On Thursday afternoon, the New York Times published a damning piece about A-list film and television producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior for nearly three decades. The Times found at least eight settlements Weinstein reached with women who have brought suits against him, including actress Rose McGowan and young employees of his company.
For years, both women and men told the Times, Weinstein has promised women help with their careers in exchange for sexual favors, naked massages, or their agreement to watch him bathe. They allege that he groped them, scheduled work meetings with them only to bring them to his hotel room and repeatedly proposition them for sex, and forced young female employees to wake him up in his bedroom or do “turndown duty” at night. Even female executives allegedly felt so uncomfortable around him that they wouldn’t be in a room with him alone.
Ashley Judd is the most famous named accuser. Many of the others chose to remain anonymous; most of those who settled their suits signed confidentiality agreements, and Weinstein Company employees sign contracts forbidding them from besmirching the organization’s reputation. But Weinstein’s alleged pattern of behavior “wasn’t a secret to the inner circle,” a former assistant to Harvey’s brother Bob told the Times, and Judd said that women “have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time.”
Yet Weinstein has had one of the most successful production careers in contemporary Hollywood, winning six Best Picture Oscars and lending his name to dozens of other critically acclaimed films and television shows. If Judd’s account is true, the people around Weinstein who weren’t directly victimized by him still knew what he was doing when he had them pick out aspiring actresses to send up for meetings in his hotel rooms. The board of the Weinstein Company knew about the pattern of allegations since at least 2015, the Times reports, but the members didn’t do so much as launch an internal investigation. As allegations of Weinstein’s harassment spread throughout the film industry and adjacent fields, Weinstein hit no roadblocks, suffered no stunting blow to his trajectory, felt no financial blowback. For decades, almost everyone hushed up and went along, because wealthy, famous men in the entertainment industry are the kings and the kingmakers, fully aware of the perverse privileges their status brings.
Woody Allen, R. Kelly, Bill Cosby—these men made millions in the years after they were credibly accused of perpetrating unforgivable crimes against girls and women who trusted them. In the entertainment industry, there’s no shame to working with an alleged creep or criminal, because money is money, and most industry folks are socialized to believe that creeps and criminals are the norm. Anyone in a position of power in Weinstein’s circle could have come forward during the past 30 years and thrown a wrench in his toxic cycle of harassment, coercion, and cover-ups. Instead, they played nice, even as Weinstein (and maybe his company—the Times wasn’t able to confirm the origin of the settlement cash) spent hundreds of thousands of dollars keeping women silent. The company and its executives were willing to bargain away the comfort, dignity, and safety of their female colleagues for a prominent name, a bank account, and a Rolodex.
The Times’ piece exposes a seeming rift between Weinstein’s private persona and his public one. His company distributed The Hunting Ground—a documentary lauded by anti–sexual assault advocates—and he produced several films with arguably feminist themes and strong female characters. He fundraised for the woman who might have been our first female president, contributed to an endowed Rutgers chair for feminist studies in the name of Gloria Steinem, and took part in the Women’s March in Park City, Utah. None of that matters. Weinstein is the same as every other man who has tried to use his financial power to bend women to his will, which his astoundingly point-missing nonapology illuminates. It is possible for men to believe in theoretical ideals of female empowerment while treating actual women like sex puppets for sale. Weinstein can hate fellow alleged groper Donald Trump—he’s making a movie about the president, he makes sure to mention in his apology statement—and still grope women. A man who hires a female lawyer to “tutor” him on why exposing himself to young female employees is wrong is not self-aware nor humane enough to care about the conflicts between his behavior and his professed values. In fact, it’s not unlikely that Weinstein’s pro-woman donations were an integral part of his self-absolution process.
That Weinstein has allegedly been able to harass women for decades with no public reckoning is a demoralizing reminder that he is just one of thousands of men who will never be found out because, like Weinstein, they’re too insulated by money and power to ever be held accountable for their actions. There are Weinsteins in every industry who essentially buy their way out of compulsory codes of decency and respect. To stop them, it takes victims coming forward and people in power rejecting the benefits they reap through their complicity. Most of all, it takes believing women when they say something’s terribly wrong, even when those women aren’t Ashley Judd.