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A strange twinge of emotion passed through me when I read the latest twist in the Harvey Weinstein story: that new charges had been filed against him by the Manhattan District Attorney. On July 2, as most readers of this column will know, the DA said there was a third woman Weinstein had assaulted, in addition to the two previously cited in its earlier criminal charges. This time the charge was predatory sexual assault, and if the 66-year-old mogul is found guilty, it could mean life in prison.
So what was that odd emotion I felt when I learned the news? Was it nostalgia for the man who once towered over Hollywood, the greatest showman of his era? Was it regret that a filmmaker of his gifts should have fallen so far? Or was it something else, a sense of relief, perhaps, that his reign of terror was over, a reign whose toxic mix of brutality and rage was forced on a whole swath of people — most obviously the women he’s alleged to have assaulted, but also the executives, assistants, writers, directors, producers, agents and even, yes, journalists that he badgered without end?
It was none of these. It was a frisson of fear.
Because even as I recognized that Weinstein’s time is truly up, I also realized that he won’t go down without a fight. Just as this chapter in the #MeToo chronicle is drawing to an end, another is about to begin. Call it Harvey’s Revenge.
His attorney, Benjamin Brafman, has already said Weinstein will plead not guilty to the new charges, noting: “Mr. Weinstein maintains that all of these allegations are false and he expects to be fully vindicated. Furthermore, to charge Mr. Weinstein as a predator when the interactions were each consensual is simply not justified.”
So if you think Weinstein is going to take the slings and arrows of a hostile DA lying down, think again. And if you imagine he’ll sit humbly in the courtroom, uttering a string of “mea culpas” or quietly authorizing his attorney to negotiate a years-behind-bars plea bargain, you’ve got another thing coming.
Even if he doesn’t take the witness stand, he’ll make sure a whole lot of other people do. And I don’t just mean the dozens of women who have accused him of everything from harassment to rape; I mean the hundreds of willing bystanders, the men (and sometimes women) who stood by and let terrible things happen, because they didn’t have the nerve to stand up to him or persuaded themselves this was just the way business was done. There were those who didn’t know, but also those who chose not to.
Weinstein’s loudest argument is likely to be: Not only is he not guilty, but that anyone and everyone who got into his proximity knew the rules of the game. And those rules were that sexism and chauvinism, lewdness and lechery, violence and predation were OK. More than that, they were the order of the day.
He’s likely to say: How could there be any genuine victims when everyone knew what he was up to? And how could they not know, when the casting couch is a tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme?
That’s the tacitly accepted creed, that all the moguls of yore — the men whose brash, bulldozing personalities were strong enough to raze Los Angeles’ citrus groves and build empires of their own — took for granted, just as they expected their wives, girlfriends, colleagues and employees to do the same. They were egotists who believed in individualism to the nth degree: that there’s one set of rules for you and another for me. Like so many kings and monarchs, they held to their droit de seigneur and created feudal estates that could cater to their every fancy. The idea that another human being might have worth and value, let alone be their equal, had nothing to do with the warped universe of their imaginations.
They’d grown up in lands where there was no such thing as equality. And they’d fled the Old World, not because they believed in liberty for all, but because they believed in it entirely for themselves. This was survival of the fittest, a Darwinian ethos that left no room for weakness and no place for anyone less able to carve a path of his or her own. They clung to their own reality distortion fields, just as Steve Jobs clung to his, and if their reality didn’t fit yours, you’d simply have to buckle and give way.
They were the kind of people who would love the current mantra “follow your truth” — as if “your truth” and “my truth” can somehow co-exist without being one and the same. But there’s no such thing as different truths; there’s only one, objective truth, that we should all cherish.
And yet many men (and a few women) in Hollywood chose not to do so in the Weinstein era, just as in the decades that preceded it. They chose to focus on bits and pieces of the truth: that Weinstein was a great producer; that he could butter their bread if they buttered his; that this was just the way things were done. Who were they to challenge Hollywood’s most established conventions?
Now, as everyone knows, we’re all being challenged. We’re being forced to recognize we parsed the truth. We put up fences between one aspect of it and another — between the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We believed it was OK to have some and ignore the rest. But it isn’t and never will be. Not just in a court of law, but in life.
That’s what all those potential witnesses should say now. Before they’re called, before they have to wriggle on the stand, let them speak up now and admit where they went wrong. Only by acknowledging the full horror of the past will we ever be able to move beyond it.
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