By: Joseph Kathmann
Editor's Note: This article begins Enter the Movies recap of 2017 in film and takes the place of the "Biggest Controversies of the Year" post.
No controversy has engulfed the entertainment industry since I started this blog five years ago like the Harvey Weinstein scandal has. What started (at least in Hollywood) as a few brave women coming forward with a single story in the New York Times (who, let's not forget, has had its own issues with sexual harassment arise since) has turned into a nationwide movement of force and change, represented by the hashtags #MeToo and #TimesUp. I will admit: when I first saw that initial story on Weinstein in the NYT, I thought, "Wow, this is awful." But, unfortunately I didn't think much more of it. I, an oblivious white male, never thought this story was just the tip-of-the-iceberg for a much larger and widespread problem in both Hollywood and the rest of our culture. (Women, of course, knew it was) I was stupidly naive, and looking back I wish I had seen this problem for what it is far earlier than now. But, up until this point, I've remained largely silent on the issue. I am lucky enough to be a white male in America, so I feel I don't have much of any right to talk about something (or, mansplain it, I know) that women have been dealing with since society decided that, for some reason, men should be in charge of everything. But, every year on Enter the Movies I recap the biggest controversies of the previous year in Hollywood, and it just didn't feel right to give this story a little blurb at the top of some list and leave it at that. It's easily the biggest story, and the biggest force of change, I have ever seen in the entertainment industry since I started following it as a near-unhealthy obsession. At the very least it deserves a full essay, even though I, a white male, am the one writing it.
Anyway, if you don't want to read this because my opinion on sexual harassment doesn't mean much to you, here's the TL;DR version: the men that abused their power over women are monsters. Anyone who thinks otherwise is part of the problem. Personally, I will struggle to support any future film that stars or is produced by any of the men accused of harassing women, no matter gravitas of the accusations. (It will be impossible for me to separate the film from the man going forward.) To me, someone like Aziz Ansari is just as guilty of assaulting and harassing women as Harvey Weinstein, and I want no part in their attempted comeback stories. Their time is up.
So, now for the long version. I want to start this essay by quoting Jessica Chastain from a recent actress roundtable at The Hollywood Reporter, (link in the pick above-it's absolutely fascinating) because she sums up the current state of Hollywood better than I ever could. "I hope the entertainment industry will never be the same. You can look at Louis Mayer and "Fatty" Arbuckle and Jack Warner. [Early titans of the entertainment industry that allegedly traded jobs for sexual favors.] You read Shirley Temple's book and find out what happened to her as a child.... [Temple said in her autobiography that a producer pulled his penis out in front of her when she was only 12] there is a history of abuse against women in our industry. And, it's never been addressed. And.... I'm devastated by all the stories that have come out because it's heartbreaking, but at the same time I feel hopeful, because we're not ignoring it anymore. It's painful for change, but it's needed. It was needed many years ago.....[and] I think the industry will come extinct unless we show a more modern version of the world that we're presented with."
When I first read the Harvey Weinstein story, I was angry, but I (unfortunately) never imagined that this problem was as widespread as it was. The story surrounding Weinstein specifically has been a frustrating one-from him allegedly hiring ex-Mossad agents to silence actresses and track journalists to the fact that many, including (but not limited to) the board of the (now disgraced) Weinstein Company to directors like Quentin Tarantino knew that this was happening and just stood by and watched. (More on Tarantino later) The amount of sexual assault Weinstein was able to get away with is not just insulting to Hollywood, it's insulting to the entire male population. It's disgusting. It's humiliating to me. I mean, look at this picture below. That's just a PORTION of the women who have accused Weinstein of harassing/assaulting them, and that doesn't even include the anonymous ones. (Like the unnamed actresses that have accused him of rape)
Knowing that each of the women above (and many more) have had to deal with a traumatic experience that forever changed their lives makes me incredibly sad. But, Harvey Weinstein is just a fraction of the problem and the dozens of stories that have surfaced over the past few months prove that. Over a hundred men in power, both within the entertainment industry and outside it, have been accused of sexual harassment. (You can check out a handy running tally from the music site Consequence of Sound here) Weinstein was just the tip of the iceberg, as stories like Dustin Hoffman groping an actress on set, or Kevin Spacey being a monster and SOMEHOW thinking he'd be excused for it by coming out, (seriously-that may be the most disgusting response I have ever seen) or Louis C.K. thinking it's somehow OK to whip his penis out and masturbate in front of women became commonplace in the final months of 2017. It's so bad that now when I see yet another powerful man accused of sexual harassment, my friends and I just "add them to the list." We're getting desensitized to it, which is an incredibly depressing thought. This has to stop. What will it take, if not this, for women to finally be on equal footing as men? I want to get to the point where I don't even have to ask that question, because the equal footing is so ingrained in our society that we're not even thinking about it anymore. But, instead, we are left with seeing yet another powerful male being accused of sexual harassment. And those that have had allegations leveled their way are already planning their comeback stories. As long as they're "truly" sorry, right? Disgraceful.
