. Those people will still see his movies.
And yet, in some way, it feels like Trump’s election helped bring about Weinstein’s demise. A city of liberal men and women saw a person publicly, unapologetically behaving like the producer we all whispered about. Trump ended up in the White House. And we said, Not in our house.
Hollywood contains multitudes: Yes, we work alongside power-hungry sociopaths who prey on the vulnerabilities of dreamers. And we also work alongside lovable weirdos and artists — a diverse, crazy, passionate community of people who want to entertain and emote and make this planet a more open and accepting and better place for everyone.
The latter are emboldened. An entertainment industry attorney recently told us that almost half her phone calls in the past few months were about harassment, perpetrated by people who are not Weinstein. In the months since Inauguration Day, talent agencies, news agencies and several production companies have fired employees accused of Weinstein-esque deeds. The lawyer told us that the current political climate is making it more likely that people will speak out.
It suddenly feels as if our peers and co-workers in Hollywood are awake. We know that we all enabled Weinstein. His clones across town are scared right now. Because they know what they’ve done.
The shock wave of Weinstein’s implosion must reverberate. What happened to his victims happens all over the globe. In every industry. In restaurants, factories, universities, corporations. If the world can finally see this as a universal experience for women (and some men, too), not just in Hollywood, things can change. We can change them.
It starts with speaking out. But it extends to how we portray women and other marginalized people. Whom we hire. The culture we make.