The movie mogul’s lawyers have dismissed ‘false’ reports of sexual harassment, but industry insiders claim there have long been rumors about his behavior.
When Emily Best, a Los Angeles-based film producer, got a text about the Harvey Weinstein “news”, it did not, she said, come as a surprise. Many in Hollywood had heard rumors of allegations against the movie mogul similar to those published in a New York Times investigation. More surprising to some was that it took this long for the accusations of “decades of sexual harassment” to be made public.
“We’re all fucking complicit, and it has to stop,” said Best, who said the accusations against Weinstein were an “open secret” in Hollywood. “The industry at large,” she alleged, “provided shelter for his bad behavior directly and indirectly” by staying silent.
But how widespread was the knowledge of his alleged harassment? And how common is the kind of behavior attributed to the mogul?
The award-winning producer repeatedly invited women to his hotel room for business purposes, it was alleged, and would greet them in the nude or ask them to massage him or watch him shower. The paper said he had reached settlements with at least eight women, including actors and assistants.
Weinstein apologized for the “pain” he had caused and announced a leave of absence, but his attorney said the story was “saturated with false and defamatory statements” and said he was planning to file a lawsuit against the newspaper. Weinstein has not faced criminal charges and has said he denies “many” of the allegations, none of which have been independently confirmed by the Guardian.
“I am going to fix myself, I am going to fix how I deal with women and how I deal with my temper and power,” Weinstein said in an interview with Page Six after the story broke in which he nonetheless insisted New York Times reporting had been “reckless”. He added: “I came of age in the 60s and 70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.”
Beyond specific claims against Weinstein, the scandal has shone a harsh light on a culture of sexual misconduct that some say prevails in a male-dominated film and television industry that has barely changed in the last 40 years.
To some industry figures and observers, the Weinstein allegations, if true, reflect one of Hollywood’s great shames, particularly considering that his reputation remained untouched for so long despite decades of allegations.
Influential executives who can make or break projects and careers, they claim, are able to prey on vulnerable women, and victims comply and stay quiet, either out of fear that they will be blacklisted or due to tight legal restrictions in non-disparagement agreements.
Melissa Silverstein, founder and publisher of the website Women and Hollywood, said if the accusations were true, anyone who may have “enabled” Weinstein would “have this on their conscience”. “The women who are brave enough to speak up – they are heroes,” she added.
One jarring illustration of the potential benefits of his “liberal” credentials is the fact that he secured the world-famous women’s rights attorney Lisa Bloom as one of his advisers during the scandal. Bloom is the daughter of the high-profile attorney Gloria Allred and is known for taking on Fox News, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump and other powerful men and corporations.
Her cases have helped build momentum and inspired others to speak out, with huge consequences for the accused and their industries. Some hope the Weinstein affair will prompt similar soul-searching in Hollywood.
Bloom announced in April that Weinstein was producing a series based on a book she wrote. In her statement Thursday, Bloom called Weinstein an “old dinosaur learning new ways”, adding: “I have been blunt with Harvey and he has listened to me.” She said Weinstein “is not going to demean or attack any of the women making accusations against him, although he does dispute many of the allegations”.
Weinstein’s sway in the industry may have made people fearful about speaking up.
“I work with clients who have worked with him directly, and all are saying they are not surprised,” said Danny Deraney, a Los Angeles PR executive who does crisis communications for celebrities.
Well-connected entertainment journalists have also written this week about the “open secret” that there were accusations swirling around Weinstein.
Best, founder and CEO of Seed&Spark, a film crowdfunding platform, said she had mentors who worked with Weinstein and shared concerns and rumors over the years. “Nobody had good stories about him,” she said, adding that the behavior described in the article was not uncommon in the industry.
“The Hollywood enterprise has thrived on an imbalance of power,” she said. “Everyone protects the ‘genius’ … And we’ve all agreed that women can be collateral damage.”
She pointed out how ads for assistants in Hollywood often call for people with “thick skin”, which she said is code for tolerating harassment and mistreatment: “We groom people for it. We literally are saying to young people in the industry, ‘Get ready for abuse.’”
One Hollywood insider who knows Weinstein, and requested anonymity in order to speak candidly, said that conversations about the producer’s behavior had been taking place for years, and some had accepted it as part of the industry culture. “This is not restricted or confined to Harvey. This happens everywhere,” the source said. “Ask any actress and she would tell you stories about experiences with sexual harassment.”
The fallout of the Weinstein revelations remains to be seen. Some predicted an avalanche of victims speaking out about mistreatment in the industry – the same way viral accounts of harassment have recently inspired scrutiny and reform in Silicon Valley, television broadcasting and the porn industry.
Deraney, the PR executive, said more people in the industry would have to consider whether it was too toxic to be associated with Weinstein and predicted that the long-term damage to the producer would become clearer during awards season.
Victims of harassment, however, may continue to be too afraid to speak out, said Silverstein, the publisher. “It’s still an industry where relationships matter, and people are scared,” she said. “It can ruin your life.”