The casting couch has always been a particularly unctuous part of Hollywood lore. It conjures images of horny producers trapping nubile and naïve wannabe actresses in their offices and pressuring them into sex at the cost of their potential careers. It has always been a part of the system and seems like it always would be. But that might be about to change, because now the paradigm has changed. The image now isn’t of some random producer, it’s of Harvey Weinstein, one of the most powerful names in the industry. And it isn’t some naïve, talentless girl, but Oscar winners and stars of blockbusters.
The shocking relevation of Weinstein’s decades of sexual harassment coming to light has made many ask the question, how did he get away with it so long? Why did it take so long for these women to come forward? Why didn’t anyone who knew this was going on say something?
Unfortunately, armchair moralists from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to Redmond, Washington, from Billings, Montana to Key West, Florida have come upon an unsettling answer for those last two questions. It’s a case of them choosing money over morals.
It’s a simplistic take on the controversy, one that while common does nothing to address the systemic problems that allow the situation to exist. And the thing is, with Harvey Weinstein, there is plenty of evidence as to why the problem was not that simple.
“You know, for years I used to read about myself. They’d say, ‘He has a temper’ or ‘He’s a bully’ or something like that, and it always bothered me.”–Weinstein to New York magazine in 2001
Harvey Weinstein is an asshole.
That might sound like a legally actionable thing to say if there wasn’t so much on-the-record evidence to confirm it. Vulture ran the 11 most notorious instances of his being an asshole when the scandal broke. Here are the highlights:
- After a female reporter asked him a question about the movie O that he didn’t like, he called her a cunt and boasted that he was “the fucking sheriff of this fucking lawless piece-of-shit town,”
- When the above reporter’s boyfriend, a fellow journalist, step in to make Harvey calm down, the mogul pushed him down a flight of steps before dragging him out the door in a headlock.
- When director Julie Taymor commented on a test audience’s response to the film Frieda, Weinstein called her “the most arrogant person I have ever met!” and recommended that she “Go market the fucking film” herself. Then he challenged the man she was with. “I don’t like the look on your face. Why don’t you defend your wife, so I can beat the shit out of you.”
- He refused to address an intern by their given name, instead choosing to call them, “Fuckface”
- After Jonathan Taplin sold the film Shine to New Line instead of Miramax, Weinstein ambushed him at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival, grabbed him by the shirt and screamed ‘You fuck! You fucked me! You told Tony Safford he had it. You bid me up, you weren’t going to — you fucker!’ Weinstein denies touching Taplin.
- When a female producer tried to break up the above melee, Weinstein called her a bitch for her trouble.
- At a 2000 birthday party for Hillary Clinton, Weinstein took offense to a joke that Master of Ceremonies Nathan Lane said about Rudy Guliani and expressed his offense by slamming Lane against the wall. ‘This is my fucking show, we don’t need you.’ Weinstein reportedly told Lane.
- He called Patrick Goldstein, a Los Angeles Times columnist critical of Miramax’s Oscar campaigns, to intimidate him. “You’re a piece of shit, your column is a piece of shit, no one cares what you write, they throw the newspaper away and wrap fish in it,” Goldstein claims Weinstein said.
I had a friend that worked at the Tribeca Grill from around 2005 to about 2008. The restaurant is located beneath the Weinstein’s offices, and Weinstein was an investor in the establishment. As such, he would often frequent the restaurant. The wait staff hated waiting on him. He was always various degrees of miserable, and you’d never know what Harvey you would get. You might get the Harvey who would simply snipe at a waitress “I pay you to bring me my Diet Coke!” when you tried to make small talk. Other times, if that Diet Coke had a lemon wedge in it, he would take the fruit out of his drink and whip that wedge at the waitress’ face.
Weinstein is a bully. The pattern of behavior shown above tell us he wants what he wants and if he doesn’t get it, he’ll react–often violently. And these are all examples of what he is willing to in public in front of witness. Now imagine you are an aspiring actress alone with him in his hotel room. Tell me you’d be think about money at that time knowing all this.
“I think for us – the Weinstein name, the Miramax name – they’ve both become synonymous with brands. We have a real winning formula when it comes to championing a different kind of movie, and I think the audience trusts us.”–Weinstein to Fandango in 2012.
