Sexual Harassment After Harvey Weinstein: Good, Bad And Ugly

It’s been a little over a month since Harvey Weinstein’s very public and very noisy fall from grace and, as I predicted back then,  the process of dossing the casting couch in the dumpster has begun. Since that time, over two dozen powerful men were accused of various forms of sexual harassment, and the men worked in all areas of the entertainment industry.

The accused range from studio heads (Harvey’s brother Bob, Amazon Studios’ Roy Price), producers (Captain Power‘s Gary Goddard, Atomic Blonde‘s David GuillodNymphomaniac‘s  Peter Aalbaek Jensen), TV series show runners (Arrowverse‘s Andrew Kreisberg, The Loud House‘s Chris Savino, Mad Men‘s Matthew Weiner, One Tree Hill‘s Mark Schwahn), directors (X-Men: The Last Stand‘s Brett RatnerHarvard Man‘s James TobackChinatown‘s Roman Polanski), actors (Newsradio‘s Andy Dick, Dustin HoffmanGossip Girl‘s Ed Westwick, George Takei, Jeffrey Tambor, Jeremy Piven, Kevin Spacey, Richard Dreyfuss, Tom Sizemore), stand-up comics (Louis C.K.), and comic book editors (Eddie Berganza). The acts range from groping all the way up to rape, and the victims range in age from their mid-40s to as young as 10 years old.

That’s quite a list, and it grows larger day by day as more and more victims come forward to out their abusers. Since I started writing this article, more people have come forward with abuse claims about some of the names listed above and new accusations sprung up against Al Franken and Sylvester Stallone.  And a number of the above have suffered loss of work as punishment for their misdeeds. But as positive a force this new anti-harassment movement is, it also has the depressing side effect of showing us exactly why harassment has become so entrenched in the entertainment arts and why it might be impossible to remove it entirely.

No Good Options

I had a conversation with a friend on Facebook about the Louis C.K. situation. They weren’t a fan of the idea of public shaming the harasser, believing that it would be better handled in other ways, like taking the case to Human Resources or getting lawyers involved.

My friend did have a point. Harassment is often a he said/she said (or in a couple examples above, a he said/he said) scenario. The court of public opinion doesn’t need a lot of evidence to find a person guilty. However, when you have dozens of accusers coming forward like in the cases of Harvey Weinstein and James Toback, all with the same story to tell, then public has all it needs to start shaming.

Public shaming might not be the most perfect weapon to battle sexual harassment, but going to H.R. or getting yourself a lawyer aren’t ideal either. Take the Weinstein harassments. Most of his victims were actresses who were not Miramax employees at the time of harassment. And what could Miramax H.R. do about complaints about the company’s owner? Could they really suspend the guy who signs their paychecks?

But even if the harassment happens down far enough in the corporate ladder that going to H.R. would be an option, that doesn’t mean H.R. will do anything about it.

Case Study: Eddie Berganza.

Eddie Berganza was fired on Monday, November 13, 2017 as the result of a Buzzfeed article of November 10, 2017, detailing his history of sexual harassment. Really, he should have been fired two days earlier, on the 11th, but DC Entertainment only suspended him on that date.

Actually, people were calling for him to be fired back in April of 2016 when a reorganization cost popular Vertigo editor Shelly Bond her job but left serial harasser Berganza unscathed.

No, come to think of it, he should have been fired back in March of 2012, after a blind item on Bleeding Cool about a DC Comics editor forcing himself  on the girlfriend of a freelancer in the lobby at that years WonderCon was tied back to him. Instead, DC only demoted him from Executive Editor down to Group Editor.

Wait, in all honesty, Berganza should have been fired in the reorganization of 2010 instead of being promoted to executive editor that October, especially since not one, not two, not three, not four but FIVE (!) people went to DC Comics human resources that spring to document and a complain about Berganza’s history of sexual harassment, which at that point dated back almost 10 years.

Yes, five people gathered up enough courage to go to human resources to finally report the abuse they witnessed or experienced. And for their trouble, they got to sit by as Berganza got promoted. They had to avoid working on DC’s premiere IP–Superman and Wonder Woman and their spin-offs–so they could avoid falling into Berganza’s crosshairs. They all left while he remained. He would have been still there if the Buzzfeed article didn’t run a week before Justice League opened. And DC would have gotten away with just giving him a suspension if an angry base of fans, professionals and decent human beings didn’t loudly express their outrage at a serial harasser getting off so easy.

