The Law of Silence in Hollywood

The case of Harvey Weinstein is currently a blockbuster at the media box office, perhaps because he is not only a powerful character in the film industry, but also an advocate of progressive causes.

In that Hollywood which has raised the feminist flag on the screen, it is particularly shocking that one of the most influential producers behaves as sexual predator in real life.

Therefore, when The New York Times published its documented report containing accusations that Weinstein had been harassing actresses in Hollywood for three decades, and that he had reached financial agreements with eight of them in exchange for their silence, it was open season. Two days later, The New Yorker also collected testimonies from women who said they had been harassed or assaulted by Weinstein. And new revelations arise in this regard every day.

It is now known that Weinstein´s behavior was an open secret, subject to the law of silence. The New York Times itself published another scathing article in which it reported that in the first days after the story was published, the newspaper spoke with more than 40 important figures in the film industry, and almost none wanted to comment on Weinstein´s behavior. Later, when the film tycoon was out of action, everybody began to hit him while he was down. Even Hollywood’s Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences expelled him. If it had been important in the past in Hollywood to show off that one was a friend of Weinstein, now it turns out that none of his friends knew anything about his hidden life.

Although, actually it was not so hidden. In fact, actresses like Jessica Chastain have said that everybody had heard rumors about this matter. “The stories were everywhere. To deny that is to create an environment for it to happen again.” George Clooney also acknowledged that he had “heard rumors, and the rumors, in general, started back in the 90s, and they were that certain actresses had slept with Harvey to get a role. It seemed like a way to smear the actresses and demean them by saying that they didn’t get the jobs based on their talent…”

Wall of Silence

But what has really humiliated Weinstein’s victims is the wall of silence with which they were met when they exposed their grievances. The British actress Sophie Dix, who was harassed by the producer when she was 22, remembers that when she wanted to protest, “people in the industry didn’t want to know about it, they didn’t want to hear.”

As the days go by, Weinstein’s old friends are lavishly condemning him. The Obamas, Hillary Clinton, and other Democratic politicians to whose party Weinstein was a generous donor, have turned away from the person they previously appeared smiling with at numerous events. Of course, nobody knew anything, although it should be said that everybody heard something but preferred not to know more. Weinstein was too influential a friend, both in the Oscar race and in the political mobilization of Hollywood.

Some of the women who spoke to The New York Times complained that many in the Hollywood world have been complicit with respect to Weinstein’s conduct. Rose McGowan, one of the actresses mentioned in the Times’ report, tweeted later: “Ladies of Hollywood, your silence is deafening.” Then, the tongues were unleashed.

Advocate of Feminist Causes

But, how can Weinstein be criticized if he was an advocate of the feminist causes that Hollywood has embraced? He endowed a foundation at the University of Southern California with $5 million to encourage the training of female filmmakers. Last May, he pledged $100,000 at Planned Parenthood´s gala dinner, where he shared table and tablecloth with Hillary Clinton and Meryl Streep. (The organization said later that the pledge went unfulfilled.) Of course, he campaigned for Hillary Clinton, participated in the Women´s March, and denounced Donald Trump for challenging women´s rights. We can say that Weinstein was in favor of “women” although he assaulted specific women. Yet Hollywood was too busy discrediting Trump for rude comments about women to deal with abusive acts from one of its own.

Maybe the problem is that Weinstein´s behavior is not so extravagant in Hollywood. Oscar-winning British actress Emma Thompson told the BBC that “I didn’t know about these things, but they don’t surprise me at all, and they’re endemic to the system anyway.” Weinstein would be just “the tip of a very particular iceberg” within the culture of Hollywood.

In expelling Weinstein, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences stated that they made this decision “not simply to separate ourselves from someone who does not merit the respect of his colleagues, but also to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over.” And this cannot be solved just with the head of one tycoon.

For the moment, it could be the plot of a movie about sexual abuse, similar to the plot in the award-winning film “Spotlight.” You’ve got chronic abusers, executives that prefer to look the other way, and a newspaper that decides to pull the lid off the scandal. Maybe this story will win an Oscar.

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