Becoming an actor isn’t easy. It’s a constant hustle. It’s waiting tables while still managing to make it to auditions. Talent gets your foot in the door but luck invites you. Sometimes the survival of your dream relies on a casting agent with a bad day. Other times it depends on a the lead you are understudying getting sick when a big name producer is in the audience. Or sometimes it is a fat man with bad skin who want you to watch him masturbate who controls whether your dream lives or dies.
It might be hard to believe it now, as Disney has allowed Miramax to lie fallow and The Weinstein Company being a pale comparison to what Miramax once was, but at one time Harvey Weinstein was the most powerful man in show business or darn close.
He and his brother Bob started Miramax–charmingly named after their parents Miriam and Max–in 1979, Their first film was a Paul McCartney and Wings concert film called Rockshow, released in 1980. Two years later, another concert film, The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball, put them on the map. Their stock rose once again in 1988 with the release of one of the best documentaries of all time, The Thin Blue Line. Then its identity was firmly established in 1989 with the release of Sex, Lies and Videotape.
That film showed the world what Miramax was. It was a distributor of literate, art house films that was willing to take a chance on novice auteurs and that was able to make money off of them. Directors such as Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Neil Jordan, Danny Boyle and Peter Jackson either got their start in the business or exposure to larger audiences through Harvey Weinstein’s attention.
Disney bought Miramax in 1993, giving the Weinsteins an influx of cash but allowing them to retain creative freedom. Now the studio became a yearly player in the Oscar races. They would remains so until the brothers’ acrimonious split with Disney in 2005.
It was during this time that Harvey Weinstein cultivated his influence and power. His success with the critics and at the box office gave him credibility and a huge war chest. He became all but untouchable. He could do anything and escape any and all repercussions. Rebecca Traister, the journalist from the first bullet point above, describes why Weinstein suffered no punishment for his actions against her or her coworker Andrew Goldman that night;
Such was the power of Harvey Weinstein in 2000 that despite the dozens of camera flashes that went off on that sidewalk that night, capturing the sight of an enormously famous film executive trying to pound in the head of a young newspaper reporter, I have never once seen a photo. Back then, Harvey could spin — or suppress — anything; there were so many journalists on his payroll, working as consultants on movie projects, or as screenwriters, or for his magazine.
She went on to further elaborate:
But Weinstein didn’t just exert physical power. He also employed legal and professional and economic power. He supposedly had every employee sign elaborate, binding nondisclosure agreements. He gave jobs to people who might otherwise work to bring him down, and gave gobs of money to other powerful people, who knows how much, but perhaps just enough to keep them from listening to ugly rumors that might circulate among young people, among less powerful people. For decades, the reporters who tried to tell the story of Harvey Weinstein butted up against the same wall of sheer force and immovable power that was leveraged against those ambitious actors, the vulnerable assistants, the executives whose careers, salaries, and reputations were in his hands.
The narrative that the victims and the people close to them chose money over morals loses some of its luster when you take this all into consideration. It’s hard to fight back when no one is willing to hear your story, when the harasser has an exorbitant amount of influence and money that keeps him free from facing the music.
I was a kid. I was signed up; I was petrified–Gwyneth Paltrow to the New York Times
Let’s take a look at some of Weinstein’s victims. This is not all of them, or even all that have come forward at press time. But I cherry-picked these to make a point. All descriptions courtesy of the L.A. Times:
Relative in show business: Daughter of Italian horror master Dario Argento.
Date of incident: 1997
Age at time of harassment: 21 or 22.
Career status at time of harassment: Had been acting since she was 9, had just started to break into directing.
Description: Argento alleged that Weinstein invited her to what was supposed to be a party at a hotel on the French Riviera in 1997. When she arrived, only Weinstein was there. According to Argento, after changing into a bathrobe, he forcibly performed oral sex on her. Argento entered into what she describes as a years-long coercive sexual relationship with him. “After the rape, he won,” she told the New Yorker.
Relative in show business: Daughter of actor Lewis Arquette. Sister of actors David, Alexis, Richmond and Patricia
Date of incident: Early 1990s
Age at time of harassment: 31 to 36.