I must admit I am getting angry just typing this article. (I can't even imagine how women must feel) It's hard not too - women like Julia Wolov and Dana Min Goodman have been traumatized by their experiences with Louis C.K. disgusting assaults, and they're just two of the many, MANY women that have been affected by sexual assault in the entertainment industry. And our society (aka the men of our society) allowed this culture to persist for decades! The men would just laugh it off, or WORSE, think a woman was "looking for her fifteen seconds of fame" by coming forward with stories of sexual harassment against a powerful bro. That excuse disgusts me now. I remember when that rationale was tossed around rather nonchalantly as the accusations against Bill Cosby emerged. Heck, just two years ago we elected Donald Trump president despite numerous accusations of sexual assault against him, and Hollywood itself found it OK to hand Casey Affleck a bunch of awards for Best Actor despite numerous accusations of sexual harassment. While we've come far over the course of 2017, it's important to remember we still have a long way to go.
(Fun fact: I thought giving Affleck the award for Best Actor was wrong in early 2017 too, especially when you consider Brie Larson, who won a lot of awards the year prior for playing a woman who was herself the subject of male abuse, had to hand him these awards. At least I thought that one was messed up.....)
I have an infinite amount of respect for the women that have come forward with charges of sexual harassment or assault against their powerful male counterparts. They have more courage than I could ever dream of, and, as former Olympian Rachael Denhollander pointed out in a recent op-ed, are willing to destroy their personal lives in order to do the right thing. I wish these women didn't have to put, well, anything on the line to say something. Why are their houses burned down for doing the right thing? Men: why do we have to be such stubborn pieces of crap? As Chastain said, "It's painful for change, but it is needed." Also, let's not forget: even now there are thousands, if not millions, of women that get up every day and go to work with someone that has harassed them in some way. While that thought is devastating, it's important for us, the bystanders, to remember that these women are just as brave as those that have spoken up against their accusers. I know I admire them and are envious of their courage every bit as much as those who have spoken up. I just hope the men in power realize that the time for change is NOW. Not five years from now, but NOW. They better be shaking in their boots.
Anyway, I'd like to take a brief moment to talk about my own personal journey as a male through the rise of #MeToo and #TimesUp. (So, all in all, this is a rather pointless sidenote.) I never could have imagined how widespread this problem was until the #MeToo hashtag was trending. Around mid-October of 2017, I saw at least a dozen of my female friends post the simple but powerful Facebook status "Me Too." This hit me so close to home, and opened my eyes to just how widespread the problem of sexual harassment in our culture was/is. It's easy to say this is just a problem in Hollywood, but it's not. It's happening all around us I ask myself frequently what I would do if I knew someone like my boss was abusing female co-workers. What would I do? The easy answer is: I'd speak up. But would I really? I don't know. It takes courage to speak up in a situation like that, but I hope I will look at the brave women (and men) that have spoken up in this new era to find the courage to speak out against the abuse myself.
