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There was shock: An acclaimed indie-film director was at home when the industry-shattering news broke that veteran producer and studio boss Harvey Weinstein had been accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women – including celebrities such as Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lupita Nyong’o, and Rose McGowan. “The scale of it was astonishing to me, and more and more kept coming out,” she says. “I thought, ‘If this many have come forward, how many have not?’ I realized Hollywood hasn’t changed much since the 1920s, and I really thought it had.”
Then anger: A prolific producer who has worked with Weinstein was at a film festival when the revelations swept through the conference. “The men there were professing sympathy for Harvey, which I found stunning,” she says. “It felt very uncomfortable. There’s a lot of ‘Well, this is what I would have done’ and ‘If he ever tried that behavior around me…’ Dude, he wouldn’t try that behavior around you!”
And guilt: A popular TV showrunner who also has worked with Weinstein recalled how she first heard watered-down versions of some of the allegations years ago. “And the thing that kills me is I said, ‘Ugh, gross’ or ‘What a dick’ or ‘Hollywood sucks’ – never in my mind was ‘We have to do something about this.'” So when the new reports came out … “I had to pause before I commented on Twitter, before I said anything about anything. I had raged against the Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes and Fox News [sexual-harassment allegations] with such a loud voice. It is a lot harder to be loud about this when it’s someone you know. And that pause made me feel like a terrible hypocrite.”
More than 50 women have come forward in reports kick-started by exclusives in The New York Times and The New Yorker with disturbing and highly similar ritualistic-sounding claims about Weinstein’s behavior stretching back nearly three decades (the lure of a job, the hotel room, the bathrobe, the massage, the threats). The mogul – who was fired from The Weinstein Company and expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – has admitted that he “needed to be a better person” and checked into sex-addiction rehab for one week, but “denies any allegations of nonconsensual sex.” Collectively, the revelations rocked Hollywood like a seismic tremor that threatens to fracture and collapse an operating system that has long rewarded success by indulging a range of unprofessional behaviors and demanded a Mafia-like code of silence from any who might object. “When you sit down at a table now, it’s all women are talking about,” says one writer-producer. “It’s on everybody’s brain, like, ‘Oh my god, how did we not talk about this?'”
That a producer would intimidate, sexually harass, or even rape an actress wasn’t itself a revelation. That it might be Weinstein, 65 – a cartoonish figure known for his overindulgent appetites and fits of rage – wasn’t surprising either. The gut-punch devastation was due to the severity and the extent: Weinstein’s alleged behavior was that criminal and depraved? With that many women? Who are that famous? For that long?
“Women talk about things like this all the time,” says a veteran writer-producer. “What I have been surprised by is the magnitude. How could that be allowed to continue? A lot of people had to make that okay.”
And if there’s one thing that many in Hollywood seem to agree on, it’s that any such behavior is not okay anymore. “I don’t think this is a fad or that it will go away,” predicts one A-list talent manager, who, like many for this story, requested anonymity to speak with full candor. “This is an earthquake that has not only shattered the business but also raised the awareness of the way women are treated. There is awakening to zero tolerance in what women will stand for, and because of that no one will be a bystander any longer.”
Scandals come and go, of course, and the media’s focus on any topic can shift faster than the president can type a tweet. But there are a couple of reasons insiders feel this moment in Hollywood history is very different.
First, women who went on the record to accuse Weinstein were not dismissed and shamed for breaking their silence but, if anything, were widely praised for their bravery. “History usually shows when women come out and talk they’re made to look crazy, unreliable, and attention-seeking, and the big surprise to me was that didn’t happen this time,” notes American Psycho director Mary Harron. “The times have changed.” And yet, there was still a little shaming, at least at first, as one film producer points out: “There was a certain amount of, ‘Why don’t they come forward [sooner]? Why did she stay in the room? Why didn’t she run out?’ And the pivot to: ‘What about the women who worked for him? Why didn’t they do anything?’ It’s like: They didn’t do anything! He did!”
Second, by taking down a warhorse like Weinstein, there is a clear signal that nobody is untouchable — and that has some in the industry running scared. “I heard a man say that he called his buddies, asking, ‘Are you worried now?'” reveals one top showrunner. “And they’re all saying, ‘I’m shaking in my boots.’” Or as a producer put it: “Woody Allen said, ‘Don’t let this be a witch hunt.’ He’s saying what a lot of men are feeling right now: Uh-oh, my behavior isn’t accepted anymore. What the hell am I going to do? I hope that nobody nails me on it. Some of the people I’ve seen breast-beating and back-patting on Twitter are people I know for a fact have exhibited those same behaviors – if not to the same degree.”
