Disclaimer: This article was written a few days ago about a news story that has continued to develop. Some things mentioned may be out of date by the time you read it.
This past week, the New York Times published an article detailing the long history of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein paying off sexual harassment accusers. Some have written about the hypocrisy of Democrats, always eager to accuse Republicans of a War on Women, who have accepted donations from Weinstein. I don’t blame Democratic politicians for not knowing of Weinstein’s transgressions and accepting his money (although the continuing silence from the Clintons and Obamas is a little perplexing). Indeed, many have elected to donate the money received to various charities. I don’t even blame Hollywood for one of their prominent producers having such a sordid history, because any organization of significant size is liable to have a few bad apples.
No, I blame Hollywood for apparently knowing about all of this and doing nothing about it.
Hollywood producer I know: "Shocked it’s taken so long for a Harvey Weinstein behavior expose. One of the most open secrets in Hollywood."
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) October 5, 2017
Shocking, disturbing, heartbreaking, dispiriting. And for anyone who’s been around Hollywood for any length of time, not out of left field. At all.
Rumors have swirled around Weinstein for years. But given Hollywood’s long legacy of leverage, where the choices seem to be 1) put up with it and look away, 2) report it, only to be confronted with a pile of hush money or 3) have your career tossed into the shredder, is it any wonder that it took a major newspaper’s impeccable investigation to get this out into the open?
“We’re all fucking complicit, and it has to stop,” said Best, who said the accusations against Weinstein were an “open secret” in Hollywood. “The industry at large,” she alleged, “provided shelter for his bad behavior directly and indirectly” by staying silent.
It’s shocking to me that the industry that was so quick to jump all over Trump when his Access Hollywood tape was leaked, the industry that routinely speaks out on gender equality issues, the industry that seems to delight in pointing the spotlight on Catholic Church abuse scandals, would be so willing to look the other way on such unseemly behavior for such a long time. Even Saturday Night Live and the late night talk show hosts, normally so eager to jump on tearing down people in high places who abuse their power, were strangely muted on the topic.
This doesn’t even appear to be a one-off event, either. When reading about how Weinstein’s actions were an “open secret”, I was reminded of the abuse that came to light in the aftermath of the death of actor Corey Haim and Corey Feldman’s thoughts on how that abuse affected him.
“Yes. I believe that Haim’s rapist was probably connected to something bigger and that is probably how he has remained protected for all these years. This person uses intimidation and threats as a way to keep people quiet. And all these men were all friends. Ask anybody in our group of kids at that time: They were passing us back and forth to each other. [Alison Arngrim] from Little House on the Prairie said [in an interview], “Everybody knew that the two Coreys were just being passed around. Like it was something people joked about on studio lots.”
Even if slightly hyperbolic, these are damning statements: “Not out of left field. At all”, “Shocked it’s taken so long”, “One of the most open secrets in Hollywood”, “Everybody knew” and “It was something people joked about”. Joe Paterno was pilloried because he may have known about Jerry Sandusky’s abuse. The Catholic Church has been criticized for covering up claims of abuse. How is this any different? How is this not a cover-up, when so many people apparently knew and said nothing?
It’s not just Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. There was a documentary entitled, fittingly, An Open Secret, which is about underage sexual abuse in Hollywood. Roman Polanski has long had many Hollywood defenders. Bill Cosby too. There’s seemingly no shortage of sexual predators whose actions Hollywood is willing to ignore and later defend.
To be clear, I’m not blaming the victims for not speaking out. I’m blaming the people who apparently knew what was going on and said nothing, the people who continued to work with these people and refer others to work with them. Hopefully with each abuser that is brought into the light, though, victims find it a little easier to speak out. Over the past year, we’ve seen that happen in TV news. Maybe it’s Hollywood’s turn.
I can think of few organizations more prone to lecturing Americans about politics and cultural issues than Hollywood. It’s virtually impossible to go through one awards show or one presidential election without a variety of actors pleading with the public to right some cultural ill. I don’t at all begrudge them their right to their opinion and their right to speak out on whatever concerns them. However, I do keep in mind that just because these people may have played the President in a TV show or movie, it doesn’t necessarily make them any more informed on the issues than the rest of us. I find it ironic, then, that the one area where they would have a special insight, they are strangely silent.
You want to help fix America, Hollywood? Maybe start by fixing yourself.