Harvey Weinstein is the latest powerful Hollywood executive to be accused of repeated sexual harassment. These aren’t just examples of dirty old men, however—these abuses have been covered up for decades, thanks to Hollywood’s toxic culture of fame, power, and sex.
It’s a tale as old as Hollywood itself. A powerful producer calls a young actress in for a business meeting, but he’s got something else on his mind. He begins asking for sexual favors, promising to make her famous if she complies, promising to destroy her if she doesn’t. Harvey Weinstein’s perversions are finally coming to light, but as long as Hollywood’s toxic culture remains, powerful men will continue to prey on young women with little consequence.
Harvey Weinstein is the co-founder of Miramax Films and The Weinstein Company, two of the largest film companies in the United States. He has produced some of the greatest films in American cinema, including Good Will Hunting, Pulp Fiction, and The Lord of the Rings.
Weinstein has recently come under fire from a host of women alleging decades of harassment and manipulation at Weinstein’s hands. The New York Times broke the story last week, detailing decades of hush money and continual sexual harassment by Weinstein. Weinstein made it a habit to conduct “business meetings” with young women—assistants, employees, actresses—in his hotel rooms late at night. These women allege that Weinstein solicited massages, groped them, had them watch him shower, or otherwise harassed them.
Actress Ashley Judd has spoken out the loudest against Weinstein. In a 2015 Variety interview, she recounted an experience with an “unnamed” producer, whom she later confirmed to be Weinstein. “He was very stealth and expert about it. He groomed me, which is a technical term—Oh, come meet at the hotel for something to eat. Fine, I show up. Oh, he’s actually in his room. I’m like, Are you kidding me? I just worked all night. I’m just going to order cereal. It went on in these stages. It was so disgusting. He physically lured me by saying, ‘Oh, help me pick out what I’m going to wear.’ . . . When I kept saying no to everything, there was a huge asymmetry of power and control in that room.” When Judd told her friends he invited her to watch him shower, many said they had the exact same experience.
Judd’s account shows that Weinstein wasn’t just looking for a quick affair—grooming, luring, and employing power are all characteristics of a predator. Using power for sex is not acceptable.
These accusations come on the heels of revelations about many celebrities like Bill Cosby. While none of Weinstein’s alleged misdeeds rise to the level of the rape accusations against Cosby, their modus operandi is similar. Both are high-powered Hollywood elites with the power to break a woman’s career in a second. They victimized young women who felt they had no recourse—if they spoke out, no one would believe them, and their careers would end. And if they ever fought back, they faced an enemy with deep pockets and many lawyers. Weinstein has settled with at least eight of his accusers, none of whom have spoken out since. By carefully choosing victims, powerful predators can go unrecognized for decades. No one, not even their victims, feel they can speak out, even when their lechery becomes an open secret.
It’s not an accident that Hollywood is a hotspot for such predators. It’s designed that way. The industry’s power structure is designed to protect those with connections and deep pockets. After all, they’re the ones who make movies happen.
Hollywood loves to celebrate itself. Some of the most successful films in recent years—La La Land, anyone?—center on Hollywood and its self-infatuation. But it’s really a place where young artists and actors are competing with each other in an industry driven by hunger for power, fame, and sex. Its residents are ready to cover up even the most blatant sexual predators if they keep the paychecks and leading roles coming (just look at Roman Polanski and Woody Allen). Men like Harvey Weinstein don’t come out of nowhere. They require the cooperation of a perverse culture of an entire industry that prefers to turn a blind eye rather than risk their careers.
Predictably, in the wake of Weinstein’s exposure, many celebrities are belatedly speaking out. Many even say they’re not surprised. They knew about Weinstein’s behavior, and some had even witnessed it. That means that a whole industry knew about it—yet he went right along harassing women with no repercussions. Weinstein’s sins are his own, but the silence around them belongs to the friends, business associates, and the industry that went along with it.
Men like Harvey Weinstein are unfortunately nothing new. Lechers have always been with us, and they always will be. But maybe it’s time for Hollywood to quit congratulating itself on its “progressive values” and realize that its real values have created a town where the rich and powerful can abuse young women for decades, and no one will speak out. These accusations may be news to the nation, but it’s par for the course for Tinseltown.
Image: Georges Biard [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons