Film / Sexual Harassment

The Weinstein Scandal Is A Turning Point for Hollywood

Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has produced films that appeal to every audience. From Pulp Fiction to Shakespeare in Love, Good Will Hunting to The Artist, Weinstein has helped create some of the most emotional, interesting, and powerful movies of this generation. Indeed, Weinstein has reportedly been thanked in Oscars acceptance speeches as many times as God. Yet over the past few weeks, the press has slowly unearthed the gory details of Weinstein’s success, revealing that he has sexually assaulted dozens of women who have been unable to say anything out of fear for their careers. The nearly fifty women who have come forward with their stories about Weinstein after years of silence are showing that there is a change coming to male-dominated Hollywood. After decades of discussing rape culture, Hollywood is finally beginning to fight back against the problem.

On October 5, The New York Times published a story that revealed that Weinstein had covered up a history of sexual abuse that spanned decades. A few women came forward, sharing stories that were quite similar. He invited each of them to a private business-related meeting, but then made lewd advances, often demanding massages or sexual favors. On the Thursday after the article was published, Weinstein denied the accusations, but apologized anyway and announced he would be taking a leave of absence from the Weinstein Company. His lawyer also said that Weinstein would be suing The New York Times. By Sunday, however, he had been fired by his own company, and his lawyer had resigned. Over the following week, many more women, mostly within the film industry, came forward with stories about being harassed by Weinstein. Even Weinstein’s wife, Georgina Chapman, announced that she was leaving him. And then, on Saturday, October 14, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that, after discussing the allegations made against Weinstein, the Academy had “voted well in excess of the required two-thirds majority to immediately expel him from the Academy.” It appeared that the man who just a few weeks ago had everything suddenly had nothing.

Hollywood has long had the issue of the notorious “casting couch.” Ever since the first “talkies,” the film industry has placed great emphasis on the importance of beauty and charisma, especially in its female starlets. With men behind the camera, the glaring power dynamic made it difficult for actresses to advocate for themselves, because the same men that brought actresses into the industry could just as easily kick them out. Nearly a century later, even in today’s age of workplace harassment laws and overall awareness of rape culture, not many men in Hollywood have paid a price for their misdemeanors, even though the allegations are endless. Filmmaker Woody Allen’s adoptive daughter has alleged, multiple times, that Allen molested her as a child, but he has continued to deny the accusations. Even last year’s Best Actor Oscar winner, Casey Affleck, was sued in 2010 by two women for sexual harassment, but he reached settlements outside of the court and did not seem to suffer much. Weinstein’s case, on the other hand, marks a change. The repercussions he has faced are severe; this will end his career. These consequences that Weinstein is facing, both in his professional and personal life, are an example to men everywhere. Weinstein is proof that perpetrators will not be acquitted for crimes this serious.

Furthermore, the women who have come forward this time are more famous and therefore more influential than in past cases. Women like Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, and Cara Delevingne are among his accusers, and they are household names. Although sexual assault can happen to anyone, seeing women who are such a beloved part of the films we know and love hurt by this man in this way is more impactful than hearing the equally horrific experiences of little-known women, especially when this many women are affected. The celebrity gossip industry is a largely ugly business that profits off of the daily lives of actors, singers, and other stars. But this three-billion-dollar industry is part of why the Weinstein scandal is spreading. Because the public follows and admires so many of the actresses that have come forward with stories about Weinstein, he is quickly becoming infamous in a way that other men in Hollywood who have exploited their power have not. The trauma that these actresses faced feels real to everyone following this story, and sends a clear message to men in Hollywood that such actions will not be tolerated or kept under wraps any longer.

Also important is the impact of men actively engaging in the conversation. Quentin Tarantino, the director who worked with Harvey Weinstein the most, revealed on Wednesday, October 18, that he knew far too much about Weinstein’s activities to have kept quiet for so long. Of course, it is too little too late. But he is not the only man who knew about the incidents, for other men have spoken about having different connections to Weinstein’s behavior. Seth MacFarlane discussed hearing a horrifying first-hand account from a friend who was assaulted by Weinstein, but had promised not to say anything about it for her sake. Brad Pitt reportedly confronted Weinstein about how the producer harassed Pitt’s then-girlfriend, Gwyneth Paltrow. Matt Damon came under fire, first for supposedly knowing about Weinstein’s abuse and not saying anything about it, then for not having a perfectly politically correct response to the whole situation. Numerous other men commented on the saga, including Ryan Gosling and Tom Hanks. When such noteworthy men get involved in issues like this, it shows that sexual assault is no longer just a women’s issue. Coupled with the influence of the famous actresses involved in this story, men shedding light on the problem helps raise awareness for a topic that was not as out in the open before.

Beyond the influence of actors and the severity of Weinstein’s punishment, the movie industry is, overall, currently in a transition period in terms of the way things are run. In recent years, women have directed critically acclaimed films like Selma and The Hurt Locker, and have helped produce popular movies like The Hunger Games and The Devil Wears Prada. Hollywood, despite still having relatively few women in positions of power, is moving in the right direction. Since women are no longer as dependent on the men in the business, more actresses are able to talk honestly about their experiences. Lupita Nyong’o, whose contact with Weinstein was more recent that of some of the other women, spurned his advances over several years, but was able to make it in the industry without his support, even winning an Oscar. Women in Hollywood are no longer in a position that forces them to humor high-profile men in fear of losing a shot at successful careers.

All in all, while it would be naive to suggest that sexism and sexual violence in Hollywood are issues of the past, the case of Harvey Weinstein certainly sets a tremendous precedent. The timing in American culture is definitely ironic, given that we are in the first term of Donald Trump’s presidency. When an old video from Access Hollywood resurfaced just about a year ago featuring Trump’s explicit descriptions of harassing women, Trump disregarded the incident entirely, saying it was just “locker room talk.” When he won the election, it appeared that no matter how foul a man’s actions, success was always possible. However, although it is ironic that this moment is coming during the Trump era, the downfall of Weinstein shows that, at least in Hollywood, men who take advantage of their positions of power are held accountable for their misdeeds, and will be from here on out. The popular and successful women who have spoken out show women everywhere that speaking out against their abusers is not something that should wait decades. Moreover, the men who have denounced Weinstein’s conduct demonstrate that men everywhere should not keep quiet, because Hollywood is no longer the male-dominated space it once was. Ultimately, while we do not know what impact the Weinstein case will have on other industries, we can be certain that this is the ushering in of a new era for women in Hollywood.