Slate’s Aisha Harris on the Weinstein scandal and minority representation in Hollywood.

Hollywood’s Struggles With Harassment Are Nothing New

Hollywood’s Struggles With Harassment Are Nothing New

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Oct. 17 2017 1:50 PM

Hollywood’s Struggles With Harassment Are Nothing New

Slate’s Aisha Harris on the Weinstein scandal and minority representation in Hollywood.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Alexander Koerner/Getty Images and Michael Bryant-Pool/Getty Images.
Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Alexander Koerner/Getty Images and Michael Bryant-Pool/Getty Images.

Hollywood is under a spotlight even more than usual these days, after the New York Times and the New Yorker both published major stories detailing numerous on-the-record allegations of sexual assault and harassment by film producer Harvey Weinstein.

In this S+ Extra podcast, which is exclusive to Slate Plus members, Chau Tu talks with Slate culture writer and Represent host Aisha Harris about keeping up with all the allegations against Weinstein, comparisons to Bill Cosby, and cultural representation in Hollywood.

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This transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Chau Tu: You’re on our culture desk, and obviously, the Harvey Weinstein story has been really big news for the last week or so. What has that been like, covering this sort of breaking news story, where there’s a bunch of these accusations coming out one after the other?

Aisha Harris: It’s been really hard to keep track of everything. I think it feels like we’re coming back to the time of [accusations against Bill] Cosby just a couple years ago. It was 2014, I think, when that broke, and that felt like it took a little bit more time for it to become this big thing, for the accusers to sort of trickle out slower, like once every few days. Whereas now, we have women coming forward every hour, every morning since this broke a week ago as of this recording. So it feels like the windfall here is so much swifter than it ever has been before.

At work, there’s a lot of Slacking happening, where we’re bouncing off ideas, throwing out thoughts. In fact, we have put together a couple of different posts that we’ve been frequently updating as these new allegations have been coming out, and the downfall that Harvey Weinstein is currently facing. It’s been a whirlwind, and I’m personally very surprised in a way that it’s happening. Like, pleasantly surprised, but also it feels as though this thing, it’s so pervasive. One of the things that all of these women and their defenders have said over this past week is like, “This is not just Harvey Weinstein.” This is the culture. This is what it’s like. This is the casting couch. It’s not just the entertainment industry. It’s every industry. I know people who have experienced things like this personally, not myself, but they personally have experienced it, and they’re in all different types of fields—education, law.

It is such a huge problem and I can only hope that Weinstein is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but I also worry that he could just be the fall guy. He could be the one who takes the hardest fall while other people who are just as slimy get away with it, and continue to get away with it. I’ll be very curious to see how this continues to play out, but I am so far very heartened by the fact that things are happening very quickly. The backlash is happening much quickly than we’ve seen it before.

Do you think all these accusations are coming out more quickly because of social media, the internet? I mean, we did have this when Cosby came out, I guess, but it’s a little different.

I don’t know. I think it’s a little different. I think part of it is that unlike with Cosby, a lot of those women who accused him didn’t actually ever become famous. Or, at least not very famous. They both chose women who were up and coming, but unlike Cosby, like it seems like he never really had any intention—Cosby—of making these women stars. I think the most high-profile women who came out against him were Janice Dickinson and Beverly Johnson, who is a model—I think her peak was around the ’70s, ’80s. She’s still amazing now. But I think that’s the difference, is now we have Harvey Weinstein, we’ve had people like Rose McGowan, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, these huge A-list movie stars coming forward and saying that he did this to them.

I think also the fact that at first at least, the accusations were not of rape per se, but were of harassment and assault. Or like, physically touching but not necessarily rape. This is a very tricky thing to get into when people define rape very differently, but the allegations didn’t at first seem as “serious” as Cosby drugging, or at least as insidious as Cosby drugging women, and taking advantage of them.

I think that that’s part of why it happened so much quicker. Social media I think plays a part in it, but I don’t know, it’s different. Plus, I do think that with Cosby, we can’t discard race in that as well. There are a lot of people, black people, who wanted to defend him and still are defending him to this day for whatever reason, because they felt as though Hollywood is out to get him because he was black. Whereas with Harvey, well, he’s not black. I think there’s a lot of factors to consider. I think social media’s only a small nugget of that.