Some might say that the comic book industry is decades behind the times and stuff like that and that kind of thing wouldn’t happen anywhere else. The comic book industry is backward, but a trip to human resources does not guarantee results. Isa Hackett, producer on Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle and Roy Price’s accuser reported Price’s 2015 attempts to coerce her into sex to Amazon. The only result she got was Price stopped showing up at events that she was attending. He kept his job until Hackett went public with the accusations, then he was forced into resigning. Andrew Kreisberg’s accusers never even bothered to go to HR, believing that as important as Kreisberg was to Warner Brothers (which, coincidentally or not, also owns DC Entertainment), they’d only face retaliation from the studio or nothing would be done about the claims.

Sexual harassment is not a jail-worthy crime.

At least in and of itself it’s not. Laws vary from place to place but if the harassment takes place at work, then you have the right to file a civil lawsuit. But spending a 2-hour flight telling your seatmate how good you are at oral sex in order to convince her to hook up with you is not a crime, neither is telling a female producer that she’d love your dick while sharing a limo.

Once the harassment gets physical – when it turns to rape, assault, molestation, stalking or unlawful imprisonment, that’s when it becomes a crime. But some harassment falls into a gray area.  A pair of women who fell victim to the  Louis C.K. kink of masturbating in front of them didn’t go to the police because they were unsure that a crime was committed.

Even if you make an effort to find out what your rights are, there’s no guarantee that you’ll find someone to fight for them. In 2004,  Oliva Munn was a young and upcoming actress when she was asked to take lunch into director Brett Ratner’s trailer. When she did, she was allegedly ambushed by the director who was naked from the waist down and masturbated to completion before she was able to leave the trailer.

Munn went to an attorney at the urging of her sister to see what she could do about the situation legally. While she might have been able to sue Ratner because the harassment took place on a movie set, the lawyer recommended she not do anything at all. She was several years away from her star-making job hosting Attack of the Show and he was hot property after directing two Rush Hour films. The attorney thought her career might not have survived the lawsuit, so she passed.  

Excuses, excuses, excuses.

Typically, when accusations fly the accused will either ignore the accusation, or come up with some way to save face. Some of the responses from the above celebrities fall into defined categories, all which either inadvertently or directly throw shade on their accusers. Here are the trends:

  • The “I never intended to hurt anyone” excuse (Spacey, Hoffman, Savino): Usually couched in an apology, with a “That’s not who I am” tacked on for good measure. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like victim shaming, but it does have the air of faulting the victim for not understanding their intentions or taking what they meant the wrong way.
  • The “It was consensual” excuse (Dreyfuss, Guillod): The excuse where the accused claims it couldn’t be harassment because it part of what they believe was a flirtatious relationship (Dreyfuss) or that the accused and the victim were actually dating (Guillod). This blames the victim either by them sending false signals or outright lying to get back at the accused.
  • The “I don’t remember the victim/the event” excuse (Spacey, Takei, Weiner, Polanski): This excuse can be used in two ways, as an “out” as in Spacey’s case so he can apologize but not fully accept responsibility for his actions or as an outright part of denial to add credence to that denial. In the former, a horrible event in the life of the victim is diminished by it presumably not being important enough for their harasser to remember, in the latter, the victim is simply is made out to be a liar.
  • The “It was all business” excuse (Kreisberg, Weiner): This one claims that while the harassers might have commented on a person’s appearance, it was done in a business sense and no sexual overtones should have been picked up. This, of course, tries to make the people who spoke out look like they have not idea how business works and are stirring up trouble for no good reason, surely in an attempt to make them second guess themselves.
  • The “Vehement, yet manipulative” denial (Guillod, Westwick, Piven, Takei, Tambor): Technically not an excuse, but a way of denying what you were accused of by making yourself out to be a victim. Be it sadness over being accused of harassment by friends (Guillod), sadness over now being thought of as a rapist (Westwick), pain over being accused at all (Takei) or being appalled over being accused (Tambor), you try to gain sympathy by making yourself out to be a victim. Bonus “being a dick” points if you bring up the fact that the “false” accusation against you takes away focus from the real abusers (Piven).

 

Runners up for the Hollywood Asshole of the Year Award.

As we have seen above, most accused harassers will stop at nothing to portray themselves as a victim, even if it means shaming their accusers.  But two people on the list went above and beyond the call of duty in this regard:

James Toback

In the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein story breaking, new outlets went in search of the next serial harasser. One of the first men whose name popped up was James Toback.