Career status at time of harassment: Had been acting for over 10 years, had been nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe.
Description: The “Pulp Fiction” actress told the New Yorker that she went to the Beverly Hills Hotel in the early 1990s to get a script from Weinstein. According to her, he showed up at the door in a bathrobe and asked for a massage, then placed her hand on his erect penis. She says her career suffered after she rejected him.
Emma de Caunes
Relative in show business: Daughter of actor/director Antoine de Caunes
Date of incident: 2010
Age at time of harassment: 33 or 34.
Career status at time of harassment: Had been acting since she was 12, had written and directed a short film.
Description: The French actress alleged that in 2010, Weinstein invited her to his hotel room in Paris to discuss a book he wanted to adapt. According to her, he emerged from the bathroom naked and with an erection. She fled the room.
Relative in show business: Daughter of actor Jon Voight
Date of incident: Circa 1998
Age at time of harassment: 22 or 23
Career status at time of harassment: Had been acting since she was 16, was coming off breakthrough roles in TNT’s George Wallace and HBO’s Gia.
Description: The Oscar winner said the producer made advances in a hotel room during the release of her film “Playing by Heart” in the ’90s.
“I had a bad experience with Harvey Weinstein in my youth, and as a result, chose never to work with him again and warn others when they did,” Jolie told the New York Times. “This behavior towards women in any field, any country is unacceptable.”
Relative in show business: Mother Naomi and half-sister Wynonna made up the country music duo, The Judds
Date of incident: 1996 or 1997
Age at time of harassment: 27 to 29
Career status at time of harassment: Was over five years into her career, won an Independent Spirit Award and was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Emmy.
Description: Judd, whose personal account was a key part of the New York Times investigation, told the newspaper that while she was working on the 1997 thriller “Kiss the Girls,” Weinstein invited her to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel for what she thought would be a breakfast meeting. Instead, he had her sent up to his room, where he appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower, the newspaper said.
“I said no, a lot of ways, a lot of times, and he always came back at me with some new ask,” Judd said. “It was all this bargaining, this coercive bargaining.”
The outspoken actress was applauded by her colleagues for coming forward and also said that “women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.”
Relative in show business: Father Daniel was a commercial artist.
Date of incident: 1997
Age at time of harassment: 23 to 24
Career status at time of harassment: Was over five years into her career, was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.
Description: The “Charmed” alum, who appeared in the Weinstein Co.’s “Scream” franchise, reportedly reached a six-figure settlement with the producer in 1997 for an alleged incident in a hotel room during the Sundance Film Festival.
The settlement, however, was “not to be construed as an admission” by Weinstein, but intended to “avoid litigation and buy peace,” according to legal documents obtained by the New York Times.
McGowan has been a vocal on Twitter about Weinstein and has publicly condemned him, his brother and the Weinstein Co. board, along with actors such as Ben Affleck who claim they were unaware of Weinstein’s behavior.
NOTE: Since the above was written, McGowan has said that the “incident” was in fact Weinstein raping her.
Relative in show business: Daughter of producer Bruce Paltrow and Blythe Danner.
Date of incident: 1996
Age at time of harassment: 22
Career status at time of harassment: Was four years into her career, coming off showy roles in Seven and Hard Eight.
Description: Weinstein was credited with launching Paltrow’s career, aiding in her Oscar win for 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love” and turning her into the “first lady of Miramax.”
Before that, though, Paltrow claimed that the film producer assaulted her when she was 22 after he summoned her to his hotel suite at the Peninsula Beverly Hills for a work meeting about 1996’s “Emma.” There, according to Paltrow, he placed his hands on her and suggested they go to the bedroom for massages.
“I was a kid. I was signed up; I was petrified,” she told the New York Times.
Paltrow said she confided in her boyfriend at the time, actor Brad Pitt, who later confronted the producer. But she said Weinstein threatened to fire her if she talked about it again. The two managed to carry on with a professional relationship.
Relative in show business: Daughter of actor Paul Sorvino.
Date of incident: 1995
Age at time of harassment: 27 or 28
Career status at time of harassment: Had been acting for two years and was starting to get larger and larger roles.
