Update: On Oct. 8, The Weinstein Company announced it had fired its co-founder Harvey Weinstein.
Harvey Weinstein knows how to put on a show. For decades, the producer has exerted an indelible imprint on popular culture, first through Miramax Films then The Weinstein Company, both co-run with his brother, Bob. Pulp Fiction. The King’s Speech. Shakespeare in Love. Silver Linings Playbook. Wind River. All Weinstein movies. Weinstein himself exudes a kind of cinematic grandiosity. He’s a big, loud, aggressive man known to bully and intimidate. “He has a hungry, massive ego that cannot be sated,” David Carr wrote in a 2001 profile, in which he referred to Weinstein himself as “a cultural good,” noting that “Pulp Fiction, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, and Shakespeare in Love have all become a part of the national narrative, framing the way people dance, talk, and fight.”
Following the explosive New York Times’ story published Thursday, that narrative now extends to workplace sexual harassment and assault—or, as it’s more quaintly known, “the casting couch.” The paper quoted numerous women who worked for Weinstein or sought work from him. The actor Ashley Judd reported Weinstein invited her to his hotel room when she was filming a Weinstein project in the ’90s; he pressed her for a massage, then a shoulder rub, then to watch him shower. Judd recalled feeling “panicky, trapped: “There’s a lot on the line, the cachet that came with Miramax.”
Now Weinstein is stage managing his biggest production yet, in which he has the central role. A few days in, it’s a hurricane-like spectacle, one that has extended beyond the entertainment industry: the Democratic Party is currently in a panicked scramble as they distance themselves from one of the party’s biggest donors and fundraisers.
Already the show has exposed the culture of complicity that let Weinstein (and all of the other Harveys out there) get away with it. Those dynamics are spelled out in a 2015 memo obtained by the Times that Lauren O’Connor, then a Weinstein Company employee, sent to executives detailing Weinstein’s abusive behaviour toward female employees. It makes for distressing reading: one woman was coerced into giving a massage while Weinstein was naked; another woman advised a peer to wear a parka as a layer of protection from unwanted touching. O’Connor wrote that she and other women felt they were being exploited to help Weinstein meet “vulnerable women who hope he will get them work.” It was no-win for her: “I am a 28 year old woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64 year old, world famous man and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.”
That power imbalance allowed Weinstein’s behaviour to be an unchecked open secret for decades within an industry that itself consumes young women, one in which women are grossly underrepresented and underpaid. Weinstein was revered as the rich guy who commandeered Oscars, who made prestige movies, who donated to an array of progressive causes. He also bought silence; employees are forced to sign non-disclosure agreements; the Times‘ reported Weinstein reached financial settlements with at least eight women who’d brought allegations, all with gag orders attached.
WATCH MORE: Weinstein’s Conduct, Questions of Who Knew
Weinstein dealt with impending scandal by hiring showmen. Charles Harder, the lawyer who represented Hulk Hogan in a libel suit that lead to the demise of Gawker.com, was brought in to threaten the Times with a $50-million lawsuit. He also retained lawyer Lisa Bloom, who, like her mother, Gloria Allred, built a career as an outspoken advocate for women in high-profile sexual harassment and assault cases. Bloom’s defence of Bill O’Reilly’s accusers resulted in the Fox News star being given the boot.
In September, Bloom was a fierce defender of women in a panel discussion at a one-day Women in the World event in Toronto. She spoke of her commitment to end conditions that lead to harassment and assault: “It’s my job to smash the patriarchy,” she said. She implored women in the audience, particularly older women, to speak out: “If you have financial security, and are at a certain place, you have to stand up. When our time comes, we have to stand up.”
Weeks later, she was posting a statement on Twitter explaining that she was giving lessons to a patriarchy power player; this included explaining power imbalances, and why some of his behaviour could be seen as “inappropriate, even intimidating.” She described Weinstein as “an old dinosaur learning new ways,” explaining “it is 2017 and he needs to evolve to a higher standard.”
As scripts go, this one needs a rewrite—unless Bloom was being subversive. If history teaches anything about dinosaurs, “evolving” isn’t what they do. For a women’s rights proponent to view 2017 some sort of Enlightenment period, particularly in the U.S., is also baffling. A man who boasted of sexually assaulting women managed to get elected to highest office. Bloom should know: she’s defending three women accusing President Trump of sexual assault. More to the point: giving a 65-year-old tutorials on how not to be a crude boor to women is useless. If you want to make Harvey Weinstein stop harassing women, hit him where it hurts: his bottom line.
