In the 1990s and early aughts, Harvey Weinstein was a force in the movie industry. A tough New York producer, he was a ruthless marketer and Oscar campaigner. And Miramax, the company he co-founded with his brother, Bob, was behind many award-winning films: "Pulp Fiction," "Shakespeare in Love" and "Good Will Hunting," among them.
But, according to a New York Times story that was posted on Oct. 5, for many years Weinstein was also routinely sexually harassing women. He made a statement available to the New York Times about the claims.
Reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey recounted a number of instances — including with actress Ashley Judd — in which Weinstein would ask young actresses or subordinates in his company to meet him in hotel suites. He would propose that they give him massages or watch him shower.
The Times story reports that dozens of former and current Weinstein employees knew of “inappropriate conduct,” but “only a handful said they ever confronted him.” On at least eight occasions, settlements were reached with the accusers.
Film producer Cathy Schulman, president of the production company, Welle Entertainment, and the advocacy group, Women in Film, and Melissa Silverstein, founder/publisher of the blog Women and Hollywood, joined The Frame guest host Josie Huang to discuss the story.
On their reactions to the revelations about Harvey Weinstein in the New York Times:
Melissa Silverstein: I was pretty shocked that it was as awful as it was. But I just felt: What kind of environment is created that a person can get away with this for so long and have so many enablers around them and so many people afraid to say anything?
Cathy Schulman: Like Melissa, I wasn't aware of the depth or the intensity of the allegations. I thought that he was famous for having poor behavior and a bad temper and being particularly abusive toward female employees and collaborators. So I felt shocked that the system could enable silence this way. And how is it possible if from the very beginning there were coverups — that meant that human resources and business affairs and other advisors were allowing this to happen without feeling any sense of responsibility to speak up, or were in fear themselves if they spoke up.
On the way that non-disclosure agreements can contribute to a culture of silence around sexual misconduct:
Schulman: I think there's a problem with the entire American legal system that ultimately enables secrecy. I think, personally, the idea that people sign quick claims and that we settle things in employment scenarios by which you get money and then you don't tell, is problematic overall. In the industry it's such common practice that I find it offensive. There's a dispute and the only way to get yourself out of a situation — as a woman, where you've been essentially bullied, harassed, whatever you've been — is that you get some money and close your mouth. [That's] highly problematic and has been for a very long time in this industry.
On whether or not Weinstein's success provided him some cover in getting away with this alleged behavior for so long:
Silverstein: I think that this happens all over the place. There are people who don't make prestige movies who've been doing coverups for their whole career. I think [Weinstein is] particular because he also stood out as a person who said that he supported women and lots of progressive causes at the same time he was sexually harassing women with impunity. It's just that what happens with women is that you don't have the power. This person had all of the power and this is how perpetrators deal with this. This is why they continue to act with impunity because they have all the power.
Schulman: I think that brings us to the punishment. And I think Melissa's right: What's so important in these cases from Roger Ailes and on, and not to mention older ones like Mel Gibson and various different ones that have come up in Hollywood history, this punishment's got to be visible, it's got to be real. It shouldn't be something that you can take a hiatus or a break for a year and come back renewed.
On sexism in the film industry and how it contributes to an environment in which sexual misconduct persists:
Silverstein: It's about a lack of opportunities for women, it's about a lack of access to power, it's about sexual harassment — it is multiple things going on in this industry. Quite frankly, if men have been taught that it's okay to get away with this and they see role models of people getting away with it, that's what they learn. So we need new behaviors where people say, No, that's not acceptable. People have to really decide that they want the industry to be different and they want to be different kinds of people who lead.