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by Dana Harris
March 1, 2012 11:19 AM
18 Comments
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A Former Employee Asks Harvey Weinstein: Can You Stop Being a Bully?

Harvey Weinstein and bullied student Alex Libby.
We've read -- and written -- a lot about "Bully" lately. The R rating, followed by the Weinstein protest, followed by a screening for kids, followed by NATO's counterprotest. And all of it has produced the sort of PR bonanza for which the Weinsteins are known.

"Bully" has also produced a curious side effect: Irony. 

Earlier this week, Movieline's S.T. Van Airsdale weighed in with his essay, "Harvey Weinstein's Bully Problem — and Ours:"

I privately vowed not to succumb to this most ironic of Weinsteinian pursuits: The most legendary bully of the modern Hollywood era releasing a movie about bullies, and then publicly bullying the MPAA over the last week with his outraged! Campaign! To overturn Bully's R rating for language! For the children! 

For Mark Lipsky, however, the comparison was less ironic than personal. He was a marketing exec for the early days of the Weinsteins' Miramax Films, where he handled Bille August's "Twist & Shout," Lizzie Borden's "Working Girls" and Jennie Livingston's "Paris is Burning." It launched Lipsky's career, but he remembers the Weinsteins as "two of the most unrepentant bullies I’d ever met." Writes Lipsky, 

They’ve famously bullied their staffs and their business partners and like most adult bullies, they’ve rarely if ever been called on it. In fact, I’ve so often heard it laughed off or even exploited by outsiders that, just like Rick Santorum, it makes me want to throw up.

Now, in the face of Weinstein releasing a documentary about bullying that he wants to affect as many people as possible, Lipsky asks: Can a bully change? That's why he wrote this open letter to Harvey (which originally appeared on Lipsky's site, InciteCinema). We've republished it with Lipsky's kind permission. -- Dana Harris

[UPDATE: Longtime Weinstein exec Meryl Poster replied to Lipsky's letter. Go HERE to read it on Indiewire.]

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In the natural world, bullying is an accepted, often essential ingredient. For some species it’s a foundational component in their evolutionary journey and an acceptable if sometimes heartbreaking fact of life.

Harvey and Bob have done so well for themselves pushing people around I find it hard to believe that they’ve given it up.

In the unnatural world – you know, the one we humans live in with our perversely outsized and underutilized brains – bullying is one of the most insidious and detestable realities. There’s nothing good or right or natural in human bullying, not for the past several thousands years anyway. Just like hatred and intolerance, bullying is a learned behavior and in my experience, the home is where all bullies are schooled. Once instilled in a child’s psychological makeup, it’s virtually impossible to unlearn without intense family counseling where both parents and all siblings are fully engaged and committed to the process – and how often does that happen?

So a bully is nearly always a bully for life. Once they’re out of school, their bullying continues within their own homes – where they pass the behavior on to yet another generation – and it wafts through their social circles and work environments. Sometimes it’s called domestic violence, sometimes workplace harassment but the root cause is a lifetime of untreated, unacknowledged bullying. Unfortunately, adults who bully are as unlikely to be confronted and taken to task as child bullies.

Back in 1986 I fell in with two of the most unrepentant bullies I’d ever met. They’ve famously bullied their staffs and their business partners and like most adult bullies, they’ve rarely if ever been called on it. In fact, I’ve so often heard it laughed off or even exploited by outsiders that, just like Rick Santorum, it makes me want to throw up. Now, I’m not saying it’s impossible for a bully to reform, but Harvey and Bob have done so well for themselves pushing people around I find it hard to believe that they’ve given it up.

However…

Last April, The Weinstein Company acquired Lee Hirsch’s “The Bully Project,” now titled simply “Bully.” Was it a hopeful sign that the Weinsteins went after Bully? Had they seen the error of their ways and now wanted to give something back besides derision and contempt? Or was it simply the definition of irony?

In any case, as you may have read, the MPAA recently handed the film – and the Weinstein marketing department – an ‘R’ rating. Last week, Harvey and Alex Libby, one of the bullied kids from the film, appealed the ruling but were denied. TWC is ‘threatening’ to release the film unrated which could seriously undermine their effort to reach the widest possible audience since NATO has now notified the company that if Bully goes out unrated, it will proactively ask theaters to enforce an NC-17 standard on the film which would mean no one under 18 admitted even *with* an adult. (In typical Harvey bluster, he responded by ‘threatening’ to take a leave of absence from the MPAA – an organization he doesn’t belong to.)

