The night before Harvey Weinstein was fired from the film production company he founded, he reportedly sent a desperate email to his cohort in the Hollywood elite. In his missive to top talent agents and executives — likely the same people who had attended his swanky parties and helped bolster his legendarily aggressive award show campaigns — Weinstein wrote, “Do not let me be fired. If the industry supports me, that is all I need.”
Given that numerous harassment and misconduct allegations had come out and more were coming, Weinstein’s conviction that the industry’s "support" would keep his career afloat may seem ludicrous. But unfortunately, it’s not ludicrous. The industry’s support has bolstered the careers of several other influential figures in Hollywood, even after women have gone public against them.
Need I list the “creative geniuses” who still have actors lining up to work with them, who still sell out movie theatres, who still win Oscars — despite what we all know about them? Roman Polanski, who fled the United States after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old but is still making Oscar-winning movies abroad (see: The Pianist). Or, going back to Hollywood’s Golden Age, the actor Errol Flynn, who stood trial for two charges of statutory rape in 1934. When Flynn died of a heart attack in 1959, his 17-year-old girlfriend, Beverly Aadland, found him. By that point, they'd been dating for two years. You do the math.
Beyond these examples, the case of an artistic genius who remains beloved, despite his questionable choices, that most immediately comes to mind is Woody Allen. Allen has greatly benefitted from Hollywood’s prioritisation of “art” over “artist.” We’ve always kind of known Allen had offbeat sexual proclivities. The guy’s been married to Soon-Yi Previn, his ex-wife’s adopted daughter, for two decades. Allen’s been forthcoming, too, and addressed his attitude toward sex in an interview with People in 1976.
“I’m open-minded about sex. I’m not above reproach; if anything, I’m below reproach. I mean, if I was caught in a love nest with 15 twelve-year-old girls tomorrow, people would think, yeah, I always knew that about him,” Allen said. These attitudes show up in his art, too: In Annie Hall, which came out in 1977, Alvy’s friend gets angry at Alvy for interrupting his threesome with 16-year-old twins.
For a while, we tuned out the weirdness, because Allen made movies we loved. That became harder to do in 2014. In February of that year, Dylan Farrow, Allen’s adoptive daughter with ex-partner Mia Farrow, wrote an open letter in the New York Times detailing her alleged abuse at the hands of her father. While accusations of Allen’s misconduct had swirled in tabloids since 1993, this was the first time Farrow addressed the incident in her own words.
So what happened? Spoiler: Nothing changed. “It doesn’t affect me and I just have no interest in it,” Allen told Vanity Fair in 2016. Clearly, Farrow’s allegations did not derail Allen’s career. Kate Winslet is starring in December’s Wonder Wheel, and Selena Gomez and Elle Fanning will appear in his next film.
Allen, like so many other individuals whose art — or, to put it bleakly, their ability to rake in money and awards — transcends their horrendous personal histories, is protected by a well-oiled system.
Ronan Farrow, Dylan Farrow’s brother and Allen’s son, was exposed to the choreographed dance of PR cover-ups and under-the-rug-brushing when he worked at MSNBC at the time his sister’s letter was published.
“Every day, colleagues at news organisations forwarded me the emails blasted out by Allen's powerful publicist...Those emails featured talking points ready-made to be converted into stories, complete with validators on offer — therapists, lawyers, friends, anyone willing to label a young woman confronting a powerful man as crazy, coached, vindictive,” Farrow wrote in a Hollywood Reporter guest column.
If you’re thinking there’s a conspiracy undermining women’s testimonies and truths, then you’re right. There is. Farrow saw one aspect of the conspiracy in those emails from his father’s PR person, who also conducted a similar campaign when Allen started publicly dating Soon-Yi Previn. And every person who sent actresses to Weinstein’s hotel room, knowing what he might do? They saw the conspiracy, too. They were a part of it.
Ronan Farrow has committed himself to unravelling that system of silence. For his damning New Yorker exposé, Farrow spent 10 months gathering first-hand accounts of women who said they were assaulted by Weinstein. Thanks to women coming forward on influential platforms, Weinstein fell — for now.
In a Times op-ed written in response to Weinstein's scandal, film critic Manohla Darghis recalls how quickly individuals’ careers were resuscitated once they became economically viable again. “One problem is that the entertainment industry is extraordinarily forgiving of those who have made it a lot of money, as Mel Gibson can tell you. It might glance at the fallen comrade on the floor, but only so it can step over the body en route to the next meeting. And if that comrade somehow gets on his feet again, the industry will ask if he has a new project,” Dargis said.
That’s where we come in. If these people are making money, then they’re still going to be working — because we’re still lapping up their work. I admit: Not lapping their work up is something I still struggle with. Objectively, I think Annie Hall is the ultimate rom-com. I used to screech with joy when "Ignition: the Remix" by R. Kelly came on the radio (no more!).
But people. Let’s not. Let’s not put art on this exalted pedestal that excuses the artist from facing actual punishment. Let’s not swat away women’s testimony like an inconvenient buzz, which prevents us from loving that person's movie, or that person's song. Good art does not excuse people from crime; art is not a justice system.
If we choose to ignore these women so we can enjoy pure, unadulterated art, we run the risk of sounding like Adrien Brody, who famously said he abstains from reading allegations against the people he’s worked with, like Polanski and Allen.
“I choose not to indulge this kind of fodder...Of course it’s horrible what comes out sometimes, and people have done things in their lives that may be inexcusable, but it’s not something to focus on,” Brody said on Dirty, Sexy, Funny With Jenny McCarthy in 2016.
We should be doing the exact opposite of what Brody suggested. We should be focusing on it, because what Brody so blithely dismissed as “fodder” for the tabloid cycle are actually people’s stories. When those stories band together and are given platforms to be heard, they can topple giants like Harvey Weinstein. In fact, we should be doing more than just "indulging" in the fodder. We should be putting it on a loudspeaker, so that we can't turn up Annie Hall and tune it out.
I hope that Weinstein’s fall produces more than just fodder, to use Brody's term, but rather prompts some real changes from within the industry, so that us movie-goers don't have to choose between art and principles. Let's stop prizing the "genius" above his actions.
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