Description: The actress told the New Yorker that Weinstein tried to give her a massage and “chas[ed] her around” a hotel room at the Toronto Film Festival in 1995, and later showed up at her New York apartment in the middle of the night. She believes her rebuff of his advances damaged her career.
This is a small sampling of the 24 women who have come out (so far) to accuse Weinstein of harassment. I put the spotlight on these women because they show that the casting couch doesn’t just catch the aspiring actress who is fresh of the bus. There are some big names among these ladies. All are daughters of someone in the entertainment industry or advertising. They’re careers had already started when they were targeted by Harvey, and many were already being recognized for their work.
And, afterward, with the exception Jolie and Paltrow, their careers failed to live up to the promise they showed before they escaped Lead film roles turned into supporting parts. blockbusters became indie films or direct-to-video flicks. Motion pictures became TV shows.
Well, except for Argento. Her reward for not getting away from Weinstein was a role in an American blockbuster, xXx. With the added cost of Weinstein apparently forcing himself on her again and again.
Of course, all these women except for McGowan kept silent about the harassment until right now. They didn’t trade their morals for money. Their silence was bought with the hopes that their punishment wouldn’t be even more severe.
“Sexual harassment is a subtle rape, and rape is more about fear than sex. Harassment is a way for a man to make a woman vulnerable.”–Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington in the 1991 New York Times Article, SEXUAL HARASSMENT: IT’S ABOUT POWER, NOT LUST
The other obvious thing that stands out about the above examples is the pattern of harassment. Weinstein would ask a woman up to his hotel room, alone, under the pretense of discussing work. When they got there, Harvey would be naked, sometimes wearing a bathrobe, sometimes not. Then the negotiations would begin, starting with massages and then working his way up. This doesn’t seem like the free wheeling attempts of a sex addict to get laid, but rather it has the appearance of the cold and calculating modus operandi of a repeat sexual predator.
But instead of keeping the focus exclusively on Weinstein’s behavior, we get commentary on the victim’s behavior. We get the “money for morals” bullshit. The victim becomes a victim again and the perpetrator has an out. “It can’t be really that bad! If it was that bad, they would have spoken out, no matter what!” And that is reprehensible.
You can see it with Weinstein with his own words, starting with his initial statement and then with his e-mail pleading for help to keep his job.
His initial, bizarre statement starts off with him making it seem like his behavior was something that was at one time acceptable, like corporate manuals in the 60s had sections on how to keep a bathrobe open enough so you penis can poke out and the proper etiquette for masturbating into a potted plant. Then comes a dodgy apology about the pain his actions may have caused. Then the best part, a rah-rah, about how he wants to be a better man and an dedication to…fighting the NRA.
His e-mail to studio heads like Ron Meyer, the vice chairman of NBCUniversal, David Zaslav, the president and chief executive officer of Discovery Communications, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, former chairman of Walt Disney Studios and co-founder of DreamWorks Animation to try to save his job was almost as bad. He was desperate but not that desperate. He wanted help, pledged to get better, but made sure he pointed out that “a lot of allegations were false.” Then he humbly stated that his firing would destroy the company. Then demands the letter of recommendation that day.
In neither document, did he admit exactly what he did. Nor did he specify which allegations were false and which allegations were accurate. You get the impression he believes that he is the victim in this scenario. That the crimes he committed (or the ones he would admit to, whatever they are) weren’t that big of a deal and that, well, he was so special that he deserves a second chance. That volunteering to three to four months of therapy will wipe away not only decades of sexual assaults, but just him being an all-purpose asshole for the same amount of time.
But, then again, why shouldn’t he feel that way. He was getting away for his misdeeds for so long, why should the fact that he is less powerful now than he was stop him from getting away with it forever. Why shouldn’t the people who turned a blind eye to his misdeeds continue to turn the same blind eye.
Because, after all, if he was really that bad, his long silent accusers wouldn’t have accepted money for their morals.
Harvey Weinstein wasn’t the only person to use his power in Hollywood for sex. But he was one of the most important. His downfall could burn the casting couch to ashes. It has started already will people coming forward against Ben Affleck, Oliver Stone and Steven Segal. Unfortunately, there will be no progress if we continue to focus on blaming the victim instead of holding the harasser fully responsible.