Ever since the news of the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke last week, I've found myself rather obsessed with the coverage. While I don't work in the industry, I consider it very much to be my industry. Having opinions about the matter that I wanted to explore in a blog post was a no brainer. Collecting, processing, and articulating those thoughts, however, has proved to be a significantly more personal and complicated matter than I would have thought.
As the cliche begins, I've deeply, consistently loved movies since I was a little girl. I consumed both the product (right at the dawn of 24 hour programming via cable, and then on-demand with the advent of video - both marvels of access) as well as reviews from the paper, magazines, and memorabilia.
Over time, I managed to pull my idealistic worship back to a more appropriate form of consistent admiration. Still, it was disappointing to come to understand that "the best film of the year" was not always the best film of that year, that factors such as influence and revenue and expensive marketing tactics have always been at play in Hollywood. And then there was the disappointment of discovering that the people who make the art you love are not always the most admirable of humans. Sometimes not by a long shot.
Now, Harvey Weinstein never pretended to be someone he wasn't (unlike, say Bill Cosby who hid disturbing deeds behind a goofy dad/kind uncle persona). Weinstein's rage-fueled outbursts were legendary and his willingness to play rough seemed, sometimes, well, justifiable (I mean, it can be empowering to think of someone bullying an intimate indie or important costume drama into mainstream culture, right?) And, anyway, it's not illegal to be a infantile jerk. Turns out, Weinstein's questionable behavior was the tip of a very big, very despicable iceberg.
Why do I care so much and why am I so offended? I mean, the world at large and the entertainment industry in general is filled with heaps of powerful men known for (and now occasionally exposed for) serial abuses of power. I care because Miramax had been at the very center of my admiration for many, many years. Yes, my love of film began in the 70s, and blossomed in the 80s, but it is the 90s and early 2000s that are the root of my artistic sensibility. It is no exaggeration to say that many of my favorite films of all time and many more that I highly respect - the Piano, Ameilie, Frida, City of God, the Hours, Cold Mountain, Heavenly Creatures, Walking & Talking, Goodwill Hunting, Muriel's Wedding, Delicatessen, the Cider House Rules, Pulp Fiction, Chicago, No Country for Old Men, Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the Reader, Inglourious Basterds, Blue Valentine, and August: Osage County, among them - were all produced by Harvey Weinstein. At the very heart of Miramax's brand was a thoughtful, emotional intelligence, and, yes, very often, female-centered stories with rich complexities.
So the scandal feels like a betrayal on many levels. Beyond the fundamental disappointment of being long-time and earnest champion of a company run by a serial predator and sociopath, is, of course, the overtly abhorrent treatment of women. (The shock and pride of reading the clear and sober statements of women I had assumed weren't involved - Gwyneth Paltrow and Mira Sorvino in particular - will remain with me for a long time.) But it is the abuse of power toward those at the very beginning of their careers that perhaps resonates the strongest with me.
There is something equally empowering and humbling about your first job in a field you particularly love. In my experience, the empowerment comes from a genuine enthusiasm grounded in acquired knowledge and deep immersion. Because I hadn't yet learned how things "are," I didn't know what not to say or how to act or what to "just be cool" about. I expressed myself and expected to be indulged and encouraged as I had been by my school teachers. The irony is, most recent grads (especially those in fields like design or video) are coming off out of college having created ambitious projects and enter jobs where they are tasked with the most mundane, bottom of the food chain stuff. There's nothing inherently wrong with this practice, except that it's an unfortunate waste of talent, but, hey, sometimes someone just needs signage that tells people there's a sale on last season's fragrant soap...
As a young employee, I became keenly aware of those in roles of authority. To me, there seemed to be three kinds - those who ignored you but did their job fine and kept things running as they should, those who seemed to remember what it was like to be young and took the time and had the patience to foster appropriate professional relationships, and those who constantly blurred boundaries for their own gain using the singular defense that the other party is "of age."
The problem seems to be in confusing the last kind for the second.
That appears to be Weinstein's MO in his actions with actresses and assistants. Not, You are beautiful and deserve someone who adores you like me, but Let's set up a formal appointment to talk about this part or come by and pick up this script, or, It's perfectly normal for your boss to ask you to work in his hotel room while he's naked, get over it. The bait-and-swtich, the shock in realizing what is really happening, or the awareness that before your eyes someone is experiencing, as one article put it, "the abusive thrill gained not from sex, but from the imposition of your will on someone who has no ability to resist or properly defend themselves," is scarring.
I consider myself lucky to have not had an experience like Weinstein's accusers. I have, however, been in circumstances where I have either suspected serial inappropriate behavior or sometimes eagerly sought out gossipy details that I didn't have business knowing or didn't think I could do anything to alter the circumstances.
There's no longer any excuse. We all know better.