Years ago, as a Variety film reporter, there was a familiar complaint about our coverage. Miramax Films was the darling of independent film, and Harvey Weinstein was its icon. His company’s name, and the power of his views, were the Netflix and Ted Sarandos of its time. This was more than a little annoying to his peers, who made tart comments: “When are you guys going to write the real Harvey story?”
We knew what they meant. Some of this had to do with Miramax business practices, but it also meant his behavior with women. We all heard the rumors. We even found them credible. Finding someone to confirm them, however, was impossible — and writing based on secondhand stories and gut instinct is a great recipe for libel.
Now, with excellent reporting led by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, The New York Times today published an incendiary expose on Weinstein’s behavior that stretches back three decades and includes on-the-record accounts from executives, assistants, actress Ashley Judd, and even former Miramax right hand Mark Gill, who oversaw marketing and ran the company’s Los Angeles office. It’s a story that must have taken months, even years, of reporting, editing, and careful vetting by the publication’s lawyers, and it’s an extraordinary achievement.
However, without the women who were brave enough to speak out with their names attached, this story could never have happened. Nor could the Devin Faraci story, or the Harry Knowles story. People heard “things” for years, but until there were women willing to say, “This happened, and it happened to me,” they remained open secrets.
If there’s a silver lining to all of these stories, it will be their ability to empower more women to speak out. And now, there may be reason to believe they will.
Finding people who will talk for a story based in sexual harassment isn’t just a matter of trust, or of dogged reporting — although both are essential. It means a woman has to be in a place where she can face issues of embarrassment, vulnerability, and most of all, the fear of reprisals personal and professional. Those aren’t just talking points for a therapist; they are hard-edged, real-world concerns with potentially life-altering consequences.
Anyone who might fault these women for taking so long to speak out about Weinstein, or doubt their words, needs to check themselves. In what the NYT described as a “searing memo” from former Weinstein Co. creative executive Lauren O’Connor, she made the odds plain: ”I am a 28 year old woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64 year old, world famous man and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.”
One reason this story can happen now is Harvey Weinstein of 2017 is not the Harvey Weinstein of 1998, when he released “Shakespeare in Love” and went on to prove that an indie film could sweep the Oscars. He is still a significant industry presence and an intimidating figure, but The Weinstein Co., which now puts much of its energy into TV, is a shadow of Miramax in its heyday. While that decline certainly doesn’t empower women, it removes some of his implicit threat.
And without the bravery of women’s voices, these stories don’t happen. Weinstein knows that; as Kantor and Twohey’s report details, Weinstein employees are thwarted by “contracts saying they will not criticize it or its leaders in a way that could harm its ‘business reputation’ or ‘any employee’s personal reputation.’” And yesterday, he let the world know he’d lawyered up with a battery of attorneys to face down the impending story.
It’s unclear what happens next. Yesterday, Weinstein seemed dismissive, saying of the charges: “The story sounds so good I want to buy the movie rights.” Today, he sent the NYT a puzzling statement that appeared to admit culpability, said he was seeing a “team” of people to help him “conquer my demons,” would take a leave of absence, and took pains to quote Jay-Z. Meanwhile, one of his attorneys said he’s preparing to hit the NYT with a $50 million defamation lawsuit.
My bet: More Weinstein stories will come, as will other stories about other circumstances of sexual harassment. It’s not gotten any easier for women to speak out, and the retributions haven’t gone away — but the best thing these articles have done is offer hard proof that those who speak will be believed.