That makes sense. Changing gears a little bit, one of your most recent articles—which was actually made possible thanks to the support of Slate Plus members—was about your visit to Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede show. So, how did you first hear about this show? It’s like a themed dinner attraction.

Thanks Slate Plus! Yeah, we were talking about in Slack. Good old Slack, where so many ideas are made. We were talking about in Slack, and one of my colleagues brought it up because this was around the time of the Charlottesville protests. So, they brought it up and they’re like, “It’s kind of crazy that this still exists, that this ode to Dixie” and it’s owned by Dolly Parton, who by all accounts is a very lovely woman. She’s incredibly smart; I love 9 to 5, both the song and the movie. I admire her spirit, but the fact that she has this show that has been going on for 30 years now and it still has this weird, icky preface where it’s a competition between the North and the South. It’s pitched as a friendly competition and you can either sit on the North side or the South side. You won’t find any Confederate flags, but it’s very much playing into these stereotypes about the North and the South, the Yankees and the Confederates.

There are two theaters. While the theater I was at is the original home base, which is just down the road from Dollywood, that one does not have the waitstaff and the actors in the show wearing straight-up Confederate reunion soldier outfits. But I think that, I can’t be sure, but I think that the one at Dollywood at one point had been dressed like that. Now it’s either just dressed in the colors of each side, but I wonder if the other one that’s in another location does have it.

Either way, it’s creepy. It’s uncomfortable, and it’s nostalgia-tinged. It’s just full of all these things that Gone With the Wind has perpetuated the idea of the gentile South or all of the aspects of slavery but without mentioning slavery. It was a weird experience. I’m glad I did it. I got a lot of Dolly fans came out in full force. A lot of racist people came out in fall force and called me racist. I got lots of threats. But it was a review of a show that I think is past its prime, and we should not be celebrating it, and I really hope that at some point Dollywood and Dolly Parton decide, “Maybe we can do a different theme.” Still have the show but change the theme.

Do you know how long it’s been running?

It’ll be 30 years for the original location next year. I think it started in ’88, so it’s been going for a while. As far as I can tell, I’m sure they’ve tweaked it, but the general North versus South thing has always existed.

The atmosphere when you were there, people just didn’t seem to care about what was going on, right?

Oh, no. They were there because it was Dolly Parton or they were there because it was about the South and they loved the South, and the ignorance to the very real things that were happening and the very real reconstruction, no pun intended, the reconstruction of the history of the Civil War, and the ignorance, the choice to believe that the South can exist. Like these images of the South can exist without mentioning slavery and mentioning the horrors of racism is part of the reason why so many people still remain uneducated today and don’t understand why the Confederate flag should not be flying, except in a museum, or why Confederate statues don’t need to exist, except for in a museum.

Right. Wasn’t there some sort of pig race that featured?

They were very cute, too. They were racing piglets. They were named after various Civil War–related people, including Scarlett O’Hara, of course, and Robert E. Lee, and Lincoln. I think there was a Grant, too, Ulysses S. Grant. Although, he was called Ulysses S. Grunt.

Wow. I guess it’s entertainment.

That’s entertainment.

Well, what have been some of your big entertainment moments from this past year? I know you wrote about Girls Trip for Slate. You reviewed it for us, and you really liked it. First of all, what do you think about that movie made it a success? It was one of the biggest hits of the summer.

I mean, I really loved it and I’ve actually now seen it three times. I think one of the things we talked about on my show, and I wrote in my review, is the fact that it hit all the right notes. It knew who its audience was and it gave them exactly what they wanted. It was a movie that starred four black women, three of which are very big names in the black community, have very long histories with their audiences, and are good at social media. You have Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, and then you have Tiffany Haddish who is like this breakout star who not many people know—because I don’t know how many people watch The Carmichael Show, although I love the show, and it’s not on the air anymore. But she stole every scene she was in, so I think the word-of-mouth based on her performance and also just the fact that it was a really solid script, and the fact that it was the first time I’ve seen black women who were able to just be like super raunchy and not be judged for it.

