Normally I try to steer clear of breaking headline news about controversies within the Hollywood Industry when writing articles for this site, but the recent activities going on over the past weeks have made me want to express my own thoughts on the issue given how much of an impact that they have on the industry as a whole. That issue of course is the unprecedented fallout that has come to pass over the revelations of sexual misconduct, harassment, and even abuse that have been perpetrated by some of the most powerful people in the Hollywood community. In many ways, these stories go far beyond your tabloid scandals of the week, and instead reveal a much more troubling fact which is the sickening way that such behavior has been allowed to flourish for so long. The two biggest cases (so far) have been tied to two men who were once untouchable in Hollywood: uber-producer Harvey Weinstein and Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey. Both are facing heavy scrutiny for what seems like years of serial harassment and alleged sexual assault against several victims that were swept under the rug with hush money and legal intimidation as a way to keep their bad behavior out of the headlines. But, eventually, all those diversions couldn’t stop the truth from coming out, as victims started to stand together and demand for their stories to be heard, no matter what the consequences. And with their stories, were are beginning to learn more about a side of the film industry that we wish wasn’t true and is sadly far more common than we would’ve thought. Weinstein and Spacey are just the two of the most high profile names to be exposed and more are going to join them in the weeks ahead. It’s a problem within the industry that extends beyond just the people involved and the crimes they have committed. What these cases only demonstrates is the fact that there is a deep rooted problem with power being abused throughout the Hollywood community.
With regards to the accusations leveled at Harvey Weinstein, the revelations are not at all surprising. Weinstein has been a power player for several decades in Hollywood, making a name for himself in the independent film circuit with the two companies that he co-founded with his brother Bob, called Miramax and The Weinstein Company. Along with his sharp eye for spotting new talent in film-making, which has included the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith, he has also garnered the reputation of being a bully within the industry. His aggressive Oscar campaigning and strong-arming smaller production outfits in order to put his name on the best movies on the market has always left him with this love-hate relationship within the industry. No man has been more thanked at awards ceremonies and sweared at more outside of them than Harvey, and it’s a reputation that I get the sense that he probably enjoyed. But, it’s that same kind of attitude that also made him feel invincible within the business, and made him believe that he was capable of having everything he wanted, including the women he wanted whether they wanted him or not. Suffice to say, Weinstein’s rise included him trampling over quite a lot of less fortunate people, and his sense of entitled power and need for self-fulfillment led him down the road that turned him into the disgraced monster that he is today. Kevin Spacey’s problems are different, but no less disturbing. While maintaining his image as a well regarded, and talented actor, we are now learning about years of inappropriate, and sometimes predatory behavior towards men, and most shockingly, to underage boys as well, according to his first accuser, actor Anthony Rapp. Spacey’s misconduct has been the more shocking recently, because of how much more it has clashed with his polished image, but it nevertheless shows us that Hollywood’s problems with powerful men taking advantage of the less fortunate is very widespread.
The surprising thing that has occurred with the revelations made against these men and those like them is the swiftness and scope to which they were dealt with. Harvey Weinstein was exposed by a long-researched article in the New York Times, which detailed years of misconduct that included a large number of accusers, and within a week of these revelations coming to light, Harvey went from Hollywood’s most powerful producer to virtually un-hirable. He was fired by his own company, booted from the Academy of Motion Pictures membership, and had his name removed from every film he’s produced in the last year. His company is now on life support with the possibility of going bankrupt in the near future, leaving many in-progress projects up in the air. And as bad as that was, Kevin Spacey’s was even more dramatic. He’s been fired from every project he’s been working on with his long standing partnership with Netflix, including his acclaimed series House of Cards, which is now desperately trying to restructure itself without it’s primary star around. And, just announced this week, director Ridley Scott made the unprecedented and shocking decision to cut Spacey’s role in his new upcoming movie, All the Money in the World, and replacing him with actor Christopher Plummer in a costly re-shoot intended to help the movie still reach it’s December release date, only weeks away. That is what you call quick and decisive action, but why did it have to get this bad in the first place. I don’t blame the production companies and filmmakers that have cut their ties with them; they are not guilty of the same actions, and it’s fully within their understanding to protect their own products and reputations. But a lot of questions need to be asked of an industry that sees behavior like this happen and takes so long to do anything about it.
