[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers — if you can call reported facts spoilers — for Frontline’s “Weinstein” documentary from PBS and the BBC.]
Among the new revelations and ephemeral human moments within “Weinstein,” Frontline’s documentary (or episode, really) on Harvey Weinstein’s lifelong scandal only recently brought to light, some of the most striking scenes were not only widely reported, but also widely witnessed. They happened on stage during live telecasts seen by millions around the world: At the Oscars, Golden Globes, and more respected Hollywood ceremonies, actors thanked Harvey Weinstein for what he’d done on their behalf.
Those “thank you’s” came across as commonplace at the time — they’re often the most boring part of award shows — but they’re stomach-churning today. Jennifer Lawrence jokingly thanking Harvey for “killing whoever you had to kill to get me up here today”; Meryl Streep calling him “God” on live television. Knowing what we know now, these kinds of references fed the ego and power of a monster, making them heartbreaking reminders of how he got away with what he did for so long.
Whether or not the people on stage knew about Harvey’s transgressions isn’t the point: It’s that they were part of an industry that made Weinstein’s actions possible, and for years those in the know, both within the theater and (even more heartbreakingly) outside, sat and watched it happen. His victims, forced to remain silent by the NDAs so admirably focused on in the doc, had to witness him be hailed again and again, by their peers and Hollywood titans, at the events that crowned them.
Now we get to watch from their perspective, and those (brief) clips prove scathing. It’s in reliving moments like these — as well as listening to the victims tell their stories out loud — that lends “Weinstein” its power. The Oscars timing just gives it an edge.
Framed from the start around Sunday’s Academy Awards, “Weinstein” is mainly a summary of everything we already know. Though PR has pushed first-time interviews and a new accuser, none of the information presented is particularly surprising or revealing. One could argue Frontline pursues this story simply for the publicity that comes with “American TV’s First Post-Scandal Documentary on Harvey Weinstein,” but it could just as easily be argued that keeping this conversation alive is vital, especially with so many victims still willing (perhaps wanting) to tell their stories.
In the end, what sticks is hearing the victims speak. Suza Maher-Wilson, the new accuser, describes a scene so many others do, as well: an invitation to his hotel room under the guise of work, a plea for a massage, unexpected and uninvited nudity (a towel barely covering Harvey instead of an open robe), and then she fled for fear of worse. This story repeats, over and over, throughout the documentary in order to illustrate how long this behavior went on; Maher-Wilson worked on Weinstein’s 1981 horror film, “The Burning,” whereas Zoe Brock met him at the Cannes film festival near the height of his power in the ’90s.
Brock describes her encounter as a “negotiation. “He was negotiating for a massage,” she says, before noting how he “takes control of the situation” repeatedly while harassing her in a French hotel suite. She says she had to lock herself in the bathroom before he would stop, and when she screamed at him, he started to cry. “You don’t like me because I’m fat,” Brock remembers Weinstein saying, evoking momentary pity from the model. But she didn’t know how dangerous he was then.
Weinstein’s co-workers go back and forth: Former Miramax production head Paul Webster says, “I think looking back that I did know and I chose to suppress it. I think we were all enablers. I think we were all complicit.” But Tom Prince, the Weinstein Company’s vice president of physical production, says, “I knew nothing.”
Jane McMullen and Leo Telling, who produced and directed the Frontline feature, portray these claims bluntly, without bias, but they make sure to include New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s comments, as well (who filed suit against The Weinstein Company). He says it’s “unfathomable” that a company had received so many reports and complaints about sexual harassment without ever conducting an investigation.
This, the Oscar-focused framework, and the interviews where victims describe telling so, so many people about Harvey’s assaults right after they happened — including everyone from unnamed agents and producers to Gywneth Paltrow’s well-documented story about telling then-boyfriend Brad Pitt — give “Weinstein” a purpose beyond an up-to-date recap of the scandal. It’s about Hollywood accepting culpability beyond Harvey. The knowledge is out there, it’s not going away, and things need to change.
“It saddens me that everybody woke up because of Harvey Weinstein, but thank God we’ve woken up,” Women in Film president Cathy Schulman says to end the documentary.
This year, as the doc points out, Harvey Weinstein won’t be at the Academy Awards, but the movement responding to his actions (and many others’) will be. So when Time’s Up gets its moment during the Oscars on Sunday, pay attention. That’s when all those thank you’s get revoked.