Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood superproducer who was accused on Wednesday of decades of sexual harassment and abuse, does not seem inclined to forfeit the power that facilitated his alleged offenses.
The New York Times exposé that stockpiled Weinstein’s various alleged misdeeds—reported requests for naked massages, unwanted touching, verbal harassment—returned, over and over again, to Weinstein’s unfathomable influence. Weinstein was known as a kingmaker as well as an angry and intemperate executive, but he was rarely if ever called out for what he was to so many women—an executive who was too influential to offend and too powerful to be dethroned. So instead of toppling their boss, The New York Times alleges, female employees learned to work around him, accompanying one another for backup, wary of being left alone with a man who “could switch course quickly—meetings and clipboards one moment, intimate comments the next.”
Even for women completely outside of Weinstein’s orbit, the Times story is sure to strike a chord, evoking the sort of mental calculus we revert to when engaging with a potential predator who is also a professional superior. The Weinstein allegations collectively portray a man who deliberately abused his power, offering career advancement in exchange for intimate touching and sexual favors. Women like actress Ashley Judd, who went on the record for The New York Times story, were left with the impossible task of refusing Weinstein’s alleged advances while also remaining in the Hollywood heavyweight’s good graces. Or as Judd recalled thinking when she was solicited by Weinstein in a hotel room two decades ago, “How do I get out of the room as fast as possible without alienating Harvey Weinstein?”
Unfortunately for Judd and for every other woman who has spoken out against Weinstein—anonymously or on the record, to The New York Times or on Twitter—Weinstein is still a powerful man with a potent platform. More than 24 hours after the Times exposé, the story has yet to gain significant traction on stars’ social media accounts. So far, we’ve only seen a handful of statements, with Lena Dunham praising “the woman who chose to speak about their experience of harassment by Harvey Weinstein” and Oscar-winner Patricia Arquette tweeting in support of two alleged victims, Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan. But the silence, from A-Listers like Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet whose careers have undeniably benefited from Weinstein’s Midas touch, is deafening.
It’s too soon to say how much of a hit Weinstein’s reputation and career have taken this week, and if he’ll be able to weather it. The producer told The New York Times that he’ll be taking a leave of absence to “deal with this issue head on” (The Weinstein Company’s board confirmed his suspension late Friday). So far, it seems that Weinstein is repurposing his energy to mount an aggressive legal and PR offensive—a far cry from the amends-making and self-reflection his lengthy apology alluded to. In what may go down as one of the most callous statements of all time, Weinstein initially characterized the slew of sexual harassment charges piling up against him as a good story, adding “I want to buy the movie rights.”
In the immediate aftermath of The New York Times’ bombshell, one of Weinstein’s lawyers, Charles Harder, told The Hollywood Reporter that a lawsuit was already in the works. Harder, who previously represented Hulk Hogan against Gawker, alleged that the Times story “is saturated with false and defamatory statements about Harvey Weinstein,” adding that, “It relies on mostly hearsay accounts and a faulty report.” Harder also claimed that all proceeds from the suit “will be donated to women’s organizations.”
It’s hard to fully articulate the grossness of this transparent pandering, in which Weinstein, an alleged abuser, is co-opting the charitable approach of alleged victims like Amber Heard. By repeatedly referencing the money he has given and will continue to give to women’s organizations, Weinstein is exhibiting the same reactionary behavior that The New York Times described: throwing money at women and hoping that the problem will go away. Repackaging Weinstein and his team’s apparent attempts to discredit a report about his abusive behavior (and by extension call women’s stories and traumas into question) as somehow in service to women is truly audacious. The implication that women will ultimately benefit from this lawsuit couldn’t be further from the truth, since Weinstein’s lawyers are fighting to protect the reputation and influence of a man who allegedly used his power to abuse and intimidate female employees for decades. Weinstein’s behavior appears to operate along one disturbing, consistent continuum, as he continues to misunderstand or deliberately override what women want.
But the scariest indicator of how Weinstein will deal with this scandal came courtesy of an interview he did with Page Six after the news broke.
