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As the Academy Debates Harvey Weinstein, Much Rides in the Balance

The Academy must decide whether to set a precedent and expel the executive accused of serial sexual harassment and assault.

Harvey Weinstein at the 2017 Academy Awards

Jim Smeal/REX/Shutterstock

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences called an urgent board of governors meeting Saturday to decide what to do about one of their most storied members, Harvey Weinstein, who perhaps more than anyone in Hollywood today is identified with the Oscars.

This week the Weinstein Company’s ousted co-owner landed on the cover of Time Magazine after revelations in the New York Times, The New Yorker and beyond about his 30-odd years of bad behavior as an alleged sexual predator, abuser, harasser and rapist. His own brother Bob has gone on the record calling him “sick and depraved.” 

While the London and New York police departments have opened up cases on Harvey Weinstein, he has yet to be arrested, charged, or indicted. The Producers Guild of America postponed a recent meeting to give them privacy in their deliberations over his ongoing membership. BAFTA suspended him. UK politicians urged that he be stripped of his honorary CBE. And so on.

Membership in the Academy is by invitation of the Board of Governors. It has the right to bestow and revoke memberships, but that’s rare. Every year the Academy invites established members of the film community around the world who are deemed to have excelled in their field — in Weinstein’s case, as a distribution executive.

This would be a stunning reversal: By the count of The Weinstein Company’s website, Harvey Weinstein’s companies earned 303 Oscar nominations and 75 wins over three decades, including such beloved titles as “Pulp Fiction,” “The Crying Game,” “Chicago,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “The English Patient,” The King’s Speech” and “The Artist.”

Historically, the man known in the industry as “Harvey” is the second most-thanked person in acceptance speeches, after Steven Spielberg, and has been the butt of several Oscar jokes — most notably from 2013 presenter Seth Macfarlane, who admitted on Twitter that there was an edge behind the reference. The Oscar audience laughed.

The Academy has been under pressure from its members to oust Weinstein. On October 12, CBS Films president Terry Press posted on her personal Facebook page her outraged response to a Vanity Fair story that she shared:

If the Academy does not kick him out, I am resigning my Academy membership. Maybe its [sic] possible that some people did not know about his sick and debased behavior..but what is not possible is for ANYONE to stay they didn’t know he was a sociopathic bully who has always mistreated his employees and staff, displayed monstrous narcissism and cruelty and enjoyed being a sadist. The idea that anyone would give him a second chance or entertain the notion that he can change is beyond absurd.

While young actresses have been especially vulnerable to Weinstein’s predations — according to some 30 accounts so far — the other branch inside the Academy with much to complain about are marketing executives and publicists, who have been at the receiving end of Harvey’s wrath and venom for years. (Inside accounts of his belittling treatment of his fellow human beings, even in recent years, are shocking.) Press was at the receiving end of Weinstein during her battles on behalf of Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” which famously lost Best Picture in 1999 to “Shakespeare in Love.”

But the men and women who worked at Miramax and Weinstein and were ensnared in that toxic environment came away with more than emotional bruises; many carried trauma for the rest of their lives. So did directors whose movies were taken over by the man Time critic Richard Corliss dubbed “Harvey Scissorhands.” (Guillermo del Toro came out with his account of dealing with Miramax during “Mimic.”)

No Oscar campaign is coming from Weinstein Co. this year. The company has pulled from its Thanksgiving time slot “The Current War,” which was in the editing room with Harvey until the scandal broke, and suffered negative press at the recent Toronto Film Festival. Star Benedict Cumberbatch spoke out against Weinstein. So did Michael Moore, who along with a “stunned” Quentin Tarantino, has an ongoing project at the company. Many filmmakers are trying to extricate their projects from TWC — Amazon Studios, which has suspended its senior executive Roy Price after accusations emerged of sexual harassment of a producer, has scuttled its TWC David O. Russell series –just as the man still in charge, Bob Weinstein, insists that business is carrying on as usual.

AMPAS voters have been soft on their fellow members’ peccadillos, famously awarding a 2003 directing Oscar to Roman Polanski for “The Pianist,” years after he had gone into exile in Europe in order to escape serving more jail time after pleading guilty in a 1977 statutory rape case. (He’s still trying to figure out a way to come back.)

The Hollywood community forced several big stars into exile. After scandals rocked the careers of Charlie Chaplin and Ingrid Bergman, both were eventually forgiven and welcomed back. Many of the Academy’s largely male voters have looked at Polanski and never-charged Woody Allen as great talents, without judging their morality. More women than ever before (38 percent) are on the Academy board of governors, including Kimberly Peirce, Whoopi Goldberg and Kathleen Kennedy.

Mostly AMPAS has chastised their members for breaking rules, often surrounding Oscar campaigns. The Academy barred “The Hurt Locker’ producer Nicolas Chartier from attending the Oscars when he circulated a letter to members asking them not to vote for “Avatar,” but was thanked from the podium on Oscar night and did win an Oscar. The organization did expel for breaking the rules “Godfather: Part II” actor Carmine Caridi, who loaned some Oscar screeners to a pirate.

While some may believe that there is a slippery slope when the Academy starts acting as judge and jury — Bill Cosby and others have not had their membership revoked, the argument goes — Hollywood historian Mark Harris (“Five Came Back”) commented on Twitter that the Academy was better off breaking precedent than doing nothing: “People who do terrible things will still be in the Academy. And win Oscars. Kick him out anyway. Some things matter more than consistency.”

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