For decades, allegations of sexual harassment have plagued Hollywood, with big stars having to pay huge sums of money to alleged victims in order to keep their testimony away from the public sphere. That is why the firing of Harvey Weinstein, the producer behind movies such as Pulp Fiction and The King’s Speech, following several accusations of sexual harassment has been viewed by many as historic, with author Naomi Wolf saying it is “a landmark in penalties for this kind of eruption of testimony”.
Wolf is undoubtedly right. The prosecution of rape and sexual assault cases is shockingly low, both in Hollywood and the wider world itself. There are countless men in our film industry who have been accused of crimes of a sexual nature and yet continue to be employed, awarded and revered, with recent examples of this being Casey Affleck, John Travolta, Roman Polanski and Woody Allen.
Perhaps the biggest issue surrounding all of these cases is abuse of power. Weinstein disgustingly often told young actresses that he would advance their careers if they would perform sexual favours for him. Lauren O’Connor, one of the women who accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, recalled this, reflecting “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”. Not only does this imbalance stop women from speaking up about abuse, it means that the perpetrators hardly ever get any sort of retribution.
It is far too easy for men such as Weinstein to escape the justice they deserve, not just because of the structural problems in Hollywood, but because their work is often cited as a reason to keep them active. Mark Gill, who used to work with Weinstein at his old company Miramax, stated that “from the outside, it seemed golden — the Oscars, the success, the remarkable cultural impact. But behind the scenes, it was a mess”. Indeed, evidence is now surfacing that many of the executives that worked with Weinstein knew about his misdeeds and yet did nothing, partially because of his remarkable talents as a producer.
Often it is difficult to separate art from the artist. Is it wrong to dance to Michael Jackson when you know he has been accused of several counts of child molestation? Should one really think that Manchester by the Sea is a beautiful movie when aware that Casey Affleck was accused of sexual harassment by two women?
Certainly, enjoying an artists’ work does not necessarily mean the endorsement all of their actions. But this does not mean that we should allow someone’s artistic merit to put others at risk. Just because a person creates beautiful art, doesn’t mean they should continue to do so at the expense of those they work with. The firing of Weinstein protects not only the women that come into contact with him, but women everywhere. If Hollywood continues to espouse the message that men can simply get away with these sorts of crimes, there are serious implications for both men and women. The real message that Hollywood should project is that women have the right to be treated as equals in the workplace, and that any man found sexually assaulting or harassing a colleague will be fired and face legal action. Not, as in the case of Casey Affleck, that he will go on to win an Oscar for Best Actor, completely free of any ramifications of his actions.
Image: Thomas Wolf via Wikimedia Commons