Prior to the appeal and according to Reuters, Harvey issued the following statement to the MPAA:

“As a father of four, I worry every day about bullying; it’s a serious and ever-present concern for me and my family. I want every child, parent, and educator in America to see ‘Bully,’ so it is imperative for us to gain a PG-13 rating. It’s better that children see bad language than bad behavior, so my wish is that the MPAA considers the importance of this matter as we make this appeal.”

Get up on that incredibly high horse of yours and use that bully pulpit to assure children, parents and educators everywhere that if you can reform, anyone can.

I hate bullying and always have. I also have an abiding contempt for hypocrisy. If Harvey has, in fact, reformed, he needs to come out and say so publicly. He needs to own his past behavior, admit to his addiction – bullying is an addiction, after all, both to power and dominance – and pledge to never bully anyone again. If he’s looking for ink and controversy (and he certainly is) there’s no more honest or powerful way for him and the film to get it.

I haven’t seen “Bully” yet but anything that shines a bright light on this terrible corruption of humanity is a good thing. By the way, I disagree about the rating. I think the ‘R’ is right for “Bully.” Certainly every kid in America should see the film, but it’s even more important for the parents to see it since they represent the root cause of the disease. Having to have a parent accompany the child to the theater is a good thing in this case. I’d go so far as to say both parents, if in fact there are two parents, should have to accompany the child.

Kids know all about bullying. They see it every day and everyone knows who the bullies are. But unless the parents of those bullies are made to experience an epiphany, take responsibility and choose to break the pattern, there’s little hope for any substantive change.

Harvey, you have a rare opportunity with “Bully” to actually move the needle and leave the world a better place. I believe that you’d like to see bullying stop. I believe that you “want every child, parent, and educator in America to see “Bully,” and not just for the boxoffice. So get up on that incredibly high horse of yours and use that bully pulpit to assure children, parents and educators everywhere that if you can reform, anyone can.

Light a fire, Harvey, for every kid that’s ever bullied someone and for every parent who taught them how.

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18 Comments

  • Edmund Higginbotham | June 29, 2012 10:19 PMReply

    I think its absolutely freaking disgusting that Harvey Weinsten is releasing a film called "Bully." Both him and his fellow Jews are the biggest bullies on Planet Earth. Bloody hypocrites.

  • E. Hill | March 2, 2012 8:37 PMReply

    And here I thought that Harvey's bad behaviour was a result of a pocket full of M&M's ?

  • Sherry Frazier | March 2, 2012 1:13 AMReply

    Please see Newsweek article this week if you want contrition. Noah, are you accusing Mr. Weinstein of acts criminally accused of Penn State Coaches---or are all coaches, all over the country free game? If not, then your argument is baseless. But that is fine. But FYI--if you have kids and they are athletes, then you will have experienced the same attitude---the people not in the game are the ones eager to pour hot coals on the coaches of winning teams and with the time to berate those who are successful. I wrote a comment because I thought the article was one-sided and the tone was mean. I am sure it was based on personal experience but I also know that every single successful company has a host of crying men & woman who have been hurt by exacting, visionary bosses. My only intent was to stick up for the guys, who it seems, get only punished for their good deeds. Should they be nice, well--that would be good. But I was only trying to bring out the results of their effort and the reward for their investment.

  • Noah Langer | March 2, 2012 11:04 AM

    I don't know to what Newsweek article you're referring. And no, I'm not accusing Weinstein of raping children, obviously. What I am saying is a person should be judged not only by what they do, but also by their personal conduct. Bullying, and using threats and intimidation are unacceptable forms of conduct. I admit, though they both may stem from a subconscious need for power and dominance, bullying isn't nearly as bad as child-rape. Nevertheless, being in a position of power (exacting or visionary as one may be) does not excuse a person for that kind of behavior. As for the Weinsteins being "only punished for their good deeds", I like that you think you're supporting the underdog here, but 200+ Oscar noms and 90 wins for their work, being referred to as God, and having almost everyone in entertainment kissing their feet doesn't sound much like punishment to me. Yes, it *would* be good if they were nice.

