The allegations have been shocking and unceasing. The stories have been painful to read. The opprobrium has been furious, righteous and deserved.
With the shameful and predatory conduct of some of its most powerful denizens now being exposed to the world, the film industry has found itself in an unflattering spotlight.
But as uncomfortable as these revelations are — and the long-time culture of complacency and, at worst, complicity they reveal — this is a long-overdue correction the industry has desperately needed.
These tales of harassment, abuse and bullying from women across all parts of the industry are forcing it to examine itself with brutal honesty. It should use this moment to be forward-thinking and take bold steps to bring an unchecked era of abuse by the powerful against the less powerful to a merciful conclusion. Is this wishful thinking? Perhaps. But in freeing the victimised to speak against their abusers — in some cases decades after the abuse took place — this sordid affair has the slimmest of silver linings.
The allegations against Harvey Weinstein revealed by The New York Times and The New Yorker unleashed a global wave of revulsion, and other high-powered figures from across the worlds of entertainment are now also being accused. In some eyes, it has become a witch-hunt.
But I view the actions of the brave women who have felt empowered to come forward as a cathartic cry from the heart against deep-rooted misogyny. (It’s not only the US where the revelations coming forth feel at least partly fuelled by anger at the hate-filled displays of the new leader of the free world. These protests are perhaps seeking to redress the balance, however modestly, in a world where sexism has always had the upper hand.)
Two key questions to ask now are: how does the industry manage the fallout, and what can be done to prevent similar abuse in the future? What might be more shocking than recent revelations is the wider complicity; most of us in the industry and beyond have always been aware of these rumours, and the fact is that only the diminishing of Weinstein’s power in recent years finally brought them to light.
In the highly sexualised environment of Hollywood and overcrowding of the acting profession, show business has been particularly susceptible to abuse of power. The expression ‘casting couch’ is used now to describe abuse of power universally but its etymology is clear.
In any place the chasm between power and powerlessness is so vast, the prospect for exploitation and abuse will always exist. That’s human nature, and no amount of exposure or consternation will change it. But if victims feel more emboldened to come forward in future when bullying or sexual harassment take place, and if there are support systems in place to help them with that, abusers will think twice and conspiracies of silence will be less likely to repeat.
Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy recently proposed a cross-industry commission to develop a secure system for reporting abusive behaviour, and a zero-tolerance policy towards those who abuse. Now wouldn’t that be something?
It took the combined power and resources of The New York Times and The New Yorker to level these charges against Weinstein. Since the scandal broke, other outlets have gone hammer-and-tongs at Weinstein and the industry — but will these outlets now chase down other similar examples of wrongdoing?
Crucially, it’s important to remember that the film industry is brimming with enlightened, compassionate people for whom these abuses are beyond reprehensible. And now the chance to bring about a sea change has arrived. It’s up to everyone to make sure that no one can get away with such unfettered abuse again.