These cases tell us a lot about the ugliest aspect of Hollywood, which is the way that underprivileged and desperate talent are often taken advantage of within the industry. It’s the downside of the dream factory that is Hollywood, in where so many people come to sunny Los Angeles with dreams of fame and riches. But, in order to make it, some people have to go through a long process of proving themselves to those who are already established. It’s not an always dangerous path. Many people, myself included, have gone through internships and part-time jobs with the hopes of opening up doors to better things later within the film industry. It’s competitive, and not everyone makes it through, but you can make it in the film industry if you do show a level of talent and motivation that people on the inside can take notice of. But there are those out there that offer up the shortcut to stardom by having those desperate enough conduct favors on their behalf, and this is where the predatory aspects begin. Some people in the industry know how desperate some of us dreamers want to succeed and they prey on that desperation in order to satisfy their own selfish needs. This becomes most sickening when it involves sexual favors in return for advancement. And the abuse of this power doesn’t just end with the solicitation, but also throughout the aftermath of such actions. Sometimes the people in power use a person’s desperation as a means of silencing them, by proclaiming that they hold the power to make or break their careers moving forward. It’s this level of behavior that is at the heart of what’s the problem within the industry, with so many people using their status to hold power over the less fortunate and forcing them to do things that not only is demeaning, but can significantly damage their lives. I want Hollywood to be a place where people believe they can go and add to a vibrant artistic community and not demean themselves for a chance at something better that’ll probably never come true.
The one and only positive to come from these scandals is the fact that it’s affecting some change. People who have abused their power are now finally being held accountable for it. A large part of this change has been the growing union of voices coming forward to tell their stories of abuse over the years. And the sad thing we are learning is that Hollywood has not given much credence to the voices of victims, with many in the industry spending millions to keep much of it hushed for years. It goes beyond the tales of those infamous casting couch sessions that you hear actresses and starlets divulge in interviews. For a long time, there have been rumors of inexcusable behavior by Hollywood elite that stem all the way to the early days. You hear about child actors being beaten on the sets of Little Rascal shorts from the 1930’s, or Judy Garland being repeatedly molested by MGM execs, to Charlie Chaplin having sexual intercourse with underage girls, and rape accusations connected to Marlon Brando, and so on. And yet, none of these have been treated as anything more than tabloid gossip, or a smear campaign by religious organizations as a way to paint Hollywood as this morally depraved place. But after the outpouring of victims stories that we’ve heard in recent weeks, you can’t help but think that there may truth to all these stories that we’ve heard. I for one shudder to think that any one of my friends and associates who have tried to pursue a career in film have faced this kind of abuse in their lives or are about to face it without knowing it. Many people have paid a heavy price for access in this industry, and that’s a practice that absolutely needs to end. People in power, whether they are beloved or not, should be seriously questioned when they are confronted with these kinds of accusations. The disturbing thing is, there are a lot of hurting voices out there, and it’s not just limited to those within the industry, and most likely, it’s someone we may all know in our own lives.
What angers me the most about Hollywood with regards to this is the systematic way they have tried to bury so many of these scandals over the years. As a way of protecting their brand, the industry has set up many networks to keep bad press from leaking out into the public. We have heard this before with regards to keeping an entertainer’s sexual orientation hidden to the public, as well as details about celebrities sometimes rocky marital problems as well. But, now we are learning about how accusations of sexual abuse and harassment have been kept from the public as well. And this withholding of public attention is what is angering most people outside of Hollywood right now because it’s making the industry look like it’s only in the business of protecting it’s own. As scandals like Watergate and Penn State have proven to show, actively trying to cover up a crime is criminal within itself. Sure, Hollywood hates being labeled a moral abyss by right wing and religious groups, but suppressing victims stories to perpetuate an image of purity only opens you up even more to such claims. This was particularly problematic in Kevin Spacey’s case with his desperate attempt to change the narrative by proclaiming his homosexuality to the world. For one thing, the fact that he’s gay was not the thing that the accusations against him were targeting too, and second, his pitiful excuse to use his sexuality as a shield against being labeled a child molester only gives credence to the argument that is unfairly aimed at homosexuals by right wing hate mongers. And as a gay man myself, I found Spacey’s actions particularly despicable and it sickens me that he would think that this was his “get out of jail free” card to play to save his own skin. I wish you nothing but the worst going forward Mr. Spacey; you’re selfishness has caused a lot of pain for those of us in your community. But if Hollywood is so image conscious, don’t they realize that it would do them a lot better to expose the truth rather than hide it.