Hollywood has been called the ultimate fear-driven town, so a combination of empowering victims and threatening abusers with exposure and career implosion is like the primordial ingredients of a sea change. “Everybody [will] become much more sensitive to it,” predicts one male studio head. “There won’t be the tendency among some people to say, ‘Oh, that’s just so-and-so, he doesn’t mean anything by it.’ You always hear a lot of stuff. But up until now, I don’t think anybody looked at it from the victims’ point of view, which—regardless of the intent or lack of maliciousness—is still inappropriate, scary, and disturbing.” A top talent manager firmly agrees: “There’s no ‘I heard something but I wasn’t sure and they’re so talented I want to believe in them.’ That’s over.”
Already, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy is proposing an anti-abuse commission to develop “new, industry-wide protections against sexual harassment and abuse.” Additionally, a group of 217 women working in animation signed a letter to studios declaring that sexual harassment on their shows “has got to stop.” On the social-media front, Alyssa Milano has ignited the #MeToo campaign, encouraging survivors of harassment and assault to come forward, and there are now plans to evolve it into a victims’ assistance organization.
“I have so many me-too experiences that I literally have to sit down and take inventory,” says Milano, whose efforts have inspired nearly 2 million people to post #MeToo messages. “I think it’s really easy when you hear things like ‘One in three women are sexually harassed in the workplace’ to not really dissect what that means for the individual being harassed. The saddest part about all of this is that number did not surprise me at all.”
Or as the writer-producer bluntly put it: “I wanted to write: ‘#NoSh–!’ Of course ‘#MeToo.’ Every woman, 99.9 percent of women. It would be 100 percent if those other women were just thinking about it.”
Many times a systemic problem in a major industry can seem too complex or deeply rooted to fix. This doesn’t appear to be one of them. There are plenty of reasonable prescriptive solutions out there.
National Women’s Law Center president and CEO Fatima Goss Graves believes companies should take a closer look at the sort of nondisclosure agreements that protected Weinstein. “They can’t have a situation where you set up a system that allows an abuser to go forward for lengthy periods of time with no real checks,” she says. “If you have a private settlement agreement [with an accuser] plus a nondisclosure agreement, you have employers that just enable bad actors.”
While Milano suggests “there should be no funding for any artists accused of wrongdoing in this manner.” Indeed, the current purge of alleged abusers is something that’s seen as a painful yet ultimately healthy process. “There are plenty of good strong feminist men in this town who would die before they [permitted an act of abuse],” one writer-producer says. “The problem is there are also far too many villains. It’s the villains who need to be exposed and dealt with. … I really get so angry every time I see Mel Gibson at an award ceremony and people clapping him on the back and giving him a pass. It wasn’t even that he was accused of something but he was on tape being a vile disgusting piece of sh–.”
Overwhelmingly, however, the most popular suggestion from industry insiders is for companies to elevate more women into positions of power.
“When I try to do what I do all day, I’m talking to man after man after man,” one producer says. “The reason [Weinstein] went on so long is everybody knows what happens to women who blow the whistle. I know what happens even when I’m the only woman on a panel about film producing for the 10 millionth time. If I just say something about it, even in jest – ‘Wow, another sausage party’ – I get that look: ‘Oh, here’s that bitchy, humorless feminist.’ You’re pilloried for stating the obvious. What really needs to happen is more female decision-makers at the top, which will set the tone and change the culture. It just will.”
That sentiment – “change the culture” – was echoed throughout our interviews, with many execs noting that such a cultural shift shouldn’t be just about sexual harassment and assault. The lecherous producer with a casting couch is only one of a series of outdated toxic Hollywood clichés, from the tyrannical director to the diva actress to the screaming agent. Hollywood is the rare industry where inappropriate behavior is not only tolerated from top performers but even celebrated with a wink in its own glamorized portrayals of itself. “We have this long history of letting people get away with everything in this town under the guise of being ‘crazy artists,’” says The Vampire Diaries co-creator Julie Plec. “If we’re going to make a change, we have to make a change unilaterally: Abuse in any form is not acceptable in a professional environment.”
And that would mean not only changing Hollywood for working women, or for victims of sexual abuse but eradicating a century-old part of Hollywood’s core personality – a shedding of the darker indulgences of the 20th century so that the creative community can evolve into something new.
“We have to have standards where we are not enthralled with someone’s reputation or name or what they’ve done creatively,” says showrunner Liz Tigelaar (Casual). “We have to say, ‘That’s just not how you treat people, it’s not okay.’ It really does feel like people are saying: Enough, enough, enough.”