By BITA BEHPOOR
Hollywood is a fool’s paradise. Behind the scenes of this glorious fantasy, full of ideas of chasing your dreams and the idols that we look up to lies a darker, more malevolent reality. It is a reality full of addiction, pedophilia, and sexual assault, just to name a few. The media is instrumental in perpetuating this fantasy by idolizing actors and actresses, airing reality shows, contributing to the “perfect” image the viewers have of a celebrity. The public venerates these figures to the point where some of them become household names. Some individuals mimic styles that famous celebrities have designated as “the latest trends”. Others hero-worship them to a point where every aspect of their life is identical to the public figure, from lifestyle to, in some cases, personality.
The recent Harvey Weinstein scandal, however, has ripped this perfect image of a celebrity to shreds, and has changed the public’s perception on Hollywood as a whole.
The scandal started with a New York Times article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, detailing the discovery of three decades worth of undisclosed allegations against Harvey Weinstein, including findings of up to at least eight settlements between Weinstein and other women, and accounts of different encounters with Weinstein by celebrities such as Ashley Judd, and young women looking for job opportunities such as a law and business student Emily Nestor. Even former employees have made statements against him, such as Laura Madden, who detailed one of her encounters with Weinstein. The article was followed by a statement from Harvey Weinstein himself, a formal apology, stating that he would make up for the damage his actions have caused in the future through various means.
From that New York Times article, the accusations only escalated. On October 10th, the New Yorker published an investigation by Ronan Farrow, including multiple descriptions of accusations of sexual assault by Weinstein. The accounts he recorded were from women such as former employees and executives of the Weinstein company, a college student (at the time), and Academy Award winner Mira Sorvino. In response to Farrow’s investigative article, Weinstein’s spokeswoman, Sallie Hofmeister, declared that all allegations of non-consensual sex were denied by Weinstein.
As accusations from different women and statements from celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Pitt began rising, it seemed as if some of Hollywood’s dark secrets were being revealed. More celebrities such as Judi Dench, Meryl Streep, and George Clooney spoke out against Weinstein through formal statements to the media and social media such as tweets through Twitter. However, one question remained unanswered: why did all of these public figures stay silent before? Why did it take so long for victims and observers to come forward with their accounts? Judi Dench worked with Weinstein for twenty years, and Meryl Streep starred in movies the Weinstein Company produced, such as the Iron Lady. Even Mira Sorvino won her Academy Award from a film Weinstein produced called “Mighty Aphrodite”, and after her assault, she stayed silent for more than 15 years. Why didn’t the celebrities, the people we believe have power, come forward and say something?
Most reasons relate to career and reputation. In Ronan Farrow’s investigation, according to Mira Sorvino, “The fact that Weinstein was so instrumental in Sorvino’s success also made her hesitate…” Winning the Oscar and other early successes of hers were attributed to Weinstein and his brother, and because of this fact, she refrained from reporting the incident for 17 years. Career and reputation are instrumental to a celebrity’s success when it comes to the acting industry. Reporting an incident of sexual assault by a powerful man like Harvey Weinstein could bring unforeseen consequences to the table, including unsuccessful trials and destroyed public image and reputation. What aspiring, up-and-coming actor or actress would want to come forward and risk that kind of career and reputation destruction?
French actress, Emma de Caunes, claimed in Farrow’s article that Weinstein had attempted to sexually assault her in 2010 at Hôtel Ritz in Paris, France. She reported the attempt to her director at the time, and following it, Weinstein called her over and over again for the next few hours, offering her gifts and assertions that nothing had happened. She waited seven years to come forward and recount the assault to the media, specifically Ronan Farrow. It could have been the risk of destroying her career or reputation that caused her to not bring the case to the authorities, but she did not work with Weinstein at all prior or after the assault. Even more questions arise after reading about this incident. After hearing de Caunes recount the experience, why didn’t the director notify the authorities?
Throughout all these accusations, there is one unmistakable trend: silence. When it comes to silence, Weinstein’s victims are just the tip of the iceberg; there are also those who have worked closely with Weinstein that have stayed silent. According to the Huffington Post, Matt Damon recently revealed that he knew that Harvey Weinstein had sexually harassed Gwyneth Paltrow when she was 22, yet he stayed silent about the whole incident and continued to work with him on movies throughout the years, only distancing from and speaking out against Weinstein when the allegations against him started. Even Brad Pitt, who knew that Weinstein had sexually harassed Paltrow and even went so far as to confront him, never went to the authorities or reported the incident. Why did all these actors and actresses, our supposed role models and idols, not only stay silent about such reprehensible acts, but also allow it to go on for so many years?
Over the years, Hollywood has contributed to a culture of silence. It is an environment where only the strong and powerful survive, protecting the individuals that thrive on corruption. If Harvey Weinstein were a clerk or a blue collar worker, would women he assaulted have reported him? Most definitely. However, because of the immense power the industry gives him, Weinstein got away with it. We, the public, even contribute to protecting him. We pay to see his movies in theaters, or we rent or buy them. We are his industry’s backbone. The cycle of abuse continues over and over again not only with Harvey Weinstein, but with Hollywood in general, because the public is a contributor. And he is not the only one.
CNBC reports that during the proceedings of the Weinstein scandal, multiple people in the film producing and media industry have been accused of sexual assault. Nickelodeon producer Chris Savino has been accused of sexual harassment by up to twelve women. Celebrity chef John Besh has been accused by 25 employees, current and former, of adopting an environment that encourages sexual harassment. Filmmaker James Toback has been accused by more than 35 women of sexual harassment. Fox News Host Bill O’Reilly had his contract with Fox News renewed despite a $32 million dollar settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit against him, and journalist Mike Halperin has been accused of sexually harassing five women.
These are only a few of the cases of sexual assault that have recently been released to the public following the start of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Are all these celebrities, from the actors and actresses who stayed silent for years to the media and film moguls that have had multiple counts of sexual assault dropped throughout the years, the people we idolize, that we put on a pedestal?
As a new generation, we have the opportunity to change the way we idolize, a chance to stop deifying people who are not worth that pedestal, who are only humans interested in their own success and gain, and to start revering others who have accomplished things that have led to the growth of human progress, whether it be scientifically, morally, ethically, or simply people who change our view of the world, who give us a different perspective on life, its obstacles, and pathways. Maybe we need to start congratulating ourselves on our own little successes and stop focusing on the people whose life is a lie to everyone but themselves; people who practically live on television and in movies; people who personified the faux definition of perfection. Only then can the industry and society lose its reluctance to condemn powerful public figures like Harvey Weinstein.