20 Oct The fall of Harvey Weinstein, the once King of the Oscars
It’s been hard to avoid hearing Harvey Weinstein’s name the last few weeks. As you would well know, on October 6, The New York Times broke their bombshell story, alleging almost three decades of “sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact” of numerous women by the Hollywood mogul. Making the scandal even more shocking was the revelation at least eight women, who had made accusations over the years, had been paid off for their silence, including actresses Rose McGowan in 1997 and Ashley Judd in 1996. This explosive detail also made it abundantly clear there were others complicit in keeping Harvey’s dirty little secret from ever getting out.
To say this story has changed the Hollywood landscape forever would be an understatement. As of this article, we’re now up to at least 40 women who have come forward to make similar accusations against Weinstein. And the number seems to grow by the day. It’s also given rise to a new movement of women finding the strength and courage to speak out about their similarly horrific experiences with sexual harassment in the workplace, both in Hollywood and beyond. If your eyes are still shut to this issue, have a look at #MeToo on Twitter, started by actress Alyssa Milano, as a hashtag to collate these crimes in one place. But grab a coffee. You’ll be there for a while.
This kind of “casting couch” mentality, where the most “important” men in the movie business trade sexual favours for auditions, roles, and industry exposure, is nothing new. It’s disgracefully been around since the dawn of cinema, and was part-and-parcel of the studio system for decades. But the rise of feminism and women’s rights in the 1960s and 70s seemingly forced it back into the shadows. It never really went away. It just evolved. And Harvey Weinstein was a master at manipulating this sick practice to his advantage. In all likelihood, he’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Clearly it was naive to think a man like Weinstein wouldn’t be following in the footsteps of his movie producer predecessors. Predecessors he clearly idolised so heavily, he thought it was his given right, as a powerful man in Hollywood, to expect a free-pass to do as he pleased with whomever he pleased. And when caught out, just throw some money at it, so it would go away. But his time has finally come. The most powerful man in the industry has fallen under the weight of his own despicable hubris. And now, Hollywood’s best-kept, and potentially most widely known, secret is out.
To say it was widely known is hardly an overstatement. Just this morning, Quentin Tarantino, a frequent collaborator with Weinstein, has admitted to knowing more than just rumours and gossip. His comments, while not surprising, make him completely complicit in keeping the truth from coming to light. Numerous other figures from the industry have echoed his sentiments over the last few weeks. Everyone knew something wasn’t right, but nothing ever happened. Harvey wielded his immense power to keep it that way.
And that’s the big thing we need to understand here – this man’s power. For those of us who closely follow the film industry, we have always known how powerful Harvey Weinstein has been. We knew him by first name alone. Any time someone mentioned “Harvey,” we understood exactly who they meant. That kind of immediate one-name recognition is usually reserved for movie stars and big name directors. But, within the industry and those who admire it, he outranked all of them. He sat in a position of power over practically every aspect of Hollywood, which makes the hiding of his behaviour that much more understandable. This man was God, a word Meryl Streep herself once used to describe him. And no further evident is that than his influence and success at the Academy Awards.
It’s hard to even remember a time when Harvey Weinstein’s name wasn’t synonymous with the Oscars. He has been a mainstay behind the awards show since the early 90s. Before Harvey, Oscar campaigning was virtually non-existent, at least outside of the major studios. In 1990, he championed My Left Foot, an independent film, with a guerrilla marketing campaign like no one had ever seen before, spruiking stars Daniel Day Lewis and Brenda Fricker all over town. The film went on to receive five nominations, including Best Picture and Director, and both actors took home Oscars for their performances. Harvey had made his mark, and, in the process, changed awards season forever.
Since then, Weinstein has garnered a Best Picture nomination for one of his films almost every single year. In 2003, four of the five nominees (Chicago, The Hours, Gangs of New York and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) were produced by Weinstein. He has mounted successful Oscar campaigns for five Best Picture winners – The English Patient (1997), Shakespeare in Love (1999), Chicago (2003), The King’s Speech (2011), and The Artist (2012). Both with Miramax and The Weinstein Company, his films, either produced and/or distributed, have received 341 Oscar nominations and 81 wins. Weinstein has been thanked a total of 34 times in Oscar acceptance speeches, a sample of which you can see below. This equates to the same number of times God has been mentioned by a winner. You can see why this guy considered himself the deity of Hollywood.