Amidst a host of rambling statements and half-denials, Weinstein focuses in on the two famous actresses who were mentioned in the Times exposé. Regarding Ashley Judd, who recalled an incident of sexual harassment, Weinstein said, “I know Ashley Judd is going through a tough time right now, I read her book [her memoir All That Is Bitter and Sweet], in which she talks about being the victim of sexual abuse and depression as a child. Her life story was brutal, and I have to respect her. In a year from now, I am going to reach out to her.” He also called reports of payouts, including a reported $100,000 settlement with actress Rose McGowan “pure conjecture”, explaining, “No company ever talks about settlements, and neither does the recipient, so I don’t know how the Times came to this conclusion, but it is pure conjecture, the reporters have made assumptions.”
It appears that Weinstein is attempting to undermine Judd and McGowan’s stories. The producer’s invocation of Judd’s history with sexual abuse and mental disorders, as well as the “tough time” she’s going through, is deliberate, and works to call into question Judd’s motives and mental fitness. But an earlier version of Weinstein’s Page Six interview was even more pointed. Per Vanity Fair, the original piece quoted Weinstein as saying that he “never laid a glove on [Judd].” The producer continued, “After this supposed incident, which she says was in 1997 while filming Kiss The Girls, I took her to an Academy Award party where we were photographed smiling.” The article now reads, “After the alleged incident, which Judd told the Times was while filming ‘Kiss The Girls,’ she appeared at an Academy Awards party where she was photographed with Weinstein.” There is no mention in Page Six as to how or why the interview was edited, and editor Emily Smith did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
Smith’s exclusive posits, “Judd also claimed to the Times she never worked with Weinstein again, but in fact she did two movies with him—‘Frida,’ which came out in 2002, and ‘Crossing Over’ with Harrison Ford, released in 2009.” Strange, since The New York Times piece clearly states that, “Years later, Ashley Judd appeared in two Weinstein films without incident, she said.”
Weinstein’s initial instinct to reference a picture that he took with Judd after the “supposed incident”—a picture in which, he takes pains to point out, she is “smiling”—is revealing (Page Six also included a photo of Weinstein and McGowan posing together at the Grindhouse premiere in 2007). Trotting out ostensibly friendly conversations and interactions between victims and their purported abusers is a common technique used to discredit survivors. The implication is that if Weinstein had actually harassed Judd, she never would have posed for a picture with him, let alone worked with him on two subsequent films. This argument is so ridiculous that it almost doesn’t deserve to be dismantled. After all, as Judd made very clear in her New York Times interview, Weinstein was the kind of person who could make or break celebrities: “There’s a lot on the line, the cachet that came with Miramax.”
The Times article describes movies as Weinstein’s “private leverage,” the means by which he allegedly lured women into his hotel rooms, promising opportunities and career advancement. The question isn’t why women would work with Weinstein or make polite conversation with him at a party—it’s how an alleged abuser was allowed to grow so powerful that his past and would-be victims simply couldn’t afford to offend or avoid him. As Judd, who shared her account of the Weinstein incident in 2015 with Variety while withholding the producer’s name, told The New York Times, “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.”
For women, speaking out against abusers is often a form of professional suicide. While McGowan declined to speak to The New York Times about her alleged settlement with Weinstein, she has seemingly alluded to the incident before. Last year, she tweeted that, “my ex sold our movie to my rapist for distribution… it’s been an open secret in Hollywood/Media & they shamed me while adulating my rapist.” She’s been vocal about the “systemic abuse of women in Hollywood”—apparently too vocal for her agency, Innovative Artists, who reportedly dropped her as a client when she shared a sexist casting note for an Adam Sandler film. McGowan knows that her outspokenness comes at a cost, and subsequently told The Hollywood Reporter that “I could care less” about the effect her social media call-outs could have on her career. This week, McGowan has continued to use her platform, tweeting, “Women fight on. And to the men out there, stand up. We need you as allies. #bebrave” and “Anyone who does business with __ is complicit. And deep down you know you are even dirtier. Cleanse yourselves.”
McGowan also retweeted a 2015 BuzzFeed interview during which reporter Kate Aurthur brought up a “rumored serial predator in the entertainment industry.” “I have faith,” McGowan responded. “There’s a lot of people that don’t deserve to be alive—put it that way. There’s a lot of people who also get the face and body they deserve. There’s a lot of destroyers, and there’s the collusion… For anybody who reads this, anybody who’s ever colluded on anything by being a weak human being, fuck you. How dare you.”