As far as my personal stance on the industry going forward and the men accused of sexual harassment, I have come to this conclusion: I will do my best to never support any future projects that star or are produced by men accused of sexual assault. They do not deserve my money, nor do they deserve yours. This includes something produced by an entity like The Weinstein Company. As prestigious a company it once was, it used its immense power to cover up the accusations against its founders Harvey (and his brother Bob) Weinstein. It, like Fox News for covering up accusations against Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly, are now dead to me, regardless of what they try and do in the future. However, I don't think it's fair to throw entire films that were made before these accusations came to light under the bus. A film like Baby Driver should not be discarded simply because Kevin Spacey is in it. That film was the work of a massive amount of men and women, and it shouldn't be cast aside and forgotten simply because of the actions of one man. So, going forward I will still celebrate overall films like Baby Driver or The Disaster Artist. (there have been several disgusting allegations leveled at James Franco in recent weeks, for those who were wondering why Denzel Washington was nominated for Best Actor over him) However, I will not celebrate the roles the men accused of sexual harassment played in those movies. They do not deserve it.
One final story about yet another woman dealing with sexual assault in the entertainment industry. The badass that is Uma Thurman just came forward to tell her personal story on the monster Harvey Weinstein, and it is heartbreaking. It goes to show just how widespread the problem with him was, not only with Weinstein, but with male power in Hollywood in general. The amount of complicity Thurman lays out, from director Quentin Tarantino to her freaking talent agency, Creative Artists Agency, is harrowing. Everyone was in on it. Every man in power knew Weinstein was a sexual predator, and yet they did NOTHING to stop him. The piece is gut-wrenching, but the highlight (if you want to call it that) I want to point out was a sequence from Kill Bill that Thurman was coerced into participating in. In this sequence, Thurman drives a shoddy convertible into a palm tree herself, no stuntwoman replacement, and is seriously injured in the process. She was forced into this sequence by the director, Quentin Tarantino. You can watch it below. Thurman says she spent fifteen years trying to get this video for her own personal closure on the incident, and just recently got it back. Let me warn you: it is painful to watch.
The level of coercion and harassment Uma Thurman faced could not be a more perfect summary of what needs to change in both the entertainment industry and our culture as whole. This goes beyond sexual harassment. When someone says no, it means NO. It doesn't mean "No, but...." it means NO. Too many times have women been told their "No" isn't good enough. It's unacceptable. It doesn't matter if it's "inconvenient" for you, the director, to have to find a stunt double to film a scene. If Uma Thurman doesn't want to do something, guess what? She doesn't have to do it! Why is this so difficult, guys? If a woman says "No" when Aziz Ansari asks if she wants to have sex, guess what? THAT MEANS NO. That doesn't mean you can try and "seduce" her with.....something that will (and somehow this part is shocking to a lot of men) make her feel uncomfortable. It means NO. I hope that men in power at least understand that now, in 2018, if they don't accept the "No" they are given, women have the platform to speak up and say something. And DEAR GOD if I ever find myself in a position of power, I hope I remember this movement as well, and understand and respect that NO MEANS FREAKING NO. A woman shouldn't even have to say no! If they look uncomfortable in a situation, maybe....just MAYBE, oh, I don't know.... they don't want to do something? Revolutionary, right??
This reckoning for the male power structure we've had for decades is LONG overdue. I hope we reach the point where we don't even have to think about this because it's so ingrained, but the fact that there's even a discussion over BASIC things like income inequality show just how far we have to go before we reach the point we SHOULD be at. But I hope that day comes quickly. Anyway, in a brief conclusion to this piece, I'd like to refer to a great quote from Salma Hayek in her emotional op-ed about Harvey Weinstein molesting her. It's a powerful line that sums up the changing tides 2017 brought within the entertainment industry, and our society as a whole, better than I ever could.
"Men sexually harassed because they could. Women are talking today because, in this new era, we finally can."
Times up, guys.
Final Editor's Note: I couldn't figure out a way to integrate this into the piece, but check out Brit Marling's The Economics of Consent if you want another phenomenal piece on sexual harassment in Hollywood and Harvey Weinstein.
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