Hollywood’s Loud Silence on Harvey Weinstein
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty
Early Thursday afternoon—late morning on the West Coast—The New York Times dropped a bombshell investigative report alleging decades of sexual-harassment allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
The story, by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, included testimony from a medley of actresses, film executives, and film staffers close to Weinstein, many of whom accused the Weinstein Company co-chairman of predatory conduct.
“Mr. Weinstein has reached at least eight settlements with women, according to two company officials speaking on the condition of anonymity,” reported the Times. “Among the recipients, The Times found, were a young assistant in New York in 1990, an actress in 1997, an assistant in London in 1998, an Italian model in 2015, and Ms. [Lauren] O’Connor shortly after, according to records and those familiar with the agreements.”
The Times piece later identified the 1997 actress as Rose McGowan, who starred in the 1996 film Scream, which was distributed by Weinstein-owned Dimension Films. In October 2016, McGowan tweeted, “Because my ex sold our movie to my rapist for distribution #WhyWomenDontReport.” It’s not known whom McGowan was referring to, though she dated filmmaker Robert Rodriguez from 2006 to 2009, and their film Planet Terror was distributed by Weinstein in 2007.
While McGowan refused to comment for the Times story, actress Ashley Judd—a past contributor to The Daily Beast—spoke to the Times on the record. Judd alleged that in the mid-’90s, while filming Kiss the Girls, she was summoned to Weinstein’s hotel for a meeting. When she arrived at the hotel, she said, she was “surprised” to be ordered to his suite. According to the Times, Judd alleges Weinstein “issued invitation after invitation,” from a massage to a shoulder rub to watching him shower.
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“I said no, a lot of ways, a lot of times, and he always came back at me with some new ask,” Judd told the Times. “It was all this bargaining, this coercive bargaining.” (Weinstein has since threatened to sue the Times over what he calls its “reckless reporting” and has taken a leave of absence.)
A meeting with Harvey Weinstein is not easy for any actress to turn down. During his tenure as the co-chief of Miramax—and then The Weinstein Company—he became synonymous with elevating films and actors to Oscar glory via aggressive awards campaigns and has a particularly impressive track record in the actress categories. Holly Hunter, Anna Paquin, Dianne Wiest, Mira Sorvino, Juliette Binoche, Gwyneth Paltrow, Judi Dench, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Penelope Cruz, Meryl Streep, and Jennifer Lawrence have all won Oscars for Weinstein films, and many of the actresses showered praise on the film exec in their acceptance speeches. Scores of other actresses, meanwhile, have received career-launching nominations.
In the wake of the blockbuster Times exposé, The Daily Beast reached out to dozens of prominent actors, actresses, and filmmakers—who both have and have not worked with Weinstein—only to receive many replies of “no comment” and plenty of radio silence.
One of the only members of “liberal” Hollywood to speak out about the disturbing Weinstein allegations was Lena Dunham, who did so through Twitter:
Dunham’s second tweet, referring to “what we’ve condoned,” raises an important point about Hollywood’s most glaring, hypocritical blind spot.
For as long as Hollywood has existed, the “casting couch”—wherein film executives and filmmakers prey on powerless ingénues—has been so familiar as to become hackneyed. In 2013, Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon shared her own story of sexual harassment with me.
“I remember I was newly married—I got married at 20 to Chris Sarandon—so I was 23, and I had a wardrobe fitting and we were at a motel in Texas filming. When I got out of the bathroom from changing, everyone had left, and the director basically told me to spend the night. I gave some really lame excuse for not doing it, because we were in the middle of nowhere, and he was furious at me for the rest of the film. And he was a married man and a very well-known director,” she recalled.
Over the years, film bigs ranging from legendary studio head David O. Selznick to Alfred Hitchcock have been accused of sexually assaulting young actresses. Only in the last decade or so—fearing industry reprisals, no doubt—have actresses begun to speak out, with Charlize Theron, Thandie Newton, Gwyneth Paltrow, Helen Mirren, Zoe Kazan, and others sharing stories of sexual harassment during auditions and on set.
“I thought it was a little odd that the audition was on a Saturday night at his house in Los Angeles, but I thought maybe that was normal,” Theron recalled during a 2009 interview with OK! magazine. “He was in his Hugh Hefner pajamas—I go inside and he’s offering me a drink, and I’m thinking, my God this acting stuff is very relaxed. But it soon becomes very clear what the situation was. I was like, ‘Not going to happen! Got the wrong girl, buddy!'”
Just last year, Casey Affleck managed to weather a pair of years-old sexual-harassment allegations en route to a Best Actor Oscar, while Hollywood stars continue to line up to work for Woody Allen and defend exiled rapist Roman Polanski.
In 2009, more than 130 Hollywood heavyweights signed an online petition demanding that the decades-old statutory-rape conviction against Polanski be dropped. Two of the most high-profile signatories were Allen and Weinstein.
“We are calling every filmmaker we can to help fix this terrible situation,” Weinstein said at the time. (Polanski has faced three more rape allegations against teens since then.)
Perhaps Marilyn Monroe, a frequent target of lecherous studio chiefs and filmmakers, said it best in her memoir, My Story: “I met them all. Phoniness and failure were all over them. Some were vicious and crooked. But they were as near to the movies as you could get. So you sat with them, listening to their lies and schemes. And you saw Hollywood with their eyes—an overcrowded brothel, a merry-go-round with beds for horses.”