Harvey Weinstein & the Hollywood Hierarchy

Lainey Posted by Lainey at October 10, 2017 14:07:14 October 10, 2017 14:07:14

Harvey Weinstein was fired by The Weinstein Company, his own company, on Sunday. Before his termination, he sent a letter to other powerful Hollywood executives, asking for their support. According to The Hollywood Reporter the recipients of his memo included David Zaslav, Discovery Networks CEO, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Ron Meyer, the Vice Chair of NBCUniversal, Ari Emanuel, head of talent agency WME-IMG, and Kevin Huvane, the head of CAA. This is the letter in full:

My board is thinking of firing me. All I’m asking, is let me take a leave of absence and get into heavy therapy and counseling. Whether it be in a facility or somewhere else, allow me to resurrect myself with a second chance. A lot of the allegations are false as you know but given therapy and counseling as other people have done, I think I’d be able to get there.

I could really use your support or just your honesty if you can’t support me.

But if you can, I need you to send a letter to my private gmail address. The letter would only go to the board and no one else. We believe what the board is trying to do is not only wrong but might be illegal and would destroy the company. If you could write this 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 me 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.

With all due respect, I need the letter today.

Still a negotiation. That’s what Harvey Weinstein has been doing throughout his career – negotiating. And even though he rarely negotiates out of desperation, and it’s clear he was in a desperate position, it’s a negotiation all the same. That was his priority this weekend: to salvage his career, to save himself, to rehabilitate his image, to call on influential people, his former collaborators, to help him change, and then make a comeback. The comeback, of course, being the ultimate goal. Was the ultimate goal ever to understand his victims and understand his role in victimising them? Was accountability ever on the table during this deal? It really doesn’t seem like it – not on his part or anyone else’s. Because his board isn’t firing him because of what he did. They’re firing him because he got caught. That’s a big difference when you consider what this looks like going forward.

What this looks like right now is that that women have been called on to denounce Harvey Weinstein, specifically the most famous, most successful women he’s worked with over the years – from Judi Dench to Jennifer Lawrence to Kate Winslet to Jessica Chastain and more, they’ve all offered statements, Jennifer Lawrence condemning Harvey’s conduct, calling it deplorable and inexcusable and you can read about those all over the internet.

And then there’s Meryl Streep. Many of you wrote to and tweeted at me yesterday, mad at Meryl’s statement. Because she said she didn’t know and that not everyone knew and that if everyone knew, this would have been handled a long time ago. How is it possible that Meryl Streep didn’t know when it was so obvious, one of Hollywood’s most open secrets? I go back to what I wrote in today’s open, and Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, and why he specifically directed his book to the “critics and gossipers” – because those are the observers.

Observers are less cognitively busy and more open to information than actors.

This is why Meryl didn’t know. Hollywood is a bubble, a self-sustaining bubble. Meryl and many of the major stars who are now coming forward claiming they didn’t know have been privileged by a hierarchical system that not only separates celebrities from civilians but also celebrities from each other. And the most powerful players within that ecosystem take advantage of that hierarchy to abuse their own control. The way Harvey treated Meryl is not the way Harvey would have treated a young actress hoping to become the next Meryl. And the hierarchy would have prevented that young actress from addressing their experiences with the Meryls in Hollywood, should they have the opportunity to come across them. Can you imagine anyone having that conversation with Meryl Streep and not fearing judgment after so many years – an entire history, really – of seeing what happens to women who speak up and speak out? It’s taken generations for us to even acknowledge that conditioning. It’ll take even longer for us to break it.

As for Meryl’s assertion that if everyone had known, the media would have broken the story a long time ago – once again, this is less an issue of Meryl’s personal shortcomings than a symptom of how the Hollywood ecosystem has been built to function: in a way that diminishes the autonomy of the media. Reporters are told “don’t ask about this” or “he’s not doing interviews” all the time where celebrities are concerned. It’s a standard industry practice that they insist is meant to protect their privacy. What it also ended up doing is sealing them into a cone of oblivion. In limiting access under the pretence of prioritising privacy, celebrities have actively diminished the ability of the “investigative reporters in the entertainment and hard news media” that Meryl Streep refers to to do their jobs. If they cherry-pick all the time what they will and won’t talk about, it’s entirely conceivable – and totally logical – that they cherry-pick all the time what they do and don’t know about.

