The award-winning Hollywood media mogul’s fall from grace is not an isolated scandal, it is a peek into the broader culture that treats women as objects of gratification, says Preeja Aravind.
Casting Couch. Two words that are as much a tall tale for the naysayers, as they are a reality for starlets across the world. Two weeks ago, the world was supposedly shocked by the exposé done by The New York Times, followed by one by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker, on film producer Harvey Weinstein.
The inference of The NY Times’ report is that the man behind production houses such as Miramax and The Weinstein Company has been a serial sexual abuser for as long as he has been in business. Since the publication, women have come forward with tales of abuse, harassment and manipulation by this 65-year-old media honcho.
There has been a barrage of news reports across publications—on both sides of the Atlantic—that might have different words, but the pattern is the same: there was exploitation, there was suffering, silent and otherwise, and then there was settlement.
You joke, but it’s true
But is it really an exposé, considering it has been an “open secret”? There have been numerous occasions where those in the show business have taken jabs at Weinstein’s known digressions, but all were laughed off because, well, they were said in jest. Considering the allegations, those jabs seem to be anything but a feeble attempt at making others notice what is happening around them.
People have been trying to single out Weinstein and his indiscretions. Seth McFarlane, who after introducing the Oscar nominees for the 2012 Best Supporting Actress, said at the ceremony, “Congratulations. You five ladies no longer have to pretend you’re attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”
In 30 Rock, Jane Krakowski’s character Jenna Maroney announced in an episode, “I turned down intercourse with Harvey Weinstein on no less than three occasions…” HBO’s show business series Entourage has a character “Harvey Weingard” who is uncannily similar to the 65-year-old.
It’s safe to say none of these were taken seriously, up till now.
Hypocrisy and complicity
Since the story broke out, too, there have been skits and sketches that have tried to shame Weinstein. But the prevalent behavior had been to “see no evil” twisted to suit the perpetrator than the victim. Surprisingly, while people who could do something turned a blind eye to Weinstein’s misdeeds, he was collecting awards; one of which is the “CBE”- an order of merit, bestowed for “chivalry” by the British Empire, and is just a step beneath actual knighthood. Do you see the irony?
The more disturbing question that needs to be asked is how did Weinstein get away with his misconduct for so long? It was because of the complicity that silence provides. This is a support that enables, and empowers, a set-up where women are only instruments of conquests.
A-lister actors such as Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie have told about their not-so-pleasant encounters with Weinstein. Courtney Love is said to have warned other actresses of Weinstein’s behaviour. But all this was mentioned in the passing, and thus was sidelined.
It didn’t happen to me
In this melee there are the Weinstein defenders, too. Woody Allen, Donna Karan and Oliver Stone have outraged the victims and their supporters equally by trying to justify Weinstein’s actions. They have, since then, tried to explain their comments.
Those closely associated with Weinstein were quick to do damage control. His own company board fired him. This is in light of at least eight legal settlements made by Weinstein which were known to his associates. The Academy for Motion Pictures stripped Weinstein of his privileges, but it is yet to take any action against its members such as Casey Affleck, Bill Cosby and Mel Gibson (who have been sued for sexual harassment), and Roman Polanski (an accused child rapist).
Weinstein’s victims have been all kinds of women—actresses, assistants, temp employees—and yet they couldn’t bandy together to go against the man, who for all intents violated them. And it took an in-depth news report for these women to open up about their harrowing experiences. Ronan Farrow, the author of the report on Weinstein in The New Yorker, had reportedly first offered the same story to NBC.
While Meryl Streep and Judi Dench slammed the Hollywood producer for his actions, both have claimed to be “unaware” of his history as a harasser and an abuser. Kate Winslet, who might have refused to thank Weinstein in her speech, but she has posed joyfully with Polanski.
All women #MeToo
Closer home, female actors have time and again accused directors and producers—men in power—of making sexual advances on them on the pretext of ‘film business’. From our favourite off-beat cinema veteran Kalki Koechlin to the yesteryears’ leading lady Mamta Kulkarni—all of them have had to face the couch at one point or other in their careers.
Starlets such as Preeti Jain has even dragged Madhur Bhandarkar to court over his misdemeanours. Actresses in television or film—the list is not exhaustive—have been victims, and men in power are the perpetrators.
Today, after the Weinstein scandal broke out, there is a camaraderie between women. Twitter is ablaze with the #MeToo campaign where women are supporting women. Across the globe, women who had to face violence, harassment, threats and abuse, have now decided to shed their cloak of vulnerability and stand in solidarity. But. Is this enough?
What the Weinstein scandal has proven is that the entertainment industry has a dark underbelly, which has not been truly exposed. It is also yet to be emancipated from misogynistic culture, no matter which country the industry is thriving in.
This is just a band-aid that has been ripped off from a festering, septic wound, but the actual treatment is yet to commence.