To Expel Him or Not? — Academy Members Debate How to Deal With Harvey Weinstein
The organization's board of governors will meet Saturday to decide what action to take against the disgraced mogul.
Should the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences strip disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein of his membership?
That’s the question that the organization’s 54-member board of governors will face when it gathers for an emergency meeting Saturday.
For some, it isn’t even an open question. “He's a reprobate. Of course, he should be kicked out,” says Larry McMurtry, the Oscar-winning co-writer of Brokeback Mountain. “There are far more deserving folk who are talented and behave with grace and dignity who aren't even in the Academy. Why keep someone like him?"
Others suggest that whether or not Weinstein remains a member, he's effectively no longer part of the group. "The Academy should consider condemning him in the most forceful terms,” former Academy president Sid Ganis tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Kick him out? He's already out."
For still others, although they are equally adamant in condemning Weinstein, who has been accused of multiple incidents of sexual harassment, abuse and even rape, there is the worrying concern that banishing Weinstein would set a precedent which would force the organization to begin policing the behavior of its 8,427 members.
"It's not that I wouldn't like to see Harvey booted out of the Academy. I would,” comments Bruce Feldman, a member of the public relations branch. “But this raises questions about [Roman] Polanski and [Bill] Cosby and Lord knows who else. And then there are the legions of big-shot producers and execs who belittle and scream at everyone daily. Is persistent abusiveness okay, but sexual predation isn't? I ran for [the board of governors] twice and lost. There's a silver lining in everything."
On Wednesday, as dozens of women stepped forward to testify about their encounters with Weinstein — who was fired Oct. 8 by the board of The Weinstein Co., which he co-founded in 2005 — the Academy issued a statement saying it “finds the conduct described in the allegations against Harvey Weinstein to be repugnant, abhorrent and antithetical to the high standards of the Academy and the creative community it represents." It also announced that the hastily called board meeting would discuss the allegations and "any actions warranted."
While it's generally believed that once invited to join the Academy, a member is a member for life, the Academy's bylaws do provide for the expulsion of members. In stipulating the duties of the board of governors, the bylaws state, "Any member of the Academy may be suspended or expelled for cause by the board of governors. Expulsion or suspension as herein provided for shall require the affirmative vote of not less than two-thirds of all the governors."
In its 90-year history, the Academy has expelled only one member: Carmine Caridi, an actor who was found to have violated the Academy's no-loaning screener policy after copies of movies that had been sent to him turned up online.
The Academy has also established expulsion as a punishment is in its regulations regarding Oscar campaigning, which is ironic since a number of the current rules were created to try to curtail the aggressive Oscar campaigns that were a Weinstein specialty. As head of first Miramax and then The Weinstein Co., he fielded five best picture Oscar winners and won a trophy himself as a producer of 1998’s Shakespeare in Love.
"Any Academy member who has authorized, executed or otherwise enabled a campaign activity that is determined by the Board of Governors to have undermined the letter or spirit of these regulations," the rule reads, "may be subject to suspension of membership or expulsion from the Academy."
In this case, though, Weinstein is accused of something far more serious than shamelessly courting Oscar voters: He is being called a serial sexual predator. While he initially acknowledged his behavior had "caused a lot of pain," he subsequently insisted any sexual encounters were consensual and denied the rape allegations. Many of the alleged incidents took place in or grew out of business settings — office meetings, business dinners, ostensible auditions and film festival visits — and given the mogul's outsized reputation have also tarnished Hollywood in the public eye.
Says executive branch member Donald Rosenfeld: "We must take this ugly, tawdry, destructive and utterly despicable Harvey Weinstein for what it is: the unthinkable. We members of the Academy are creators and not destroyers: Harvey Weinstein must be immediately expelled for life from the Academy. We must seize this moment to establish a code of honor — an honor code, if broken by any member, that will result in the same exclusion from the Academy, in perpetuity. What Harvey Weinstein has done to these young, hopeful lives — making victim after victim, through his continued sick, evil and criminal behavior, can never be forgiven."
