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A few hours after a jury declared Harvey Weinstein guilty of rape and a felony sex crime, a veteran (male) producer called me and said in a muted voice: “It’s a historic day.”
The tone was hushed not because he didn’t believe that Weinstein deserved prison. But as someone who had lived through Weinstein’s glory years, through the Miramax Oscar dominance and the Cannes yacht parties and his seeming invincibility, Harvey’s fall still had the power to stun.
It was a historic day; but it’s far from clear what its impact will be in Hollywood and beyond. The circumstances of the Weinstein case were unique — his conduct so pervasive and egregious — that a less aggressive abuser might easily look at it without seeing a cautionary tale for himself (or herself).
The facts of the case — with complicated accounts from the two complaining witnesses — were such that many prosecutors thought the attempt to bring Weinstein to justice was ill-advised. Did the jury’s willingness to convict on two of the five charges represent a crucial change in how rape is perceived, or simply a reaction to infamy?
While the Weinstein case was a victory for the prosecution and victims, it’s not clear that it can be replicated. And that’s without even considering whether it has implications for the routine abuse and discrimination that have long been tolerated in the entertainment industry. Hollywood still entirely lacks effective mechanisms to deal with that kind of misconduct. As was the case with Weinstein, the media has often become the remedy of last resort for victims of other alleged industry predators and abusers — victims who may have turned to HR departments without getting help, or who may be in situations where there is no HR department at all.
I keep thinking of Sarah Scott, the actress who hoped her union, SAG-AFTRA, would help her after she alleged misconduct by actor Kip Pardue in May 2018 — months after the #MeToo movement caught fire. While shooting a pilot, she said he had forced her to touch his penis during a sex scene and later masturbated in front of her in a dressing room. The pilot wasn’t picked up; there was no permanent production entity to which she could turn. She went to the police and was rebuffed.
After the union slowly and clumsily pulled together a proceeding in which another alleged victim came forward with an account of abuse on a different show, SAG-AFTRA censured Pardue and he was punished — with a $6,000 fine and a requirement to take an online class. That’ll teach him. Scott told her story to the Los Angeles Times, hoping for better in the future. And once again, the media stepped in where the industry failed.
The Weinstein verdict also leaves me wondering whether he was finally brought down in part because his glory days were over. I ask this without detracting in the least from the courage of the women who spoke out. Harvey still had major resources at his disposal, and we know the extremes to which he went to crush anyone who dared to challenge him. But I have also refreshed my memory in recent weeks on just how far Harvey had fallen by the time he was the subject of the exposés that led to the charges in New York.
It was a gradual descent. Disney, which had bought Miramax in 1993, ejected the Weinstein brothers in 2005. Harvey’s ambitions had already led to the bloated budget and failure of Cold Mountain, and he never really got his mojo back. He wasn’t out of the game — he still had Quentin Tarantino and for years boasted at least one movie in Oscar contention. But The Weinstein Co. would slide into financial difficulty.
In 2015, when news broke that Ambra Battilana Gutierrez had gone to the police alleging that Harvey had groped her, there were rumors that the nervous Weinstein Co. board — then hoping to be rescued by a $950 million deal with British television company ITV — thought about jettisoning him if the scandal threatened to become an issue that would derail the deal. ITV eventually walked away, not because of the misconduct allegations but also because the price was ridiculous. Harvey was safe — for a while. (Note that Cyrus Vance Jr., who eagerly took a victory lap as soon as the verdict was rendered, was the one who gave Weinstein a pass in the Gutierrez case.)
But times really were changing. The year before Gutierrez reported him, Weinstein Co. staffer Lauren O’Connor had written a memo to her bosses describing his sexual harassment and misconduct. A document like that is of incalculable value to a reporter trying to break a difficult story; it enables the journalist to tell sources confidently that the story is solid and likely to be published. In this case, the memo ended up in the hands of The New York Times.
As reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor revealed in their book, She Said, it was provided by a decades-long Weinstein employee, accountant Irwin Reiter. But would Reiter have come forward had Harvey still been at the peak of his powers? Make your best guess.
Certainly some — maybe including Weinstein himself — suspected that associates at the company, perhaps including his brother, Bob, had decided the time had come to get rid of him. If so, they were naive to assume that they could bury him in the press and move ahead without him. The company imploded and Harvey was arrested. While I was not in the courtroom during the trial, my instinct was that no jury could listen to the account of one woman after another — testimony from six victims revealing a clear pattern of conduct — and vote to acquit altogether.
Certainly the verdict appeared to stun Harvey, who — according to one of his lawyers — sat in disbelief, proclaiming, “I’m innocent. I’m innocent. How could this happen in America?” (Asked in a BBC interview whether she thought Weinstein was feeling any guilt after the verdict, his former assistant Zelda Perkins — who confronted her boss years ago and then violated an NDA to reveal his misconduct — responded, “It’s a hard question because I’m not a psychopath.”)
Though Weinstein wasn’t convicted on three major counts, he is still a felon and headed for prison — for how long will be clear after his March 11 sentencing. Not just for his specific victims but for literally millions of others, the image of Harvey in handcuffs was as essential as water in the driest of deserts.
The looming question for Hollywood now is whether the industry has the will to create mechanisms to deal with less extreme cases — and to deal with the insidious, sometimes subtle, garden-variety misogyny that keeps women — and people of color — from being fairly represented in executive suites and on sets. Because ultimately, that fairer representation is the only real remedy for a culture in which a man like Weinstein can thrive.
This story first appeared in the Feb. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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