Hollywood’s issues with abuse don’t start or end with Harvey Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein

It’s been interesting to see the Hollywood elite line up to all denounce Harvey Weinstein, as if he bears all the blame for all of its ills. The truth is, Hollywood is notorious for individuals violently exercising their power over others in inappropriate ways, and removing Weinstein from the equation won’t fix the industry. They will have to do a lot more than that.

If nothing else, Hollywood is great at putting on a  show. If it gets called out for diversity issues, they’ll find a Black woman to be its face, make a big deal out of a few minor concessions and instances of progress, yet continue the whitewashing it has been practicing from the outset. And in the case of sexual harassment and abuse, it’ll find its sacrificial lamb (Harvey Weinstein) and make it seem like only he is the problem.

But, there needs to be a more honest conversation about Hollywood’s (and society’s) issues with sexual violence — especially against women.

Harvey Weinstein and the endurance of the “Casting Couch”

The concept of the “casting couch” has been around as long as there has been an entertainment industry. Under this power dynamic, those who make the determination of who gets roles wield a nearly unchecked balance of power over the livelihood and longevity of others. Those in power can use their position to coerce people into performing sexual acts or other forms of abuse. In other cases they can rape their targets and demand silence by threatening their careers. In this male-dominated industry, white men are commonly the perpetrators, yet the victims/survivors are not limited to any gender, race, or age.

What is common in all of these cases is that these predators are able to take advantage of people’s hopes and dreams. Largely, they have not had to face any repercussions for these actions.

The “casting couch” is what Harvey Weinstein operated under for decades. And breakthrough work at The New York Times and The New Yorker has shed a light on how bad it has been, chronicling a litany of allegations from victims-survivors who endured his predation. In every instance, Weinstein leveraged his position within the industry to exert power over others in a range of vulgar ways.

While the bombshell, 30-year long track record of assault Weinstein inflicted has garnered the most headlines, other executives have been recently called out for sexual abuse allegations. The founder of Amazon Studios Roy Price recently had to resign over sexual harassment allegations. Andy Signore, the creator of Honest Trailers, was fired by Defy Media over a bout of sexual abuse allegations. And even Bob Weinstein, brother to Harvey Weinstein, now faces his own allegations of sexual harassment.

It’s encouraging to see powerful Hollywood pillars be taken down for their illicit behaviors. But we have to grapple with the fact that the problem is much larger than the individuals.

Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, R. Kelly: Throw them all away

People who have been “disgusted” by the Weinstein news have seemingly had no issues working with Woody Allen. No, Allen doesn’t have a lengthy list of accusers like Weinstein. But he has never been able to shake claims that he sexually abused his daughter Dylan Farrow, and he went on to marry his own adoptive daughter Soon-Yi Previn.

For Hollywood heavyweights to be able to pat themselves on the back for banishing Weinstein from Hollywood yet show no pause in propping up Allen, they must either see some type of important distinction between the two or are more adept at swallowing their disgust than they’d lead you to believe. Either way, their so-called devotion to rooting out the evils of Hollywood feels toothless and shortsighted.

Roman Polanski is a convicted child abuser. CONVICTED. He fled the country to avoid going to prison. And today, even after all of that, Polanski continues to have champions in Hollywood advocating for both his return and his art.

When he was arrested in Switzerland back in 2009, a treasure trove of celebrities signed a petition on his behalf. Many argued that this was a misuse of power, that a film festival was used as a means to trap Polanski. But why were so many so vocal about trying to keep this rapist free? How can Hollywood congratulate itself for quickly booting Weinstein from The Academy while Polanski continues to remain a member?

The truth is: Hollywood has a legacy of valuing artistic merit over any problematic aspects of the artist. Just like people who continue to buy R. Kelly’s music turn a blind eye the overwhelming evidence of his abusive acts every time they “Step In The Name of Love”, cinephiles condone abuse of women and children every time they support the work of Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, and now, Harvey Weinstein.

It’s rape culture, y’all

The thread that links all of these cases is power. Weinstein threatened, attacked, and abused women for over 30 years despite a multitude of people in Hollywood knowing. Woody Allen continues to be a celebrated and sought-after director despite a clearly disturbing relationship with his own adoptive child and allegations of assaults of his step-child. Roman Polanski continues to have the Hollywood elite fight for his “right” to return to the United States despite being a convicted child rapist who fled the country to avoid prison.

And the list goes on. Bill Cosby. Casey Affleck. Roger Ailes. Bill O’Reilly. And countless others that have yet to be named. Even as litigation is levied against them, the battles are long, seemingly without end, and they continue to have their supporters.

When we allow abusers to not be held accountable for their actions we give them every reason to repeat the behavior. We give them no reason to stop. So yes, let’s continue to strip Weinstein of every privilege, award, appointment, and access point he has accumulated over his career. Punish him. But how valiant are these efforts if no action is taken to prevent reinforcing a system that so easily fosters this abuse of power?

Photo credit: “Harvey Weinstein David Shankbone 2010 NYC” by David Shankbone is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Daren W. Jackson

Daren is one half of the Water Cooler Convos team. He's a writer, music connoisseur, and comic book geek who spends his free time working on his novel and other short stories.