No greater moment was Harvey’s power on display than in 1999 when he pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history. For all of awards season, the Best Picture prize was Saving Private Ryan‘s to lose. It looked unstoppable. Likewise with Cate Blanchett’s bid for Best Actress, courtesy of her star-making performance in Elizabeth. Enter Harvey Weinstein, and the most aggressive Oscar campaign ever mounted, for Shakespeare in Love. The film would go on to surprise the entire industry and take seven awards that night, including Gwyneth Paltrow for Best Actress, Judi Dench for Best Supporting Actress (for only eight minutes of screen time) and the big one, Best Picture. These wins still confound most Oscar pundits to this day. Heading into the ceremony, it was a genuinely inconceivable result, and one that is still somehow rather unfathomable today. But not to Weinstein.
Since then, he has conducted his trademark aggressive campaigns every year, with unprecedented success, especially in the acting categories. Weinstein personally had a hand in the Oscar wins of Kate Winslet (The Reader), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), and Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained), to name just a few. No one was better at launching a campaign for an acting win, especially when that actor was not the assumed frontrunner. Weinstein had an astute way of changing people’s mind and wielding his unrivaled power over Academy voters.
Streep wasn’t supposed to win in 2012. She already had two Oscars. She didn’t need a third. It was meant to be her dear friend Viola Davis, for her beautiful work in The Help. Nor was Dujardin expected to win that same year for his silent performance. Yet he amazingly defeated Hollywood royalty George Clooney to snatch the prize. Roberto Benigni beating Tom Hanks in 1999 still has people scratching their heads. Likewise with newcomer Juliette Binoche over Hollywood legend Lauren Bacall in 1997. Even Waltz’s second win in two years for Supporting Actor in 2013 stumped many. But the one common denominator in all of these “upsets” was Weinstein. He knew how to turn the tide, even when all odds were against him.
But he wasn’t always successful. When things weren’t going Harvey’s way, he could also be the master of the smear campaign i.e. bad-mouthing the performances and films opposing his contenders. In 2002, he launched a vicious campaign against A Beautiful Mind, accusing the film of purposely omitting John Nash’s alleged homosexuality, in an attempt to sway voters towards his contender In The Bedroom. In 2003, he blasted a tirade against Roman Polanski, labeling him a “rapist” and “child molester,” (seems terribly ironic now, doesn’t it?) in a bid to stop Polanski from winning Best Director for The Pianist, which was competing against Miramax’s Chicago. When frontrunners Slumdog Millionaire and The Hurt Locker were both suddenly hit with negative press in 2009 and 2010, it was assumed Harvey was behind it all. Yet, in all these examples, he ultimately failed. A Beautiful Mind, Slumdog Millionaire, and The Hurt Locker all went on to claim Best Picture. Polanski eventually did beat Rob Marshall to the Best Director trophy. For all his power, Weinstein was not completely infallible.
There has been some suggestion the revelations about the man behind so many Oscar victories somehow tarnishes these winning performances and films. What you must realise is that while Weinstein may have been responsible for the awards season push behind these wins, he was minimally involved in the creative process that crafted such cinematic excellence in the first place. Kate Winslet’s incredible performance ultimately won her the Oscar. Chicago won Best Picture by being the best movie musical in decades. Each nomination or win was earned by the artists themselves, regardless of Weinstein’s involvement. Hundreds of people worked tirelessly to create these Oscar-winning films. Actors pushed themselves in roles like never before to snare the prize they all strive for. Allowing one piece of shit to take their achievements away is grossly unfair. You don’t win an Academy Award without some foundation of amazing achievement. Weinstein simply pushed those achievements to the right people at the right time.
