Like an avenging character straight out of one of his films, writer-director Taylor Sheridan said he was not going to let "Wind River" stay in Harvey Weinstein's control.
The Weinstein Co. acquired his film and released it theatrically in August, positioning the Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner drama as a possible awards contender. But Sheridan's film was about sexual violence against young women on a tribal reservation, and suddenly Weinstein was being accused of similar things.
For Sheridan, a 47-year-old native Texan who wrote "Sicaro" and was nominated for an Oscar for writing the working class revenge tale "Hell or High Water," it was an unacceptable situation that had to be rectified.
So in an extraordinary move fitting of this uncharted time for Hollywood, not only did he and his producers get their film back from The Weinstein Co., but they also scrubbed the Weinstein name off it completely and ensured that neither of the Weinstein brothers would see a penny of future profits. Those will now be donated to National Indigenous Women's Resource Center, a non-profit organization devoted to enhancing the safety of Native women. The Weinstein name will not appear on awards screeners, the home video release, which is being handled by Lionsgate, or its Netflix release.
Acacia Entertainment, an entity of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe, which also financed the production of the film, has also stepped in to pay for and attempt to salvage the awards run.
It is one of a few examples of individuals in Hollywood acting quickly in recent weeks to distance themselves from the stain of association with alleged sexual harassers. One of the more high profile examples is director Ridley Scott re-shooting Kevin Spacey's scenes from his film "All the Money in the World" and replacing the disgraced actor with Christopher Plummer six weeks before the film is to hit theaters.
In the case of "Wind River," when the allegations started surfacing against Weinstein in early October, Sheridan and his producers Matthew George and Basil Iwanyk put their heads together to figure out what to do.
"We feel like this was taken under false pretenses, especially if anyone knew what the guy at the head of this company was up to and given the subject matter of our film, it's just horrendous," George said. "You should have never taken a film that is shining a light on the very subject that this guy is guilty of perpetrating."
They were under pressure, like many, to make a statement about Weinstein, but Sheridan didn't want the empty gesture of words. He called David Glasser, the president and COO of The Weinstein Company, to make some demands.
"I said, 'I'm going to make an offer to you and you're going to accept it because it's the right thing to do, and you'll get absolutely nothing back from it. But the one thing you will do is you'll allow this story to be told,'" Sheridan recalled telling him.
And it worked.
"Taylor is a force to be reckoned with and he can win most arguments like most great directors," George said. "He certainly was not going to lose this one."
An email sent to a Weinstein Co. representative was not returned Wednesday.
"Wind River's" awards prospects might not be the most promising even now that it's divorced from the Weinstein name, however.
Gregory Ellwood, the editor-at-large of The Playlist who covers the awards races, notes that the categories it will compete in — best picture, best director and best original screenplay — are, "Highly competitive this year." But the fact that Sheridan had a previous nomination could work to his benefit.
"It's never too late to get in the game, but they certainly have a tougher task ahead of them because of the change," Ellwood said. "Other studios with major contenders have been planning and executing their strategies since September."
For Sheridan, it's simply about keeping the film and the ideas in it in the national conversation — specifically related to the violence against Native American and indigenous women, and the underreported frequency of their disappearances and murders.
"We're not pushing (these small films) through awards season because we have an empty space on our mantle. When films are recognized for their achievements they live a little longer. People trust that stamp," Sheridan said. "They watch it and they benefit from it."