The L.A. Times ran a story on October 22nd saying 38 women came forward to accuse the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Bugsy and the director of Two Girls and a Guy sexually harassed them. The M.O. was similar among most of his accusers – Toback would come up to attractive women and tell them they had the potential to be an actress. He’d invite them to where he was staying for an audition. He’d ask the actresses to get naked and then would either dry-hump their legs until he ejaculated into his pants or plead with them to twist his nipples while he masturbated.

The paper reached out to him for a comment, Toback pulled the “I don’t remember the victim/the event” excuse with a bizarre addendum. He couldn’t have done the acts these women said he did because he was a diabetic with a heart condition and was taking medicine. I can’t speak for the heart condition thing, but as a diabetic on medication, the only thing keeping me from doing what Toback is accused of is the fact that I have more than a shred of common decency and I am not a completely unredeemable pervert.

The story empowered more of Toback’s victims to come forward. So many that just two days later, the L.A. Times was reporting that his accusers now numbered over 200! The new accusers included Oscar winner Julianne Moore, Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams, Hellboy‘s Selma Blair, and Grey’s Anatomy‘s Ellen Pompeo.

Rolling Stone writer Hillel Aron was working on a story about Toback at the same time as the L.A. Times was writing theirs (his wife was one of Toback’s original accusers). He actually spoke with Toback on the phone and recorded the conversation. He published a transcript five days after the Times article ran, and what Toback said was worthy of breaking out the bullet points.

  • Toback stated that the accusations couldn’t be true because he takes filmmaking far too seriously to offer a role to novice actresses for any reason.
  • Said that anyone accusing him of harassment was a “lying cocksucker or cunt or both.”
  • Said that if he saw an accuser, he would “spit in his or her fucking face.”
  • Put Sienna Miller, star of his latest film, The Private Life of a Modern Woman, on the phone, as proof, I assume, of what a joy it is to work with him (the conversation with Miller was off-the-record).
  • Managed to plug that film in his response to the allegations.
  • Once again said the two particular women Aron spoke to were lying and that he never met them.
  • Questioned Aron’s journalistic standards and his abilities as a writer.
  • Hinted that there is a conspiracy of women “ganging up on him.”
  • Suggested that Aron say nothing about the allegations.
  • Called him back immediately after the interview ended to yell at Aron for his rude questions and not contacting anyone who would say anything positive about him.

Whew! It seems like Toback thinks that if he comes across as angry enough, that he engages in macho posturing and thuggish bullying, that it would counter act the over 200 (200!) people who accused him of harassment. It didn’t work for Aron, at it doesn’t work for me.

Brett Ratner

While Toback’s defense of himself was bizarre, overly aggressive and distasteful, at least he defend himself. Brett Ratner sent his lawyer to make his defense for him. But what Ratner lacked in a personal touch, he more than made up for it in victim blaming.

The L.A. Times spoke with six women who accused Ratner of various forms of harassment. Ratner had his lawyer respond to the charges in a 10-page document they sent to The Times that aggressively turned the accusations back on the accusers. Let’s go case by case:

Natasha Henstridge

Allegation: The Species star said that she attended a get together at Ratner’s apartment in the 1990’s when she was 19. She fell asleep and when she woke she found that she was alone with him. He barred the door to keep her from leaving and forced her to perform oral sex on him.

The Rebuttal: Singer accused the Henstridge of being “upset after learning my client had a girlfriend who he would not leave” for her. Yes, the allegations of rape was done by a jealous Henstridge to get back at him. Ugh.

However: The Times lists numerous witness who describe Henstridge reacting with anxiety and fear when she realized that she was supposed to be the same room as Ratner, just the type of reaction you’d expect from a vindictive manipulator hot for Ratner’s bod.

Olivia Munn

Allegation: In addition to the masturbation incident listed above, in 2010, Ratner confronted Munn at a party to ask her why she hated him.  When she admitted to disliking him, he came back with “Why? I bought 10 of your magazines and came over all of them.”

The Rebuttal: Singer writes of the masturbation incident that Munn and Ratner had “an intimate relationship” at the time. As for the incident at the party, Ratner “has no recollection of making such a statement.”