  • Noah Langer | March 1, 2012 9:34 PMReply

    Sherry, I don't see Lipsky's open letter as a "trashing" of Weinstein, but as an appeal to Weinstein to repent for his own failings of character. Lipsky makes no comment on the quality of Weinstein's films, nor does he discredit Weinstein's ability to promote them. It is possible to rebuke a person's behavior without trashing them or their body of work. I think it is fair to suggest that Weinstein, who didn't seem to mind when he was portrayed as a monstrous bully on HBO's Entourage (http://www.monstersandcritics.com/smallscreen/news/article_1329475.php), should probably do a little to reform his image, treat people better, and make sure kids know that it is not okay get their way through intimidation. Especially if he really means to make an impact with "Bully". If everyone resorted to intimidation and bullying to get what they wanted, we'd live in a pretty awful world.

    Your "coach" metaphor is poorly thought out as well, and poorly timed. Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky achieved quite a lot in the game of football, shall we forgive them their moral failings? Are they to be "revered" as well?

  • Lindsey | March 1, 2012 8:36 PMReply

    I'm a special needs teacher for kiddos with Asperger's. I saw "Bully" last summer at Silverdocs and I was so incredibly moved. I could relate on a personal level, but I could also see all of my students in the shoes of the "bullied" I can't wait for this movie to be released on a larger scale to help spark the beginnings of a powerful conversation about bullying. Point is--dude (yes, I'm a teacher that says "dude")--regardless of whatever bullying/shitty tendencies Weinstein has or doesn't have--this film is powerful and has the potential to change/save lives. I hope that this "upset" about Weinstein doesn't deter anyone from seeing the film. You will not regret ittt.

  • Lindsey | March 1, 2012 9:25 PM

    Thanks! And it is obvious that you endorse and care about this film reaching kids and their parents. Weinstein sounds like a huge turd--sorry about that, but definitely go see it. It's great.

  • Mark Lipsky | March 1, 2012 9:15 PM

    Dude -

    I couldn't agree more. The fact that I think everyone should see this film was the primary motivation behind my post. Sorry if that didn't come through clearly enough.

    And thanks for your unselfish choice to teach. The most important vocation there is. There are teachers along my family line and I revere them for it.

    Mark.

  • Edward Copeland | March 1, 2012 4:59 PMReply

    As Harvey bought himself another best picture Oscar for an overrated, subpar movie, I discussed with friends the idea of an alternate universe where when Weinstein started out and campaigned for good films such as The Crying Game, The Piano and Pulp Fiction, those films won and he didn't turn toward bullying and buying Oscars for middlebrow crap. What would the world be like then? Would there have been an Iraq war? Would somehow deserving performers and shows won Emmys such as Jeffrey Tambor's Hank Kingsley and The Wire? Would HBO have allowed David Milch to have all five seasons of Deadwood? Would somehow each year's Oscar broadcast not end up being worse than the year before because they thought about doing a good show instead of chasing phantom young viewers they'll never get? The mind reels...

  • Fat Tony Vawser | March 2, 2012 6:21 PM

    I'm always curious to ask those who think Harvey 'buys' his Oscars: does the money he throws around also have the effect of winning every other award that comes the 'undeserving' movie's way? Is it like a 10-for-one deal where he gets the NY Critics, PGA, DGA, BFCA, HFPA, Indie Spirits, AACTA, London Critics, ACE Eddie and the Academy - all presumably separate and independent entities - with the same campaign of blindsiding and brainwashing? Ever consider that every person who voted for The Artist did so because they liked it more than the other nominated films this year? (Or did they all wish at the last minute that they could have launched a write-in campaign for Drive but decided to just go with the flow?) For me, The Artist was the most satisfying, most focused and least indulgent movie I've seen in ages, even if not necessarily the most 'impressive'.

    So this year was worse than last year, which was worse than the year before, which was worse than...

