The entertainment industry has spent the past week reeling over reports that Hollywood mega-producer Harvey Weinstein has allegedly sexually harassed and assaulted countless women. But more surprising than Weinstein’s alleged misconduct is the fact that he’s finally paying the price for it.
Other recent scandals have taught us that there are many common reasons why powerful men like Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly get away with decades’ worth of alleged abuse: No one believes women. Men fear the social stigma of calling out other men. Famous dudes who love violating boundaries also tend to have deep pockets, fearsome tempers and tenacious legal teams. Enablers, who are often low-level employees on the perpetrator’s payroll, feel guilty and powerless at once. So do alleged victims like Asia Argento.
More surprising than Weinstein’s misconduct is the fact that he’s finally paying the price for it.
In a harrowing piece in the New Yorker published Tuesday, which expanded upon a recent New York Times exposé with new allegations that Weinstein raped several women, including Argento, the actress and director said she blamed herself. “Because if I were a strong woman, I would have kicked him in the balls and run away,” she said. “But I didn’t. And so I felt responsible.”
But Weinstein’s story is unique because of the particular position he held in the Hollywood stratosphere. Although the Weinstein Company isn’t quite the power player it used to be, his decades of championing (and often ruining) the kind of quality films that win Oscars have brought him into contact with just about every A-list actor and director.
Now, many of them are coming forward — and others are being interrogated by reporters — about their own experiences with him. Even actresses as renowned as Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie have added their own accusations. More unusual, and more telling, are the quotes from colleagues who haven’t been on the receiving end of Weinstein’s alleged unwanted advances.
There are those who simply don’t seem to understand the seriousness of the allegations. “You look at everything all over the world today and how women are dressing and what they are asking by just presenting themselves the way they do,” fashion designer Donna Karan said. “What are they asking for? Trouble.”
Lindsay Lohan assumes Weinstein must be innocent because he’s never touched her. Both of these responses are absurd, but it’s worth noting that Weinstein’s public statements have taken advantage of such widespread confusion about what illegal sexual misconduct actually entails. In a statement to the New Yorker, Weinstein denied charges that he physically violated any woman, while pledging to seek counseling for other abusive behaviors, as though therapy should be the only punishment for harassment.
Some of his associates are claiming ignorance of Weinstein’s history. “I’ve known Harvey for 20 years,” said George Clooney, in an interview with the Daily Beast. “But I can tell you that I’ve never seen any of this behavior — ever.” Meryl Streep and Judi Dench expressed similar sentiments. Jeffrey Katzenberg, a former colleague of Weinstein’s from Miramax’s Disney era, wrote in an email to Weinstein, “There appear to be two Harvey Weinsteins … one that I have known well, appreciated and admired and another that I have not known at all.”
Considering that Weinstein’s alleged antics were common enough knowledge for Seth MacFarlane to joke about it at the 2013 Academy Awards, these reactions from his collaborators are somewhat hard to swallow.
In fact, Rose McGowan accused Ben Affleck, who once dated Paltrow and who pretty much owes his career to Miramax’s support of Good Will Hunting, of feigning ignorance about Weinstein. (Now, Affleck — whose brother Casey has also faced sexual harassment allegations — has himself apologized for groping a woman on-camera years ago.) Brad Pitt confirmed to the Times, through a representative, that he once confronted Weinstein over his treatment of Paltrow; but after that encounter, the actor subsequently appeared in several of the producer’s films. Pitt — who has also, of course, been married to Jolie for several years — hasn’t spoken out about the allegations directly.
When everyone knows something awful is happening, yet no one acknowledges it as such, it becomes normal.
The most credible celebrities are those who admit to having heard and ignored the rumors. In a Hollywood Reporter guest column published Tuesday, Gretchen Mol addressed old tabloid reports that she and Weinstein had a secret, mutually beneficial relationship.
“I had heard similar rumors about other actresses and Harvey Weinstein for years, even before I heard them about myself,” she wrote. “I knew that it was not true in my case, so I naively assumed it was equally false in general.” Ewan McGregor, who’s starred in multiple TWC releases, as well as films directed by controversial filmmakers Roman Polanski and Woody Allen, also acknowledged the rumors while slamming Weinstein. Charlize Theron nodded to industry norms in an Instagram post in which she mentions she isn’t surprised.
There is plenty of overt victim-blaming and men protecting men on display. But there’s a more pernicious pattern in these responses, too. You can see why it took so long for Weinstein’s alleged actions to become a career-ending scandal, instead of just an “open secret.” When everyone knows something awful is allegedly happening, yet no one acknowledges it as such, it becomes normal. Those who find out about it simultaneously learn to accept it as a fact of life. No wonder an assistant who reportedly rejected Weinstein’s advances left the industry outright to avoid similar situations.
Whether they lived in denial, dismissed the casting couch as a sad showbiz reality, declined to investigate longstanding rumors, kept working with Miramax and then TWC despite hearing firsthand reports of Weinstein’s alleged crimes, or simply treated his reported behavior as a dark joke, plenty of influential people who could — at the very least — have quietly disassociated themselves from him did not. It’s nice to see them supporting the alleged victims now, but it’s their past complacency that allowed Weinstein to thrive for so many years.