Most of the anger leveled at Hollywood these days is because of the fact that many people knew about this abuse and did nothing. Sure, a lot of people didn’t know the whole truth and act without being sure, but the thing that needed to change in the industry is the realization that it’s not all just rumors. Victims need to be taken seriously, especially when they come forward the first time. You’ve got to remember, people in power like Weinstein and Spacey have deep pockets and can have their legal teams pick apart anyone’s stories to make it look like the victims are not being truthful and have ulterior motives. In some cases, that may be true, but when a victim’s story is concrete enough to withstand the scrutiny, justice will be done. For Spacey, it took only one convincing accusation to open the door for many others, and it has pieced together a history of obscene behavior that went long unaccounted for. Hollywood must also understand that people who abuse their positions in this way shouldn’t continue to be rewarded. If you want to show that you take this issue seriously, than you need to stop making excuses for people you know to have been doing something wrong or illegal, no matter how talented they are. It’s true, some great art has been made by terrible people; something which I discussed in a previous article. But appreciation of art should never turn into a defense of a person, and if someone has done something criminal, they should absolutely be shunned by the community. I think Hollywood would be well served by not rewarding people like Roman Polanski and Woody Allen, who seem to have been given a pass despite provable evidence of their awful histories. It won’t take away from the brilliance of Chinatown (1974) or Annie Hall (1977). Movies, as well as all art, outlast the mortal lives of their creators, and we can still appreciate them outside of the scandals. In the end, Hollywood just needs to show some commitment to showing that they indeed are a caring community and not one that only protects those with established power.
You see scandals like these erupt every now and then and it’s clear that a failure to do anything usually comes about from an organization or community’s reluctance to expose it’s dirty laundry for the world to see. Perhaps many in Hollywood saw these as isolated incidents that were not worth casting too much light on, in fear of characterizing their whole community as being morally depraved. But what was not being dealt with was the larger problem of bad behavior being overlook and somehow seen as desirable within the community. Forceful men have often been misread as productive types within the community, and oftentimes they are given advancement based on their ability to bully their way towards success. That certainly seemed to be the case with a producer like Harvey Weinstein, who despite his skills as a producer has been revealed to be a deceitful and dangerous human being. The one thing a person in the film industry shouldn’t have is the power to hold a less fortunate person’s career path in their hands and not face any consequences for their abuse. The good thing about all this is that these types of alpha male bullying and obscene behavior is now being exposed for the ugliness that it really is. People in Hollywood need to know now, silence is no longer acceptable with regards to the misdeeds within their community. It doesn’t matter if you respect the person for their work, or admire the art they create; if there is truth to hurtful things they have done to someone else, there has to be consequences. And exposing misdeed in the community will not shatter the image forever. The Catholic Church had the most horrific claims of child abuse laid against them, and yet after it coming to light, the church has endured and now has a Pope that’s taken steps towards reconciliation with the victims and is considered one of the most enlightened and compassionate that we’ve ever seen. Penn State faced the embarrassment of child molestation within it’s organization and saw several years of victories wiped out of the record books, but after the dust has settled, they regrouped and are now an elite team once again. Hollywood will always be the dream factory that we’ve always believed it to be, and holding terrible men and woman accountable for their years of abuse and intimidation will be the best step towards keeping it that way. Today we are finally seeing some action taken against the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, and many more will follow. It’s an ugly reality punch for Hollywood, but one that can start us down the road towards healing.