Amy Berg, an Oscar nominee for her documentary about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, Deliver Us From Evil, notes, "Removing Harvey's power begins here. Sadly, Harvey Weinstein's exposé is just the tip of the iceberg. There are people in the industry who are known predators. They brag about their conquests and get endorsement for bad behavior. We hear stories and are disgusted, but we don't now how to react. The Academy should come up with an action plan — maybe a confidential tip line — to start to police this bullying and abusive behavior."
Commenting on a Vanity Fair article about Weinstein’s accusers posted on Facebook, CBS Films president Terry Press wrote: "If the Academy does not kick him out, I am resigning my Academy membership.”'
Prominent public relations exec Kelly Bush Novak, founder and CEO of ID PR, says, "Simply put, anyone who demonstrates such a prolific pattern of reprehensible conduct which has systematically impacted the safety and respect of women (or anyone) in our industry should be formally censured and expelled from the Academy."
Noting that the British Academy of Film and Television Arts had wasted no time in suspending Weinstein, public relations branch member Stuart Zakim says, “BAFTA, not the Academy, led the way and, as a longtime Academy member, I am very disappointed in our leadership’s lack of action here. Our industry is under a microscope as a result of Weinstein’s unacceptable behavior.”
Justin Hurwitz, the Oscar-winning composer of La La Land, also supports a clear reaction. “As a new member, I don't know much about disciplinary precedents, but I would personally like to see him removed," he says. "I think anything we can do to create a culture of accountability, and to show support for women who have been victimized by this kind of behavior, is a good thing."
Publicist Stephanie Kluft agrees. "Without question the board of governors must kick Harvey Weinstein out of the Academy," she says. "What reason could there be not to? Who would argue that is someone we should be proud to have as a member? He has never been held accountable for his brutish, savage behavior, which has been witnessed and documented. The women who have come forward revealed his criminal, repulsive actions, which had not been confirmed before. Now we know, no one can turn a blind eye. It's enough."
Others, though, urge caution. "For the Academy to treat Harvey as if he is the only creep in the business is wrong," comments Mitchell Block, a member of the short films and feature animation branch. "The problem is far larger than just Mr. Weinstein. The silence about the other sociopaths is deafening. I think the Academy should not move hastily and take action until it fully understands the scope of the problem and formulates a clear policy."
Another member of that branch, who declined to be named given the passions surrounding the subject, admits to being "deeply conflicted," but says, "I feel that I'm being forced by proxy to be part of a lynch mob. In no way do I condone immoral conduct; but this is a matter for the courts and public opinion to decide, not the responsibility of a board of governors of an honorary society comprised of artists casting stones who are not without sin."
A public relations branch member, who also declined to be named, comments: "As horrible and disgusting as Harvey's actions are, the Academy would be insane if they terminated his membership. There have been many, many Hollywood scandals over the past 90 years of AMPAS' existence and no word or deed emanated from the house of Oscar. To start now would be foolhardy. What the governors can and should do is make a strong statement of condemnation and leave it at that.”
Still others, just as concerned about setting a precedent, argue there may be a way for the Academy to make Weinstein's expulsion a singular case, given the gravity of the charges. And then, it could follow up by creating a new code of conduct that would govern how any future cases are treated.
"Harvey has clearly turned out to be as evil and base a criminal as they come. The question for the Academy is how to square booting him with past transgressors who haven’t been booted," says a member of the executive branch who proposes, "Maybe the Academy just acts without regard for precedent because this situation is so extreme and demanding of our collective outrage? But the statement that goes with it is going to have to answer a lot of questions — not simple, but still probably the way to go.”
Confessing, "I am torn," another member of the executives branch says, "Part of me strongly feels he should be removed for this appalling and illegal behavior. Another part of me questions the authority and reach of the Academy to adjudicate a criminal matter and the personal behavior of its membership. I lean towards removing him citing the specifics of this case with a strong statement of reproach — along with a new statement of purpose establishing new moral codes of conduct (no hate speech, no criminal activity, no racist/sexist/prejudiced behavior) for the members of an institution meant to recognize high artistic achievement.”
Oct. 13, 11:52 a.m. Updated to include Academy bylaws concerning expulsion, as well as additional comments by Academy members.