Filmdom’s infamous “casting couch” is not a product of disgraced and disgraceful producer Harvey Weinstein’s private dream factory. Since long before “The Jazz Singer” broke the sound barrier in 1927, the price often demanded of young women for a chance has been the stuff of both celluloid legend and stark reality.
But reporting by the New York Times in recent days chronicling three decades of exploitation, sexual manipulation and allegedly even assault by the movie mogul makes “The Bad and the Beautiful” or “All About Eve” look like children’s stories.
At the very least Weinstein, who, through his attorney, has not denied the essential facts reported by the Times, has been a serial harasser. His own company is rightly concerned that it might be a lot worse, as more women — some of them prominent and others not — step forward with their own accounts of Weinstein’s behavior at a time when he had all the power and they had only ambitions and dreams … or maybe just a job they desperately needed. He was fired Monday by his own board, at least three of whose members — all men — then resigned.
(“How do I get out of the room as fast as possible without alienating Harvey Weinstein?” Ashley Judd remembers her twentysomething self wondering when Weinstein, who had invited her to what she thought was a business meeting, asked her to watch him shower.)
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The Times documented allegations against and settlements by Weinstein “through interviews with current and former employees and film industry workers, as well as legal records, emails and internal documents from the businesses he has run, Miramax and the Weinstein Company,” the newspaper reported Sunday.
Among those records was a memo to Weinstein Company executives from Lauren O’Connor, a creative consultant, who wrote, “There is a toxic environment for women at this company.” Weinstein has agreed to at least eight legal settlements with women, from a New York assistant in 1990 to O’Connor herself in 2015.
It’s a relatively minor point given the hideous conduct alleged against him, but under the circumstances, Weinstein’s faux-feminist liberal political activism comes off as nothing short of obscene. In addition to hosting a fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton, he also participated in a women’s march in Utah and helped endow a Gloria Steinem faculty chair (yes, you read that right) at Rutgers.
No doubt Hollywood would rather us marinate in the self-referential (and reverential) glitter-glory of “La La Land.” but the sordid fact of Harvey Weinstein is at least as real as Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone dancing in the California moonlight.
“We’re at a point in time when women need to send a clear message that this is over,” said Gwyneth Paltrow, who says Weinstein tried to seduce her when she was 22. “This way of treating women ends now.”
We’ll see. Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, both accused (one convicted) of sexual exploitation of children, don’t seem to have any casting problems.