The Weinstein Company is now too toxic for the Oscars
On Sunday, three days after The New York Times published its explosive exposé detailing decades of sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the media mogul fired off an urgent email to his colleagues in the movie business. It read like the last stand of a desperate man.
“My board is thinking of firing me,” he wrote in an email (obtained by Deadline and other outlets). “All I’m asking is let me take a leave of absence and get into heavy therapy and counseling. Whether it be in a facility or somewhere else, allow me to resurrect myself with a second chance.”
Weinstein, who was urging his peers to write letters of support on his behalf, closed his plea with the following: “I am desperate for your help. Just give me the time to have therapy. Do not let me be fired. If the industry supports me, that is all I need.”
Two days later, The New Yorker would drop bombshell number two on Weinstein, with more claims of misconduct, including sexual assault. In response, Weinstein denied the accusations. “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein,” a representative for Weinstein told The New Yorker. “Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances. Mr. Weinstein obviously can’t speak to anonymous allegations, but with respect to any women who have made allegations on the record, Mr. Weinstein believes that all of these relationships were consensual. Mr. Weinstein has begun counseling, has listened to the community and is pursuing a better path. Mr. Weinstein is hoping that, if he makes enough progress, he will be given a second chance.”
Unlikely. In response to the New Yorker story, no one seemed ready to stand with Weinstein (save Lindsay Lohan). Harvey Weinstein appears finished. Everyone seemed to know it, except for him. Then again, Weinstein always seemed to live in an alternate reality of his own design. That time was finally over. There would not and will not be a comeback from this. Nor should there be.
Harvey Weinstein’s career is all but over. And right now, there’s a lot of schadenfreude on both coasts in seeing a bully finally brought low. As for The Weinstein Company, the independent studio that he created with his brother Bob in 2005, its days appear to be numbered too. By the time you read this, The Weinstein Company may not even exist – it could be either renamed or sold off for parts like a car that’s been totaled in a head-on collision. The beats of the Weinstein scandal aren’t coming out in the usual drip-drip-drip stream of the Hollywood scandals of the past, they’re rushing out in torrents. Every day – every hour – seems to bring a flood of new, tawdry allegations. The stars he once created and shepherded are coming out publicly against him in no uncertain terms, his marriage has been destroyed, the charities he once bankrolled are giving back what they see as dirty money, the politicians he once financed and campaigned for are denouncing his actions, and his membership with the BAFTAs has been suspended. Still, he has bigger worries. He could also face criminal charges for some of the allegations made in the New Yorker story (Weinstein has hired a criminal attorney as part of his legal team).
In Hollywood, the name “Weinstein” has become toxic.
But what about the films that still bear his studio’s name? Let’s be clear: the Oscar chances of Weinstein’s films is one of the least important elements of this scandal. Especially compared to the pain and suffering he allegedly caused numerous women over the past three decades. Still, the question of whether The Weinstein Company is now too toxic for the Oscars is one on many people’s minds in a town that has no shortage of careers, bragging rights, and money riding on what happens on March 4 at the Dolby Theatre.
In his own sui-generis way, Weinstein has owned this period in the annual calendar for the past 30 years. Weinstein, a former Buffalo concert promoter, reimagined the rules of the award-season game. With his brash, larger-than-life personality and hard-charging, bareknuckle hustler’s instincts, he seemed to be able to garner Oscar nominations for films that often didn’t seem to deserve them. By courting aging Academy voters with special screenings, trotting his talent out like prized show ponies to prance and preen for the media, and his army of publicists who worked around the clock to hype, gladhand, and otherwise game a system the traditional studios felt too superior and complacent to sully themselves with, Weinstein became synonymous with the Oscars. First at Miramax, then The Weinstein Company, he racked up more than 300 nominations for his films (which won 81 statuettes, including five Best Picture winners – 1997’s The English Patient, 1999’s Shakespeare in Love, 2003’s Chicago, 2011’s The King’s Speech, and 2012’s The Artist). For years, there was a joke that the Oscars should be renamed “The Harveys”. He was like an alchemist who could often turn lead into gold. How else to explain the Academy’s brief love affair with Roberto Benigni?
That time is over.
The Weinstein Company was still a force at the Academy Awards in the last few years – last year it managed to snag six nominations for its film Lion – but it was regarded within the industry as having lost its focus and its mojo. The studio had been on a tight financial leash with its shareholders. The hits were fewer. The contenders less glitzy. Not that Weinstein’s ego reflected that. He still seemed to believe that he had the magic touch every fall when the race heated up. He also seemed to think that he had a form of diplomatic immunity when it came to his repulsive behavior. The acts he’s alleged to have perpetrated go way beyond horrifying.