  • Rania | March 1, 2012 2:02 PMReply

    And what about this play? http://theater.nytimes.com/2012/02/29/theater/reviews/assistance-by-leslye-headland-revolves-around-absent-boss.html?ref=theater

  • Sherry Frazier | March 1, 2012 12:20 PMReply

    We should all have Harvey Weinstein behind our film. His unwaivering commitment to excellence, uncanny 'eye' for the next great new idea, and his protection/promotion/perseverence in getting the right kind of attention for his films make him someone to be revered rather than trashed. It is always the player on the bench who hates the coach.

  • BasiaK | March 2, 2012 2:09 PM

    Sherry, do you have some business association with Weinstein? Because you are coming off as someone who would defend him at all costs. I LOVE Wagner's music, but you won't see me defending his racism. Weinstein can be a bully and can also be a talented and savy movie man. Why can't you get that?

  • Noah Langer | March 1, 2012 10:19 PM

    Oh, and Star-- this "unsubstantiated" quote you pulled from Lipsky's letter is clearly part of a thought that opens with the phrase "in my experience," and is obviously part of an opinion piece. Before you start picking apart this blog entry as if it's from an academic journal, try stepping back and looking at the big picture here. Lipsky is calling out a notorious bully on his behavior, while drawing attention to a movie that will be beneficial for all of us to see. Why are you up in arms about that? Why the snarky sarcasm?

  • Noah Langer | March 1, 2012 9:37 PM

    Sherry, I don't see Lipsky's open letter as a "trashing" of Weinstein, but as an appeal to Weinstein to repent for his own failings of character. Lipsky makes no comment on the quality of Weinstein's films, nor does he discredit Weinstein's ability to promote them. It is possible to rebuke a person's behavior without trashing them or their body of work. I think it is fair to suggest that Weinstein, who didn't seem to mind when he was portrayed as a monstrous bully on HBO's Entourage (http://www.monstersandcritics.com/smallscreen/news/article_1329475.php), should probably do a little to reform his image, treat people better, and make sure kids know that it is not okay get their way through intimidation. Especially if he really means to make an impact with "Bully". If everyone resorted to intimidation and bullying to get what they wanted, we'd live in a pretty awful world. Your "coach" metaphor is poorly thought out as well, and poorly timed. Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky achieved quite a lot in the game of football, shall we forgive them their moral failings? Are they to be "revered" as well?

  • star jonestown | March 1, 2012 3:03 PM

    Since you "hate a wasted teaching moment," Mark, perhaps you can also learn... The following quote from your piece is utterly unsubstantiated:
    "Once instilled in a child’s psychological makeup, it’s virtually impossible to unlearn without intense family counseling where both parents and all siblings are fully engaged and committed to the process – and how often does that happen? So a bully is nearly always a bully for life."

    In short, it appears that you consider yourself a wise sage who not only shall teach the Weinsteins a thing or two, you also are an expert in behavioral psychology. However, since you do not believe in something commonly referred to as CITATIONS and/or DATA, you appear to also be Completely Full of It.

    Your screed is an effective publicity stunt. Kudos, Mr. Marketing Exec... I wish I could have the previous 10 minutes of my life back, as I just wasted them on your 'Look at Me!' moment.

  • Mark Lipsky | March 1, 2012 2:05 PM

    Really Sherry? If all the tears cried by women who've toiled for Miramax over the years (can't speak for TWC) were collected, they'd fill a small ocean. If they've reformed and are now "to be revered" that's fantastic. Let them say so and shine a bright light on the issue rather than simply use it as a marketing/PR hook. BTW, I don't hate Harvey and Bob. I do hate a wasted teaching moment.

  • Sam Akin | March 1, 2012 11:44 AMReply

    Bravo!!!! I, too, have been puzzling over the irony of Harvey Weinstein, who has to be the independent film world's biggest bully, taking on "Bully" the movie. We recently saw the results of Harvey's brash, unrepentant, self-promotion, and flogging attitudes work in favor of his films on Oscar night. But, on the flip side, he is notorious - by all accounts horrible to work for, unforgiving at every juncture - all well documented in the book "Down and Dirty Pictures" by Peter Biskind.

    So I have been marveling at his leadership on "Bully" in what one can only assume must be a "come to Jesus moment" (even for a nice Jewish boy) that will hopefully transform him and his practices.