I think that all of that helped make it a success, because we haven’t seen anything like that before, at least not starring black women. It was just funny, and plus there were a lot of hot men in it, as well, so all the women or anyone who is attracted to men could easily find any male stars in there attractive.

Any other big culture highlights from the year? I know you were reviewing Insecure for Represent.

Yeah. Insecure also is one of those shows that is doing things that I think are very different. I really loved The Big Sick, which came out earlier this year, starring Kumail Nanjiani, [which was] partially based on his real-life experience of meeting his wife and her, after they started dating, slipping into a coma. It’s a very touching, smart look at both cross-cultural and interracial dating, but also just relationships in general.

Get Out, I’m still hoping that come Oscar season it will not be forgotten, because to me, that was the best movie I’ve seen this year. Yeah, and now we’re just getting into Oscar season, so that’s going to be interesting.

Yeah. What are you looking forward to?

Well, I’m looking forward to Wonderstruck, which is directed by Todd Haynes. He’s done Carol which I loved; he also did Far From Heaven. This new movie is also in the same way those movies were nostalgia-tinged, set in the past, in New York. I think it’s set in the ’20s or like the early 20th century, and then also in the mid-20th century, telling two different stories.

I’m really excited to see that. I just saw Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which stars Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman. It’s not out in theaters yet, but I went to a screening, and Yorgos Lanthimos, his last movie was The Lobster, which I was a huge fan of. Did you see that?

Yeah, I did. It’s great.

I loved that movie. This movie’s also, like it has that, his sort of signature sense of humor—like dry, deadpan, but also like wrapped in a thriller. I thought it was really great. The performances were great and throughout the whole movie I was wondering, “Where is this going to go?” To me, to have that sort of experience is rare, so when I go into a movie and even if I think I know where it’s going and it goes there, but then it goes somewhere else, I love those experiences. Those were some of the things that I’m excited for in the fall.

You also did a fall TV preview on Represent. What did you guys talk about in that?

We talked about a lot of stuff. I haven’t watched it yet, but there’s a new Dynasty reboot. That is basically attempting to do a modern-day update of the hit show from the ’80s that I think that if you’re a certain age, all of our parents watched. There are Latino characters now, there’s a gay character, and I’ve heard it’s not that good. But we did discuss it briefly.

We also discussed Star Trek Discovery and the bummer it is, the fact that it’s behind a paywall, which seems—especially considering that the lead is a woman of color, a black woman—to have it hidden behind CBS’s paywall feels like a missed opportunity. It’s like it’s Star Trek, it already has a built-in audience. Why do you need to do that? I mean, I guess they’re betting that because of the built-in audience people will be willing to pay for it, but yeah, that was some of the things we discussed on the show. Everyone should check out the episode.

What do you think so far about this year in terms of representation—how are minorities behind represented in entertainment? Do you think it’s better, worse?

I mean, I think it’s better. Especially you can look at the Emmys this past year, or this last month. Donald Glover won two Emmys and he became the first black person to win for directing a comedy, I believe. (Or, at least the first in 30 years and there’s been like one other. I could be wrong.) Then, Lena Waithe, who wrote and starred in one of the best episodes of Master of None season two, also became the first black woman to win for writing in comedy. Riz Ahmed also won, and that was great.

But obviously there are still plenty of strides to be made. Fresh Off the Boat is still one of the few shows—and well it’s definitely the only comedy right now that’s starring Asian leads, because Ken Jeong’s show was like came and went very briefly. We also discussed on our show the fallout earlier this year with Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park deciding to leave Hawaii Five-0, reportedly because of negotiations with their contract and not getting paid as much as their white co-stars, even though they had as much of a contribution within an ensemble cast as the other stars did.

There’s still definitely strides to be made. Queer representation can always be doing better, but there have been some strides. I think another show that I thought did a pretty good job of dealing with representation was GLOW. It was a show that really captured head on the idea of women being put into these roles and being objectified for both their gender and for their type, their race, their ethnicity. I thought it did a really good job.

I think it’s been all over the place. Obviously, we still need more women directors, more people of color in these writing rooms, but I think it’s getting better and hopefully we will keep moving forward.