So I’m not sure being angry or disappointed at Meryl is the answer here. I’m not sure the answer is to point fingers at, in particular, all the women in the industry who’ve been outspoken about women’s issues and blame them when powerful men repeatedly f-ck up. To me, it’s more interesting to see how, going forward, leaders like Meryl who are now aware of how this system has blinded them and disadvantaged others, will go about dismantling it and tearing down the normalisation of a pattern of behaviour that has been condoned and unchallenged. And certainly the burden of that responsibility should not be heaviest on her, or other women in her position. It’s the MEN who should be held to a higher standard here.

Which is where we find George Clooney. George Clooney has spoken to The Daily Beast about the Harvey Weinstein revelations. He said he’s heard the rumours. But that he dismissed them because he thought it was just gossip:

“I’ve heard rumors, and the rumors in general started back in the ’90s, and they were that certain actresses had slept with Harvey to get a role. It seemed like a way to smear the actresses and demean them by saying that they didn’t get the jobs based on their talent, so I took those rumors with a grain of salt. But the other part of this, the part we’re hearing now about eight women being paid off, I didn’t hear anything about that and I don’t know anyone that did. That’s a whole other level and there’s no way you can reconcile that. There’s nothing to say except that it’s indefensible.”

Later on, when asked about the Hollywood “casting couch” practice, George insists that he would have done something if he had known:

“I hear you. At the same time, I know an awful lot more people in this business who have nothing to do with that, and I suppose if I went looking I could probably find three or four names of people that I would suspect of doing that. The other part of it is, I’d like to think that if someone came up to me and told me this was going on that I would go out and confront it. I’ve told this story about a night with Silvio Berlusconi, and I hadn’t told all the specifics about it before, but perhaps I should have been more graphic about how vulgar that was in a way to take some responsibility—each of us, in our own individual way—of talking about people with a lot of power using it and holding it over others in some ways.
But on the other hand, maybe that’s what good will come out of this: that not just in Hollywood, although Hollywood is now the focus, but in all of these cases the victims will feel that they will be listened to, and that they don’t need to be afraid.

This is an interesting moment. I’ve seen a lot of people, from Meryl [Streep] to Judi Dench, come out and say “holy shit,” and I think that that’s been the reaction by a lot of people in Hollywood. I don’t think that people were looking the other way; I think that people weren’t looking, because in some ways, a lecherous guy with money picking up younger girls is unfortunately not a news story in our society.”

There it is. A lecherous guy with money picking up younger girls is not a news story in our society.

Well… WHY NOT?

Because “people weren’t looking”.

Exactly.

And, once again, I go back to Dr Kahneman.

Observers are less cognitively busy and more open to information than actors.

You can’t be an observer if you’re in it. The gossip is the observer. The critic is the observer. Celebrities like to think they’re observers because they inhabit the experiences of their characters. But for too long they have functioned within a system that rejects observation that is brought to them by people who are actually doing the observing. Now that the consequences of those oversights have crashed through the membrane of exclusivity that has distanced them from the full picture for so long, many of them have stayed silent, or they’re scrambling to defend against the accusations that they’ve been complicit. Their justification for not being complicit has to been to apply the measure of complicity on the individual. And, sure, there may be some individuals who are less complicit than others in either their ignorance or their powerlessness. But if they’re not interrogating the system and truly examining the system that separates and elevates a certain community from and above others, how can real change be expected?

Harvey Weinstein was challenged at a time when he was not at his most dominant. During his prime, in the 90s and in the early 2000s, what we’re seeing now would not have happened. What it means then is that the system is still working in favour of power. And if those who were once powerful are brought down only when they’re not that powerful anymore, and not when the most powerful are at the top, it also means that the system is working better than it ever has.

Photos:
Michael Kovac/ Getty Images

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