Richard Jordan: The Weinstein scandal will have big ramifications for theatre

Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer in Finding Neverland iwhich was backed by Weinstein. Photo: Carol Rosegg
by -

Harvey Weinstein has become the face of harassment, bullying and all that is bad within the entertainment industry. After the revelations of recent weeks, he has been stripped of honours and widely condemned by the industry.

Whether the allegations against Weinstein – which he denies – will lead to prosecution or not, the film industry rightly needed to act swiftly and robustly, making a clear statement that such behaviour will not be tolerated. However, it would be naive to assume that Weinstein is alone in such conduct.

Erica Whyman in her excellent column for The Stage earlier this week spoke for all of us who can only view Weinstein’s alleged behaviour with utter contempt.

In reports, Weinstein comes across as a tyrannical bully whose power made many people scared of him. While he has been accused of appalling behaviour, as he has not yet having been convicted, Weinstein must be afforded his day in court. But the entertainment industry now faces a complex issue regarding accusations levelled at such a high-profile industry figure.

If a TV or radio presenter were accused of similar misconduct, the networks would immediately stop broadcasting programmes they appeared in, or edit them out of past episodes. But Weinstein is a key backstage figure and lead producer with investments and associations across multiple productions.

While politicians to whom he has donated to their past campaigns can quickly make a statement of disassociation by returning these sums or directing them to charity, this is a far more problematic issue for the entertainment industry.

Weinstein was considered the Hollywood producer with the Midas touch and in recent years he has expanded his interests into theatre. Removing his investments from the entertainment projects that he has been involved with would be challenging. Will there be calls for his credit to be removed from every film that he was involved with? That would effectively change modern cinema.

Weinstein has been a producer or co-producer on more than 40 Broadway productions, including the Producers, the Audience and Billy Elliot. That’s on top of investments he has likely made in other productions.

For example, this week, the Broadway musical Finding Neverland, which that he created, playing Clowes Hall, Indianapolis, as part of its US national tour. To remove him from a production such as this – and for the other producers working on them to return his money – could be impractical or even illegal.

Undoubtedly, Weinstein will also already have multiple projects in development and production, some of which could collapse in the wake of the scandal. This is through no fault of other individuals, theatres, and organisations who invested in good faith. It is not inconceivable that they may suffer enormous losses or bankruptcy as a result.

These challenges and concerns are insignificant in comparison to the abuse Weinstein’s alleged victims have suffered, but they have significant ramifications for the industry that need to be properly addressed.

While Weinstein’s company was quick to cut ties with him, there will be considerable reluctance to see his name on any list of credits. In recent tweets, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Algeria Hudes, creators of In the Heights, have already expressed this in relation to the Weinstein Company, which currently holds the film rights to their musical.

There are concerning similarities between the reporting of Weinstein, and that of high-profile Canadian musician and radio broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi, against whom multiple allegations of appalling sexual misconduct were made. Like Weinstein, he maintained his innocence and was hauled through the media. But Ghomeshi was acquitted at two trials in 2016 and has now made a return to broadcasting.

Weinstein has maintained his innocence, saying that any sexual contact was consensual. But if this went to trial and he were acquitted, what would that mean for the entertainment industry? Would he be reinstated at the organisations he has been axed from? Could he sue for defamation of character? Would Weinstein go to rehab and come out remorseful – a changed man?

Irrespective of any trial outcome, his conduct has raised significant concerns and questions. However, entertainment is a fickle business. Those who have come forward have shown extraordinary bravery, but not all of have an assured industry position like Gwyneth Paltrow or Angelina Jolie. For all its front of doing the right thing, Hollywood remains an old boys’ network which can still close ranks.

If the entertainment industry is to have any hope for its future credibility and respect, then it urgently needs to address how it represents itself. It must now visibly and consistently ensure there is never a place for bullying or sexual harassment in any sector.