Mark Shenton: Weinstein’s conspiracy of silence is over, now what about London’s?
So, film (and sometime theatre) producer Harvey Weinstein has been dismissed from the company that bears his name. This made public what has been an open secret in Hollywood circles and beyond: from his bullying, volcanic rages to accusations of sexual harassment.
Yet a conspiracy of silence existed around him, partly because of fear of litigation but mainly for the power he wielded in Hollywood.
It’s a sadly familiar story; how many men, from Jimmy Savile in the UK to assorted US TV frontmen, have managed to hide in plain sight, even as suspicions and even accusations were mounted against them. It turns out that Weinstein had reached at least eight legal settlements with women about alleged harassment.
Now Weinstein’s own power in Hollywood has waned, the stage has been set for that conspiracy of silence to be toppled. (His attempt to cross over to theatre failed, too. After premiering Finding Neverland in Leicester, the entire creative team was replaced before the show transferred to Broadway.)
As Janice Min, a former editor of the Hollywood Reporter, commented: “I think people just can’t believe their eyes, that a story so many people have whispered about for so long has finally made it to publication.”
One of the reasons has been safety in numbers: “One woman’s story begets another. It changes this whole culture of silence.”
Another commentator, Kathy Spillar, executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, stated: “Silence is the enemy of justice and these powerful men know that. I think this is going to start an avalanche, I really do. And we all know this behaviour is not limited to [a few].”
Indeed not. Similar stories have circulated about several leading figures in British theatre. Were the press enablers to their behaviour by not writing about them, even though these stories are widely known?
Rose McGowan, who reached a settlement with Weinstein after an incident that occurred when she was starring in the 1996 film Scream, tweeted last Friday: “Ladies of Hollywood, your silence is deafening.”
As Claudia Eller, the editor of Variety, remarked of the reluctance of many industry players to speak out against Weinstein even now: “It’s been extremely quiet – almost radio silence. Part of the reason is that Hollywood always protects its own. Going back through history. And there is still a lot of fear. Is Harvey really done?”
As the New York Times drily noted: “In Hollywood, after all, there is no shortage of sequels.”
It added: “Of course, almost no one gets ahead in Hollywood by being a boy scout. In this image-conscious land, where publicists sometimes seem to outnumber people to publicise, the rule is to avoid being linked with controversy by any means necessary, lest you risk having your brand being tarnished or any of your own untoward behaviour exposed.”
At the same time, there’s a parallel danger of overzealous reporting of allegations as fact, and the sort of media circuses that engulfed unfounded accusations against Cliff Richard (with the BBC even sending in news helicopters while his home was searched), former MP Harvey Proctor and Michael Barrymore (who in a ruling earlier this year was deemed entitled to more than nominal damages against Essex police after being wrongly arrested 10 years ago on suspicion of rape and murder).
A balance always needs to be struck. And, of course, powerful men act powerfully. New York Magazine’s Rebecca Traister, who had been pursuing the Weinstein story for more than 17 years, writes: “Weinstein didn’t just exert physical power. He also employed legal and professional and economic power… For decades, the reporters who tried to tell the story of Harvey Weinstein butted up against the same wall of sheer force and immovable power that was leveraged against those ambitious actors, the vulnerable assistants, the executives whose careers, salaries and reputations were in his hands.”
And as she summarises it, the New York Times exposé of his behaviour provided “evidence of the ways in which power imbalance is so key to sexual assault, and, in the case of Weinstein, to the ability to keep it from coming to light for so very long.
“The stories of hotel room meetings, requests for massages, professional interactions undertaken naked – they all speak of the abusive thrill gained not from sex but from the imposition of your will on someone who has no ability to resist or defend themselves from you, an exertion of power on the powerless.”
But that has now been upended. And not before time. Will some of the abuses perpetrated under our noses in London come to light, too?