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KEEPING HARVEY WEINSTEIN’S DARK SECRETS

CASE STUDY 1.1KEEPING HARVEY WEINSTEIN’S DARK SECRETS

Powerful leaders are not only more tempted to abuse their power; they have the means to cover up their abuse when they do. For decades, there were rumors that movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was a sexual predator. In fact, Seth MacFarlane joked with the Best Supporting Actress nominees at the 2013 Oscar nomination ceremony, telling the women, “Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”1 Weinstein, the co-founder of Miramax and Weinstein pictures, allegedly would pressure young actresses into sexual encounters in return for casting them in his movies. Victims included Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, and Rose McGowan. Weinstein’s abuses came to light in New York Times and New Yorker articles. Multiple accusers claim that the producer made constant sexual propositions, exposed himself, masturbated in front of them, and forced them into sex. Weinstein apologized for his behavior and was removed from his company. Producer Weinstein used his wealth and influence as a Hollywood superstar to silence his accusers. In some cases, complainants reached nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) where, in return for a cash payment, they agreed to not further pursue or even to discuss their cases. If they did talk about their settlements, they would have to repay the money they received. In other instances, Weinstein hired private security companies to dig up dirt about the women to use against them. In the case of model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, false information (i.e., charges she was a prostitute) from these investigations was published in the New York Post tabloid. Investigators, some of them former Mossad agents, also investigated reporters and tried to identify their sources with the goal of stopping the New Yorker and New York Times stories. The producer also enlisted the help of former employees to gather information and to stop possible press stories. Weinstein’s position as a Hollywood gatekeeper made it hard for his victims to speak up. Challenging him could mean being blackballed from the movie industry. On the other hand, “Everyone knew if you were in a Harvey movie, chances are you were going to win or be nominated for an Oscar.”2 Miramax earned best picture awards for The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, and Chicago; the studio notched 58 Oscar wins in all, grossing over $3 billion. The Weinstein Company, founded in 2005, produced The King’s Speech, Inglorious Bastards, The Fighter, The Artist, The Iron Lady, and Undefeated, all which took home awards. Many were complicit in keeping Weinstein’s dark secrets. His staff—assistants, drivers, and executives—kept quiet in order to keep their jobs. Politicians like Hilary Clinton (who was reportedly warned about Weinstein) apparently looked the other way because he was a major donor and recruited other celebrity contributors. Prosecutors may have decided not to file charges because they received information and donations from Weinstein’s legal team. Journalists didn’t actively pursue leads because they had book deals and other business dealings with Weinstein. Ronan Farrow, who helped break the story, reports that he received pushback from many news outlets for revealing the allegations. Commenting on how the press self-censored when it came to Weinstein, one editor noted, “People don’t want to report on the table; they want a seat at the table.”3The Weinstein scandal prompted California and New York legislators to introduce legislation banning nondisclosure settlements. Other states could challenge these settlements given that these agreements might hide “public hazards.” Zelda Perkins, a former assistant to Harvey Weinstein, decided to speak up despite signing an NDA. (The producer wanted her in the room while he bathed and often tried to pull her into his bed.) Perkins hopes to draw attention to the harm done by these settlements: Unless somebody does this there won’t be a debate about how egregious these agreements are and the amount of duress that victims are put under. My entire world fell in because I thought the law was there to protect those who abided by it. I discovered that it had nothing to do with right and wrong and everything to do with money and power.4There are victims’ advocates who defend NDAs, however. They believe that some women will be more reluctant to come forward if their cases are publicized. Victims may fear negative publicity and retaliation; settlement amounts may drop. The Weinstein scandal could mark the beginning of a dramatic change in film industry culture. In the past, sexual misbehavior was tolerated. Polish director Roman Polanski received an academy award for The Pianist even though he fled the United States after being convicted of having sex with a 13-year-old. Until recently, major actors would work for reduced rates in Woody Allen films even though Allen had an affair with, and then married, the adopted daughter of ex-partner Mia Farrow and is accused of molesting another stepdaughter. The Weinstein revelations set off a tsunami of other sexual misconduct complaints in the movie industry, involving Amazon producer Ray Price and actors Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, Casey Affleck, Jeremy Piven, and others. Former Weinstein assistant Perkins hopes that the focus will shift from the producer’s misbehavior to reforming the system: “Money and power enabled, and the legal system has enabled. Ultimately, the reason Harvey Weinstein followed the route he did is because he was allowed to, and that’s our fault. As a culture, that’s our fault.”5

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