The Harvey Weinstein scandal continues to boil with questions of who knew what and when, a new and disturbing story from Kate Beckinsale, and a NYPD investigation. The list of Weinstein’s accusers grows daily, as does the number of celebrities adding their voices to describe their shock and dismay.
While Weinstein’s behavior is “disgusting” (Robert Rodriguez) and “There is no excuse for sexual harassment or sexual assault” (Leonardo DiCaprio), we have to wrest our attentions from celebrity social media feeds if there’s any hope of stopping it. And while I believe the industry houses other Weinsteins who must be rooted out, the real work lies in paying serious attention to people whose names appear low in the credits crawl, when they’re there at all.
Sexual harassment crosses all categories, and there isn’t an actress (and not a few actors) who doesn’t have a story. Most have first-hand experience; those who don’t, certainly know those who do. Some faced these confrontations via marquee names, but many others came from encounters with casting directors, development execs, agents, managers, producers, and probably every section of IMDb.
To be clear: The entertainment industry has many people who never engage in anything like sexual harassment, much less assault. But there are those who do, and that’s the ordinary behavior that is much harder to destroy. Julianne Moore talks about how it’s “important in any kind of situation to speak up,” but consider what that looks like. Most harassment happens to the nobodies — people working to make a name for themselves. And in this industry, there is no swifter way to halt that progress than to be known as a pain in the ass.
Imagine this scenario: A working, non-famous actress is propositioned by a producer at an audition. If she’s not too shocked to respond, she could tell him off — but that only means she loses her chance to get a job. She could complain to her agent (risky; will auditions slow if she’s “a complainer”?), but that’s no clear path to success. State and federal employment laws forbid sexual harassment, but most of the people who make movies and TV are free agents. You’d have to go deep into a chain of command to find someone to take the complaint, if they were there at all.
But let’s say the agent finds someone — a more-senior producer. The agent says this happened to his client at an audition, and it’s unacceptable. But the agent isn’t particularly powerful (see: non-famous working actress), and the actress doesn’t even work for the production. So now we have Senior Producer dealing with this agent he’s never heard of, about an actress he doesn’t know, and he’s supposed to do what exactly?
At best, the harasser gets a “Hey, that’s not cool, chill” from Senior Producer. But the actress and agent now have an enemy in the harasser, and Senior Producer is annoyed that these random people added one more problem to the endless list of issues that define any production. He makes a mental note, or maybe tells the casting director not to use them in the future. Just not worth the hassle.
Or, here’s an alternative: The producer propositions the actress and she laughs it off, maybe even trying to act like she thinks he’s flirting with her, all the while edging her way to the door.
That’s not the stuff of drama. It’s not going to grip the news cycle. But not only is it infinitely more common than monsters like Weinstein, it also creates a reality where an industry perceives that behavior as being the ordinary cost of doing business.
I don’t think the problem will ever be eradicated, if only because Hollywood is an industry obsessed with power. It loves the power lists created by the trades, Vanity Fair, and other publications, and hell hath no fury like an executive who doesn’t make the cut. Power also is what lies at the root of harassment and assault; if sex were the point, there’s certainly easier ways to obtain it. These men could have a mistress, or hire a prostitute; historically, both have been popular options in Hollywood. Bluntly put, however, this is not really about fucking people. It’s about fucking with people, and getting off on their disadvantage.
IndieWire will remain dogged in pursuing and covering sexual harassment and assault allegations, as we have with allegations made against Devin Faraci, Harry Knowles, Andy Signore, and Harvey Weinstein. We also want to know stories about people who may not have a significant profile; they’re the garden-variety offenders responsible for making this such an ordinary occurrence. We track talent across the spectrum, and want to cheer them on, but we also want to let them know they face a dangerous business.
Harvey Weinstein is ruined: His case is extreme and looms large, which makes it easier for the industry to revile him as a pariah and a toxin. Stories like his make future ones easier, but it would be naive in the extreme to believe that’s enough. The industry will only change when it’s demonstrated that, on every level, there’s another consistent connection between abuse and power: Engage in abuse, and power will be taken away.