Predictably, Bloom’s involvement with Weinstein became its own sideshow, met with puzzlement and criticism, even from her own mother. Within an hour of the Times’ story dropping online, New York magazine ran “Why is Lisa Bloom Defending Harvey Weinstein?” One explanation: earlier this year, Weinstein’s company optioned Bloom’s 2014 book Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It; it’s being made into a mini-series, with Jay-Z as its executive producer.
Casting Bloom was a brilliant move on Weinstein’s part—a feminist lawyer who can educate him, and make him a better man. It’s the kind of redemption story Hollywood loves—from Jerry Maguire to Silver Linings Playbook. They were going to “throw out the old playbook,” in terms of dealing with harassment charges, Bloom said Friday on “Good Morning America.” Weinstein wouldn’t attack any women who accused him. She encouraged other women to come forward (one has) so they could have an open discussion. Her Twitter statement explained she’d be conducting a workplace audit at the Weinstein Company and will offer suggestions “to ensure that gender equality and zero tolerance for workplace misconduct” are “a reality.”
Bloom said that when Weinstein optioned her book she asked about the longstanding harassment allegations; working with him offered as a chance to glean insight from the other side of the power dynamic. Yet speaking on Weinstein’s behalf saw Bloom downplaying, even normalizing his behaviour, which she called vague “workplace misconduct” not “sexual harassment.” She called it “gross,” leaving it to anchor George Stephanopoulos to point out it’s also illegal.
Bloom also bizarrely invoked her own dealings with Weinstein as proof he’s no threat: “And as we work together on a project bringing my book to the screen, he has always been respectful towards me.” It’s a statement that blatantly disrespects the vulnerability of women far less powerful than she is. Bloom is 56, secure in her career. Weinstein targeted women starting out whom he believed couldn’t say ‘No.’ Weinstein is sorry, she said, describing him as “a guy who has behaved badly over the years who is genuinely remorseful.”
You wouldn’t know from Weinstein’s interview with the New York Post published Thursday night. He admitted “misconduct” had occurred but painted himself as the misunderstood victim: “In the past I used to compliment people, and some took it as me being sexual, I won’t do that again.” He wanted “to respect women,” he said, as if a learning curve was required: “I put myself in positions that were stupid, I want to respect women and do things better.” Despite Bloom’s promise he wouldn’t demean or attack women making accusations, Weinstein took nasty jabs at Judd’s credibility, first alluding to her history of childhood sexual abuse and depression, then to her smiling in a photo with him taken after the alleged incident. He also tasked women—his wife, Georgina Chapman, and Bloom—with helping him remedy decades of “bad behaviour”: “Georgina will be with Lisa and others kicking my ass to be a better human being.”
In the aftermath of the Times’ story, the focus has been on money and power—as in keeping it. Weinstein has promised to fund female causes. Proceeds from a yet-to-be-filed libel lawsuit Times‘ lawsuit will be donated to women’s organizations, his lawyer said. Bloom announced that Weinstein has been working for over a year for a “major foundation with [University of Southern California] with one of the largest grants for female directors.”
On Thursday night, a panicked Weinstein Company board called an emergency meeting. They announced Weinstein would begin an indefinite leave; an outside law firm will investigate the allegations. There’s concern about upcoming awards season—that the company’s current perceived Academy Award contenders, “Wind River” and “The Current War” will be punished by Oscar voters.
The drama is just beginning. On Saturday, the New York Post, ran an “exclusive” story claiming palace intrigue: that Bob Weinstein might have fed the Times’ exposé in a power play to oust his brother. On Saturday afternoon, Bloom abruptly quit, saying only: “My understanding is that Mr. Weinstein and his board are moving toward an agreement.”
Calls are out for Harvey’s head, as if that will end the problem. As the New York Times points out, “Harvey Weinstein is the company“; he screams the shots. Still, Mika Brzezinski, a “Morning Joe” co-host said Saturday she won’t write any more books for Weinstein’s publishing house if he’s at the helm. To see Weinstein the sole villain here is to ignore the decades of complicity and willful blindness required by supporting players. The company didn’t think there was a problem in 2015 when a brave employee wrote its executives a memo. Carr forecast future disturbance in his 2001 profile: “[Weinstein] is a diabolical personality combined with a relentless drive and an understanding of mass appeal. With that combination, the danger becomes enormous and limitless.” Now we get to see just how extensive the damage has been.
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