When the New York Times report about sexual harassment allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein came out, producer Amy Ziering wasn't surprised about the news — she was surprised it took so long for the news to come out.
Together with director Kirby Dick, Ziering produced "The Invisible War," a documentary about sexual assaults in the U.S. military, and "The Hunting Ground," a documentary about the epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses. When Ziering began screening "The Hunting Ground" in 2015, she started hearing about sexual assault stories in Hollywood, and the man who owned the company distributing her film — Harvey Weinstein.
"The Hunting Ground" was released by RADiUS-TWC, a boutique distribution label owned by The Weinstein Company. Weinstein was fired from his own company this week following a backlash from the New York Times investigation that detailed decades of undisclosed sexual harassment allegations, and related legal settlements with former employees and associates, including the actress Ashley Judd.
A story published on Oct. 10 by The New Yorker alleged incidents of sexual abuse and rape against Weinstein. That same day, actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie went public in the New York Times with their accounts of being harassed by Weinstein early in their careers.
The allegations reach as far back as Weinstein’s days running Miramax, an independent production company he started with his brother, Bob Weinstein, that helped changed independent film and the Oscar race with groundbreaking films like "Pulp Fiction," "Sex, Lies and Videotape," "Clerks," and "Shakespeare in Love."
In 1993, the Weinsteins sold Miramax to the Walt Disney Company. The Weinsteins remained with Miramax/Disney until 2005 when they formed The Weinstein Company.
Weinstein's behavior has faced much criticism, including his involvement in films that promote women's issues, such as "The Hunting Ground." Ziering says she began to hear stories about Weinstein while screening the film in Hollywood. It was something that she — as someone from the documentary world — wasn't as familiar with, but soon she learned that this is a longstanding cultural problem in the industry.
The more stories Ziering heard, the more she thought someone should be doing a film in this area: "And so we started looking into it."
Ziering spoke with The Frame's John Horn.
When Ziering began hearing about sexual harassment allegations about Harvey Weinstein:
After "The Hunting Ground" came out, I started hearing stories. And then we learned that it was something of an open secret. We're in the documentary space. We're not really at all in the narrative space. I didn't have any relationships there and I didn't have any relationships to any rumor mills there. It's just not my world. But having "Hunting Ground," that made people come up to us and say, Actually, did you know this about Harvey Weinstein?
And then we heard about it been going on for decades. And then we wondered why this hadn't ever come out before.
What it was like to hear stories about Weinstein while his company was distributing her film:
Our film was released by RADiUS, which is a small subsidiary of The Weinstein Company, so we didn't have really anything to do with him or the larger company, per se ... When you're in the world of sexual assault, there's bad behavior everywhere. So, yes, we were like, Oh my god, that's incredible! And then, obviously, we started actually looking into making a film on [predatory behavior]. So we started doing our research and talking to more and more people. And so we were very much in the space and aware of it and looking for a way to react to it once we heard this news. So that's how we responded as filmmakers and journalists and people that care about this issue.
Whether she will pursue the film more actively now:
We're considering it, obviously. We've done a lot of work on it. We'll see. One of the interesting barriers we encountered was that a lot of people didn't feel like it could get distribution, that there was a lot of fear around this issue. So, that was interesting. We talk about the media's collusion and enabling. So, we'd be very interested in re-approaching some of the funders and seeing if they’re now interested. I mean, people are scared.
How people being reluctant to distribute a film about predatory sexual behavior in Hollywood is similar to what silencing victims:
Our culture is part of the problem. And all those powerful institutions that protect these crimes are part of the problem. That's why I was curious. I was like, Gee, what changed at the New York Times that they felt they could go out with this? You know, a lot of these stories, I mean, Roger Ailes, right? I mean, 20 years, like, these stories have been around? Bill Cosby ... I mean, none of this is new. What's new is that the culture is catching up with the behavior and actually calling it accountable. That's new. And people are feeling safe enough and empowered enough to speak out and then have institutions run these stories and protect them. First time in our lifetimes that we're finally placing blame on perpetrators instead of victims.
How the cultures of institutions enable sexual predators by not holding them accountable:
That's a super important point. A small percentage of men commit these crimes. But the culture at large protects them. And misogyny protects them. And rape culture protects them. It's very strange and peculiar. No other crime has this kind of pattern. I mean, it’s also a small percentage of people that commit murder, and a small percentage commit robberies, but the culture at large doesn't give them a hall pass. But for some reason we decide that [sexual] crimes fall in a different category and we protect the people that perpetrate them.
Whether people were afraid to go on record for her film out of fear:
It varied. Some people said they would go on the record. Others said they might not. But, for the most part, those that said that they would consider it, but couldn’t say that they definitely would, it wasn’t so much that they were afraid of what it would do to their careers. They were just more afraid of just dealing with something like this. Obviously, it’s a lot to go public with something that was so painful and intimate in your life. Figuring out whether you feel like you’re up to that is what was more playing in their minds than anything else. Like, Do I really want to go public with this and have to deal with the press and have to deal with the trolls and have to deal with the backlash?
That’s what’s really interesting is now there’s strength in numbers. The more women come out, the more the others feel like maybe it’s a safe enough space and they have cover and they have support. And so if they come forward they’re not alone and they won’t be as victimized – re-victimized.
Whether she would work with Harvey Weinstein again:
Whether she would work with The Weinstein Company:
No and I don’t think they’ll have anything to do with us. No.
To hear John Horn's full interview with Amy Ziering, click on the player above.