However: This is not first time Ratner claimed to have been in a relationship with Munn. Back in 2011, he claimed to have “banged her few times” back when she was going by Lisa Munn, before adding “…but I forgot her.” He would later recant the statement on Howard Stern that the statement was false and “expressed contrition for making her look like “a whore.”” And The Times interviews several other people at that 2010 party who confirmed that Ratner did indeed make that statement.

Katharine Towne

Allegation: The daughter of Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne met Ratner at a 2005 party at a movie star’s home. Ratner made aggressive advances on the actress, doing such a hard press that she had to run to the bathroom to escape him. Only one problem, he followed her into the bathroom. The only way Towne could get rid of Ratner was to give the director his phone number, which the director has his assistant call consistently for the next six months to set up a date.

The Rebuttal: Singer called the accusation “absurd” before adding, “Even if hypothetically this incident occurred exactly as claimed, how is flirting at a party, complimenting a woman on her appearance, and calling her to ask her for a date wrongful conduct?”

However: If it did happen exactly as claimed, Ratner FOLLOWED HER INTO THE BATHROOM AND KEPT HER THERE UNTIL HE GOT HER PHONE NUMBER! There’s your wrongful conduct there, slappy.

Jaime Ray Neiman

Allegation: Said that Ratner switched seats with his assistant on a 2005 Air Canada flight to Vancouver so he could sit next to Neiman. Ratner then proceeded to spend the rest of the flight doing an in-person infomercial for his sexual prowess, informing the actress how much he loved giving oral sex, how he would go down on her, and other sex acts he would perform on her.

The Rebuttal: Singer simply states Neiman’s accusation is a “ridiculous claim.”

However: The Times interviewed Neiman’s mother and friends who confirm that the actress relayed what Ratner did to them immediately after it happened.

Eri Sasaki and Jorina King

Allegations: Both women worked as extras in Ratner’s Rush Hour 2 and both stated that Ratner came on to them while on set. Both claimed that Ratner promised that they world get a speaking part if they went into the bathroom or his trailer with him. Both refused.

The Rebuttal: Singer says Ratner has no recollection of the Sasaki incident and called King’s claims “absurd” and “nonsensical.” “The movie was obviously already cast and shooting, so the notion that there would be a discussion of getting her a speaking role in the middle of a movie shoot is ridiculous,” Singer said.

However: Singer must not know anything about movies. Changing the movie while it is filming is a Hollywood tradition. Often times, screenwriters are on set to rewrite dialogue on the fly and actors have been known to ad-lib lines on their own. Making either of these women the romantic lead? Yeah, that would be absurd. Giving them a line of dialogue in the film as both women say Ratner promised? That would not be hard at all. Besides, The Times interviewed the film’s production assistant, Kent Richards, who confirm that both Sasaki and King – and a number of other women as well – came to him during the shoot to complain about Ratner’s behavior. Singer tried to discredit Richards by saying all he had to offer was “secondhand story about unnamed individuals.” Well, if he’s talking about women who came to him to complain, it’s really his first hand account of what happened, right?

After the L.A. Times article came out, Ellen Page posted a long rant on her Facebook page calling out Ratner for outing her as a lesbian on the set of X-Men: The Last Stand when she was 18 and listing other instances of harassment she witnessed by him on the set. Page also pointed out that when she refused to wear a “Team Ratner” T-shirt later on in the production, telling Ratner she was not on his team, she was reprimanded by producers speaking to Ratner in such a way.

It’s also important to recognize that Page made a point of saying no other of her cast members rose to her defense when Ratner outed her and since her post only Anna Paquin, Aaron Stanford and Shawn Ashmore have shown her any kind of support (as far as I can see as of press time) on social media.

Because this was the way it was in Hollywood. Going to HR would lead to nothing. Lawyers would talk you out of legal action out of fear of retribution. Producers would support the abuser who was making them money over an expendable talent. Other actors would remain silent out of fear for their careers. It was a system designed to incubate harassment, to make it the norm.

These latest rush of harassment claims might be public shaming, but that is all the victims might have. And it seems to be working. Weinstein lost his job. Warner Brothers (them again!) cut ties with Ratner. FX did the same to Louis C.K. The harassers are being pulled from power, reducing their access to more victims. And that, in the long run, is a good thing.

About William Gatevackes 1671 Articles

William is cursed with the shared love of comic books and of films. Luckily, this is a great time for him to be alive. His writing has been featured on Broken Frontier.com, PopMatters.com and in Comics Foundry magazine.