In its 90-year history, only one person has been kicked out of the Academy. Harvey Weinstein is now the second.
After an emergency hours-long meeting of its board members on Saturday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted to immediately expel the Hollywood mogul from the organization. It’s an unprecedented decision based on behavior and not procedure, made just over a week after bombshell investigations detailing Weinstein’s decades-long history of sexually harassing and abusing women.
Just as there was loud outcry to have Weinstein—who is credited with revolutionizing the modern Oscar campaign—removed from the Academy for his heinous acts, there will also be immediate pushback from members who might fear a “slippery slope” in which personal behavior is adjudicated in contingency of membership. In other words, where’s the line?
That debate aside, the Academy sent a clear and punitive message in its statement condemning Weinstein’s actions while announcing his expulsion—as well as one that it is perhaps more willing to kneel to the court of public opinion than it ever has been in its past.
The Academy said it voted “well in excess of the two-thirds required” to remove Weinstein, “not simply to separate ourselves from someone who does not merit the respect of his colleagues but also to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over.”
That era has been a long and problematic one.
As many pointed out when the Academy announced it was meeting at all, a step like this was a long time coming from an industry that has turned the existence of the proverbial casting couch and even Weinstein’s own behavior explicitly into a tongue-in-cheek joke.
People will also cry hypocrisy that this is the same Academy that has never bothered to rule on the membership standing of the likes of Bill Cosby, Mel Gibson, or Roman Polanski, each of whom has been accused or found guilty of “sexually predatory behavior.” This is an organization that gave Polanski a standing ovation when he won Best Director for The Pianist in 2003, when he could not attend the ceremony because if he returned to the U.S. he would be jailed for a 1977 conviction for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. They stood for him.
But as culture writer Mark Harris wrote on Twitter ahead of this decision, this is a different Academy than the one who gave Polanski his Oscar. “Almost half the [current] voters joined post-2003,” he wrote. “Times change.”
That times have changed might be a major factor in this historical Weinstein decision. That the interested of Academy members haven’t might be another.
Recent years haven’t been kind to the Academy, which has faced warranted backlash for the lack of diversity in its membership when it comes to women and people of color—a failing blamed for the inexcusable two consecutive years of #OscarsSoWhite. It’s cynical, but likely true, to think that this move was motivated by a desire and even necessity to change that tide of that public opinion.
The Weinstein allegations come in an age of social media and inescapable outrage, one that puts pressure on an organization to be reactionary that simply cannot be ignored. Following the comeuppance for other media power players like Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes for their allegedly Weinstein-like treatment of women, the chorus of furor that this keeps happening both demands action from an organization like the Academy, but also gives it permission to act as it did Saturday. How could it not boot Weinstein? Would the public have tolerated anything less?
As we’ve learned with the delicately worded statements from Hollywood actors and executives, least of which is Bob Weinstein doubling down on his assertion that he as ignorant of his brother’s action, self-interest is still tantamount, even in the midst of an industry and, frankly, human crisis like this.
The big question, though, is what now?
This is a major step away from the Academy’s historical pledge of consistency when it comes to separating the art and the artist, and its understanding that personal behavior will not influence professional standing. To that regard, the only other person to be booted from the organization is character actor Carmine Caridi, who violated Academy rules on sharing DVD screeners of films sent to voters.
Now is as good as time as any to make an exception to the rule. But will the organization start making more?
Will the membership standings of Cosby, Polanski, and likely countless others be litigated? Going forward, what kind of transgression will merit such action?
As Harris also pointed out, “People who do terrible things will still be in the Academy. And win Oscars.” Which is true. This is a move that signals a desire to end complicity, not that complicity has ended.
Good riddance to Harvey Weinstein. This is a major victory for all the women who have come forward this past week, all the women who have felt powerless in stopping a harasser or coerced into doing something because the industry had ruled it customary, and for anyone appalled that heinous acts like these had been condoned for decades with no institution willing to condemn it.
But this is a historic measure that has been taken, one that could release the floodgates when it comes to the future of the Academy and its membership. Commend the Academy for being aware of that and for ruling the way it did anyway; it easily could’ve have claimed policy as an excuse not to. Plus, for god’s sake, what’s some added stress for the people who vote on the Oscars as the price for a modicum—and that’s all this is—of justice?