Detailing Weinstein’s astonishing success at the Academy Awards is not done to show how great this guy was. Or to give a sense of “yeah, he was a monster, but look at his achievements!” Far from it. For all his mastery at crafting a successful Oscar campaign, a lot of that glory was based on pure bullying tactics, with people genuinely fearful at ever resisting his aggressive campaign methods for fear of retribution. He held the keys to the kingdom that is Hollywood, and most would rather roll over and obey than risk ticking him off.
Getting on the bad-side of Harvey Weinstein was clearly not a place anyone in Hollywood ever wanted to find themselves. And that’s just in an awards season context. Imagine the fear of retribution the women he harassed and assaulted were fearful of, if they came forward. Do you think it’s a coincidence the careers of Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd haven’t exactly flourished since the late 90s? And after Tarantino’s comments this morning, it’s clear Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino was negatively affected by her run-in with Weinstein in 1995. Is it really that far-fetched a summation to assume he perhaps had a hand in their downfalls?
And there-in lies the realisation of how all this could happen, yet be kept a secret for so long. Every one of Weinstein’s victims was clearly utterly terrified of speaking out or taking the matter further, for fear of what would happen. Or, even worse, what wouldn’t. That nobody would care. Nobody would listen. They’d be dismissed or ignored. They’d be judged or questioned or shamed. Their career would be ruined. They’d forever be labelled and marked. Or, even worse, they’d be gently coerced or forced into taking his hush money. How do you take on the God of your industry and expect to defeat him, especially when the industry seems to be turning a blind eye?
Perhaps the most disappointing result of this entire scandal is the way some have responded to these brave women taking a stand against the monster who assaulted them. There has been a lot of victim shaming going on. Why didn’t they come forward earlier? Why now, 20 years later? Why not say something the moment it happened? Why not go to the police? Or your management? Or the studio? Or confront Weinstein yourself? If you even fathom any of these questions, you have no experience with sexual assault or anyone who has been sexually assaulted.
It’s easy to sit on one’s high horse and make these kinds of judgments. But that reaction is part of why victims are afraid to come forward in the first place. The fear of the unknown response to such an incident is a powerful thing. It can cripple even the strongest of people. But, in this situation, that terror is only confounded by who the perpetrator was. Taking on an industry giant like Harvey Weinstein is not something many would have the strength to do.
When you’ve worked so hard to get just one toe in the door of the film industry, imagine how it would feel to have that all taken away, through no fault of your own. And Harvey knew that. He knew he could act in such a manner, and his victims would take it. They’d keep quiet. They’d quietly disappear. They’d think of their career first. As any sexual aggressor would know, power is everything. And this is power of unimaginable proportions. When you realise how God-like in his position this man was, only then can you really comprehend and sympathise with each victim’s silence.
Let’s be clear about one thing. These women did nothing wrong. Nothing. Keeping quiet was not a crime. Taking a payoff and signing a non-disclosure agreement was not a crime. The ones who explicitly knew of Weinstein’s crimes and these payments, yet still kept quiet, are far more deserving of shame and judgement. But Weinstein was a master of manipulation. Those closest to him were likely just as fearful of this man as his victims were. Or, more accurately, the wrath he could unleash on all of them.
The fallout and reaction to Harvey Weinstein’s disgusting decades-long behaviour has been the one shining light from so much misery. Weinstein’s career is over. He’s been fired from his own company. The Academy he once held such dominion over has unceremoniously booted him out. His name is now poison. And despite what some have suggested, there will be no coming back from this. Hollywood has a history of forgiving past indiscretions (Mel Gibson, Woody Allen, Casey Affleck). But not this time. He is finished. It’s also shone a light on the corruption that power can bring in Hollywood, how that affects women in the industry, and why this needs to end. Now.
Most importantly, this serves as a reminder to anyone who witnesses any form of harassment, assault or bullying in the workplace to do something about it. Make your voice heard. Show your support. Help by listening. This isn’t an issue isolated to Hollywood. This is happening everywhere. And it only exacerbates the problem by looking the other way. Just like they say about terrorism, if you see something, say something. And to the women who have experienced or are experiencing something similar to Weinstein’s victims, we can only hope this is the start of a change. A change that is long overdue.
And to Harvey Weinstein, I only have one left thing to say. Good. Riddance.