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In Weinstein’s downfall, a moment of reckoning arrives for Hollywood

Exposé opens floodgates to a string of accusations against one of film’s most prominent moguls. The claims, ranging from harassment to rape, mark a watershed moment for the industry and shine a light on its shocking treatment of women.

Saturday 14 October, 2017
Harvey Weinstein now faces a string of sexual abuse allegations.
Harvey Weinstein now faces a string of sexual abuse allegations. Foto:AFP.

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As the grim scope of the allegations surrounding Harvey Weinstein continued to expand at explosive pace this week, scrutiny began to fall on who knew what about the film mogul’s behaviour over the decades it allegedly took place.

The hotel room seductions, the massage requests, the coercive suggestions. They are, as the Los Angeles Times called them this  week, “classics of the genre.” The encounters depict a Hollywood  culture immediately recognisable, one where powerbroker sleaziness is an accepted part of the business.

Hollywood now finds itself in a crisis, not just because one of its  most prominent moguls has been disgraced and fired from the company he co-founded, but because the allegations against him  describe a dark underbelly of the movie business rarely scrutinised. It’s a moment of reckoning for a Hollywood that has faced increasing scrutiny over its treatment of women.

Weinstein’s ouster may have been a long time coming, with allegations going back to 1990. (He is yet to respond to directly though on Thursday he apologized for the pain he’s caused.) But by apparently bringing down such a pivotal figure — the kind that has long been considered untouchable because of industry might — many see a watershed moment for the industry. 

“There is a tectonic shift going on with people having the courage to say, ‘No more,’” said Melissa Silverstein, the founder and  publisher of Women and Hollywood, an influential blog that  advocates for gender equality in Hollywood. “The climate about the conversation in gender in Hollywood has clearly shifted in recent years. There’s no going back anymore.”

The movie business has found it increasingly difficult to shy away  from questions about how it treats women. Studies have shown  year after year how few female directors are hired for major  productions. Just four percent of the top movies at the box office in  2016 were directed by women, according to a University of  California report. The disparity prompted a federal investigation by the United States’ Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

A pay gap, too, has been brought to the forefront by vocal stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone. The bestpaid stars, the  majority of the executive jobs and most of the filmmakers remain  overwhelmingly male in Hollywood. Such a male-dominated culture as contributed to the conditions that allowed the alleged  incidents involving Weinstein to occur, and to remain quiet.

"OPEN SECRET". “It’s been an open secret,” said actress and director Greta Gerwig. “‘It just makes me really sad and it makes  me really depressed but not surprised. What can you say? I really  admire Ashley Judd. It’s scary to do.” 

Last Thursday, the New York Times reported that Weinstein reached settlements with at least eight women over sexual harassment allegations. Judd also described an incident two decades ago in which she said Weinstein invited her to his hotel room, greeted her wearing a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or if she would watch him shower. 

In the aftermath of the exposé, many have voiced their support for  Judd and other alleged victims. This week, some of the actresses  who have frequently starred in and won awards in Weinstein’s  movies spoke up, including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Judi Dench.

Patricia Arquette, Lena Dunham, Mark Ruffalo, Brie Larson, Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow, Julianne Moore and many others have  voiced their support for the women involved. But among Weinstein’s associates, the majorityof responders have been women. Others, including Lena Dunham in an op-ed piece for the  New York Times, have implored a stronger reaction from male stars and industry leaders.

If this is to be a turning point for Hollywood, more must be done, Rose McGowan told The Hollywood Reporter. The New York Times reported that McGowan settled with Weinstein in 1997 for  US$100,000 after an incident in a hotel room during the Sundance Film Festival. Last year, McGowan said on Twitter that she was  raped by a studio boss whom she declined to name. On Thursday,  she posted simply: “HW raped me.”

“Men in Hollywood need to change ASAP,” McGowan said. “Hollywood’s power is dying because society has changed and grown, and yet Hollywood male behaviour has not.”

A key and potentially volatile component of Tuesday’s New Yorker exposé was the claim that “a culture of complicity” has existed at both The Weinstein Co. and his previous film company, the Walt Disney-owned Miramax. “Numerous people throughout the  companies (were) fully aware of his behaviour but either abetting it or looking the other way,” the magazine reported.

Further scrutiny is coming. Focus has turned, in part, to not just  the workplace environments Weinstein operated in, but the stars  who may have had some knowledge of Weinstein’s alleged  behaviour but who failed to raise any alarms.  

Four women have  now accused Weinstein of raping them, including Italian actress  and filmmaker Asia Argento and a woman, Lucia Evans, who was an aspiring actress when she was allegedly sexually assaulted in  2004. The magazine also cited a third, unnamed accuser, while  McGowan is the fourth. A growing number of actresses, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Rosanna  Arquette, have also made allegations of sexual harassment.

More women are continuing to come forward. And Hollywood now  finds itself at the point of no return.

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