Even before the scandal erupted, 2017 wasn’t exactly shaping up to be a banner year come awards season. The cupboard was more sparse than in past years. And what contenders there were already seemed to be longshots at best. Still, what happens to those movies now? I’ll tell you what: The films that, as of a week ago, the studio had any hopes at all for, have now become collateral damage. Like the man who backed them, they will be persona non grata. Even with a widened, more inclusive field of Best Picture nominees, there’s unlikely to be a Weinstein Company release among them.
The studio’s biggest hopeful for this year’s Oscars had been Wind River, a gripping whodunit set on a Wyoming Native American reservation from Oscar-nominated screenwriter-turned-director Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Sicario). The film doesn’t scream “obvious Oscar nominee,” but it’s done surprisingly well commercially, tripling its $11 million budget at the box office after a strong debut at Sundance. Wind River, which came out to mostly positive reviews in August, seemed to be the sort of dramatic showcase that its star Jeremy Renner has been looking for for a while. And he’s excellent in the film – a long way from his also-ran Avengers role as Hawkeye. A few weeks ago, it was conceivable that he might be able to land his first acting nomination since The Town. Now, it seems unlikely. Oscar voters seeing the Weinstein logo at the beginning of the film when they pop in their DVD screeners will be hard-pressed to get the rotten, unpalatable taste out of their mouths… if they even bother with it at all.
Then there’s The Current War. The film, which stars past nominees Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison and Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse, is the sort of prestige historical period piece that Oscar voters gobble up like Tic Tacs. Weinstein was listed as a producer on the film. But when he took it to the Toronto International Film Festival last month to kick off its award-season campaign, critics weren’t having it. The festival is known for giving some films a bump and, for others, just bumping them off. The Current War was bumped off. The film, which is currently curled up in a fetal ball with a 31 percent Rotten Tomatoes score, excited no one. Weinstein was reportedly planning to give it the old “Harvey Scissorhands” re-edit in time for its release. But then the scandal broke. In a bit of cosmetic crisis management, Weinstein took his name off the film as producer. But, at this point, that’s just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Even its star, Cumberbatch, has now come out denouncing Weinstein.
Like The Current War, the studio’s Tulip Fever probably at one time seemed likely to end up in the Oscar horse race. It was another Academy-friendly period piece, this time about a love triangle in 17th-century Amsterdam, that was written by none other than Tom Stoppard and featuring a cast with a couple of Oscar winners (Alicia Vikander and Christoph Waltz). But that, too, ended up being dead on arrival. Its exploitative, racy trailer was Weinstein at his typically Barnumesque self, but moviegoers saw right through it. Unfortunately, when folks saw the film (and not a lot of them did), they felt misled and burned. The film has taken in less than $2.5 million at the box office and its Rotten Tomatoes score of 9 percent makes The Current War’s seem like a love letter covered in confetti.
Two other Weinstein Company films that once monopolized the exec’s hopes and attention, Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara’s Mary Magdalene and The Upside, a Kevin Hart remake of the hit French import The Intouchables, have both been pushed to March of next year. Still, even with a stronger slate of films, Weinstein still would have been doomed this awards season. His alleged sins are simply too big and too many. His mea culpas too weak.
Over the years, Oscar voters have shown themselves to be a pretty forgiving organization (what’s that saying about people who live in glass houses?). Roman Polanski was eventually embraced 25 years after fleeing the country in ignominy, winning best director for 2002’s The Pianist. Mel Gibson was nominated for Best Director for Hacksaw Ridge (while he didn’t win, the film did pick up two Oscars). And Woody Allen still routinely gets nominated for screenwriting Oscars – and even won one for Midnight in Paris in 2012. But these sorts of second acts take time. And as unspeakable as all three of those men have allegedly acted in the past, one questions whether the staggering and sickening scope of the still-evolving claims against Weinstein are of an entirely different magnitude. To any reasonable person, it would seem Weinstein’s alleged offenses are too heinous to forgive.
In the short term, the mindset of Weinstein’s colleagues in the industry will be outrage, repulsion, sanctimony, and exile. Who knows how many more women will come forward? Who knows what other unspeakable acts and patterns will come to light? No one knows. But no one is going to risk rallying behind Weinstein either publicly or in the privacy of their homes as they fill out their ballots. Hollywood should be done with him. His enablers and coddlers should be done with him. And the Oscars should be done with him.