It’s a cliche, for sure. In the past it was the popular threat lobbed by film industry big-wigs at the powerless in Hollywood. Lately, though, it could well apply to some of those same film industry big-wigs, including a famous producer named Harvey Weinstein. You’ll never work in this town again!
If you haven’t been following the news for the past few weeks, Harvey is (was) a key figure in the film industry, having produced dozens of films through his companies Miramax and The Weinstein Company. Today he has been disowned by his former colleagues, to the extent of being kicked out of the Academy. He might even be indicted on a rape charge in the next few days.
All of this bad news for Harvey stems from allegations that he has engaged in a long pattern of sexual harassment/assault in the context of his role as a Hollywood big-wig; that he used his power to entice/coerce women into sex. I won’t go into the tawdry details, which seem pathetic and idiosyncratic. Suffice to say that it shouldn’t surprise anyone that women would categorize the contact from Harvey as unwanted. There is nothing remotely attractive about Harvey; an older man whose looks disqualify him from appearing in any visual artistic medium, except perhaps as a character actor. I should mention here my suspicion that Harvey was the inspiration for the fictional character Les Grossman, portrayed by Tom Cruise in the comedy “Tropic Thunder.”
I have to say that the allegations against Harvey didn’t surprise me; not because I have any inside information or insight to the workings of Hollywood, but just because men in positions of power will be tempted to use their power to have more sex. What did surprise me is how quickly Harvey’s situation unraveled. He went from being one of the most important figures in Hollywood to being persona non grata within a few short weeks. This happened in the absence of any formal charges being brought by authorities; as though everyone in Hollywood already had all the information they needed to, for example, kick him out of the Academy. But if everyone already knew about Harvey, why was his behavior tolerated? I suspect the reason is because if you crossed him, “you’ll never work in this town again!” While it is appropriate to view the women who were the target of Harvey’s unwanted advances as victims, it is also important to acknowledge that to the extent they were silent in furtherance of their career goals they probably enabled the behavior to go on longer than it might have otherwise.
Let’s do a thought experiment in which we are struggling actors trying to make it in the film industry against all odds. A powerful movie mogul dangles the prospect of being cast in a film and all we have to do is play along with their sexual demands. And this scenario isn’t limited to women actors, because there have also been allegations from male actors that they, too, were harassed/assaulted by powerful Hollywood men. I’m sure we’d all like to think that no, of course we wouldn’t lower ourselves to do something like that. But can we agree that really, we don’t know what we would do unless we were actually faced with a choice like that. One thing that has occurred to me since the scandal broke is how certain films get made. I watch a lot of movies on cable and in some instances I ask myself, about a quarter of the way through: “How did this piece of shit ever get made?” I mean, the acting/script/production is so bad that you think to yourself is this really the best they could come up with? I suspect that some of those films were made to satisfy promises to people who had slept their way into the production.
I don’t know how this is all going to play out as regards Harvey. It does seem like an opportunity for Hollywood to change, though. As someone who enjoys film as an artistic medium, I wonder whether changes in Hollywood will result in better art. One can only hope that going forward decisions on casting and hiring for film productions will become more of a meritocracy and less of a sexual quid pro quo.