Last Thursday, the New York Times pretty much single-handedly brought down one of the most powerful men in Hollywood with an article alleging decades of sexual harassment, abuse of power, and seriously inappropriate conduct. Harvey Weinstein has spent decades building a $160 million fortune, as a movie producer and studio executive for Miramax and, more recently, The Weinstein Company, both of which he co-founded with his brother, Bob. On Sunday, he was fired from his namesake company, as all of Hollywood rushed to distance itself from him.
Some reports have claimed that Weinstein sent out a mass email to his movie industry peers, just hours before losing his job, begging for their support. Fox News reported that part of his email pleaded: “If you could write [a] letter backing me, getting me the help and time away I need, and also stating your opposition to the board firing me, it would help a lot. I am desperate for your help. Just give me the time to have therapy. Do not let me be fired. If the industry supports me, that is all I need.” Weinstein’s pleas ultimately fell on deaf ears.
As some Republicans sought to politicize the scandal and Democrats scrambled to donate any Weinstein campaign contributions to charity, the fallout in Hollywood was even greater, as the film community tried to figure out just how far-reaching Weinstein’s abusive behavior had spread. The Times reported that at least eight women had reached settlements with Weinstein since 1990. Ashley Judd openly detailed some truly disturbing incidents with the executive, as did several other women who never filed charges for fear of having their careers ruined.
It is impossible not to draw parallels between the conduct Weinstein is accused of and the allegations that first emerged against Bill Cosby three years ago. Both concern men in positions of power in the entertainment industry; both men are alleged to have preyed on younger women who were desperate to gain more traction in a notoriously difficult business; both situations were talked about within elite circles as problematic open secrets; both men repeatedly paid women for their silence.
As more and more details emerge about Weinstein’s conduct, and who knew what over the years, two of Hollywood’s biggest female stars asked that this be a turning point in their industry. In a statement, Meryl Streep said: “The behavior is inexcusable, but the abuse of power familiar. Each brave voice that is raised, heard and credited by our watchdog media will ultimately change the game.”
Glenn Close noted: “Ours is an industry in which very few actors are indispensable and women are cast in far fewer roles than men, so the stakes are higher for women and make them more vulnerable to the manipulations of a predator. I applaud the monumental courage of the women who have spoken up. I hope that their stories and the reportage that gave them their voices represents a tipping point, that more stories will be told and that change will follow… I feel the time is long and tragically overdue for all of us in the industry, women and men, to unite — calmly and dispassionately — and create a new culture of respect, equality and empowerment, where bullies and their enablers are no longer allowed to prosper.”
In 2017, it is starting to feel like more respect for women both on and off-screen is finding footing, or, at the very least, crawling out of the shadows and demanding to see the light of day. The crimes Weinstein and Cosby are accused of date back decades and yet they were both exposed within three years of each other. It cannot merely be a coincidence.
Consider also the fact that, in that exact same space of time (since the Sony hack of November 2014), issues around pay equity between men and women working in Hollywood have been spoken of much more openly and often. Since 2015 alone, the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Watson, Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Patricia Arquette, Natalie Portman, Jessica Chastain, Sharon Stone, and Sienna Miller have all raised their objections to getting paid less than male co-stars. What’s more, thanks to the extra attention being given to the issue, prominent actors are starting to take pay cuts to ensure they and their female co-stars get paid the same (Diane Keaton and Emma Stone have both been open about their experiences with, and gratitude for, this).
More coincidentally, Weinstein’s toppling occurred the same weekend that Hollywood faced one of its biggest recent shocks — the disappointing show of the much-anticipated, well-reviewed Blade Runner 2049. Hollywood insiders were shocked to see the $155-200 million movie perform so badly, bringing in just $31.5 million during its opening weekend, thanks to the fact that women stayed away in droves (71% of ticket buyers were male).
It’s not difficult to see why this epic didn’t appeal to many women. Twitter users pointed out that the movie failed to pass the Bechdel Test, The Guardian pointedly explored the more sexist elements of the film, i-D called it “a misogynistic mess” that portrayed male deaths as “blunt, noble,” and female deaths as “desperate” and “fetishistic.” Wired noted the film portrayed: “Three female characters, not one of them voicing an ambition or desire that does not pertain to their male counterparts.”
The idea that female-led movies do not make money at the box office should have gone out the window once and for all over the summer thanks to Wonder Woman, the biggest blockbuster of the summer, the second-highest grossing film of the entire year, and the biggest grossing movie for a female director ever. It’s worth noting also that Girl’s Trip was the tenth most profitable movie of the summer when, by Hollywood standards, it was very much supposed to be a movie for mostly minorities. Traditionally, when female-led movies do well, the movie industry gasps in shock; when male-led ones do poorly, the industry responds the same way for the opposite reasons. In the post-Bridesmaids landscape, these types of notions are outdated.
Taking a step back and putting all of these factors together leaves the indelible impression that Hollywood is in the midst of a major shift right now, one that increasingly demonstrates the power of women both on and off the screen, one that will no longer put up with double standards based on gender, one that will not stay silent about casting couch abuses and, yes, one in which men like Harvey Weinstein no longer get to be in charge.