I often think about Hollywood as America’s Chocolate Factory.
The outside world sees its glittering, golden towers from afar and aches for a peek of what it’s like on the inside. We consume its chocolates– the feature films, the television shows, the red carpets, the celebrities– like a swarm of Charlie Buckets, full of delight and hope. Hollywood, the fortress that it is, makes us happy. That’s it’s job, after all.
But it is weeks like this that make it clear why the entertainment business is shrouded in mystery. When the gates to Hollywood’s Chocolate Factory are opened, the sweet aroma abruptly sours and out expels its dark truths.
What did the name Harvey Weinstein mean to you– as of, say, a week ago? Perhaps you couldn’t picture his face immediately, but surely The Weinstein Company logo has flashed before some of your favorite films. With some familiarity, you may have associated the Weinstein name with the film industry itself, great accomplishment, money, or even power. Before upwards of 40 women came forward with accusations of his sexual assault, Harvey Weinstein was a prestigious cog in the precious machine they call “The Business”.
Because the entertainment industry spans over the entirety of Hollywood, rather than sanctioned office buildings, it is not unusual for meetings and auditions to happen behind the closed doors of hotel rooms and back rooms of bars or restaurants. It’s almost as if seediness is embedded in the culture– but no one fights it. Hollywood oozes this sort of open-door policy that passes around its talent like a human auction.
A great deal of trust and passion goes into an actresses’ career building; trust in men 20 years their senior and passion that may supersede safety concerns. Hollywood culture impressions upon its young actresses to ignore all red flags. Harvey Weinstein, sweaty and enormous, a handsy, demanding sycophant, invites you into his hotel room. You must say yes. No matter what happens, your career depends on it.
Silence is compulsory.
Some of the most notable names who have come forward include Cara Delevingne, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan and Reese Witherspoon. Their names probably trigger images of smiling, waving red carpet appearances: happy and successful. And for many, it is impossible to understand these perfect stars may also be damaged, assaulted, silent. These actresses, who are longtime constituents of the Hollywood machine have carried with them a not-so secret.
The sexual perversion towards and predation of women in Hollywood is nothing new. The foundation of that Chocolate Factory we see is layered by the untold stories of victims to men in the industry. The news about Harvey Weinstein is not shocking because rape is Hollywood’s open secret. In fact, these recent news items about his predatory behavior are a mere foot in the door to exposing the true corruption in the beloved Business.
Perhaps the most interesting angle to the Harvey Weinstein accusations is not the issue of consent– like other highly publicized rape cases at Duke University or University of Virginia– or victimization of the aggressor himself– like the Bill Cosby shitstorm of 2014. Rather, the recent events surrounding Harvey Weinstein call into question the politics of The Business itself. Weinstein is a media giant who owns one of the most notable production companies in the industry, as well as a high-profile seat at The Academy. Weinstein has bumped elbows with the Obamas, Clintons and virtually every Hollywood star who has traipsed a red carpet at some point in time.
A rapist has maintained these friends and networks, as well as a respectable reputation in the public eye. This begs the question– who knew about Weinstein? Who said nothing? It can be understood that his predatory actions were protected by both his status and those in his inner circle. When rape is an excusable act to those in the culture, why bother speaking up in Hollywood?
These men are the gatekeepers to our entertainment. Harvey Weinstein. Woody Allen. Journalist Peter Bart. Director Michael Bay. Photographer Terry Richardson. Music producer Dr. Luke. On all platforms, sexual assault has been a man’s forceful effort to maintain power. Costume designer Dawn Dunning recounts Weinstein’s advances towards her, stating he told her sexual submission was “how the business works”. Men in power– producers, directors, CEO’s– exploit the passion and hard work put in by females. The Harvey Weinsteins of the world rape because it is easy; no one is stopping them. Those with the capability to protect victims are on Weinstein payrolls, under contract or simply cannot be bothered by the bad press.
I have the distinct privilege of interning at a local filmmaking program for high school students. The program director believes so deeply in the students enrolled and insists each one of them have a bright future in filmmaking. The program kicked off with an orientation night, which invited parents and students to hear about learning objectives and project scheduling. The program director proudly announced that we work against the gender bias in the film industry; our program encourages young women to explore their potential in acting and filmmaking. That’s the same value that drew me in as an intern.
But as much as I hold gender equality true in my heart, and wish fiercely for girls like me and the students at the program to succeed in the entertainment industry, I must accept the bleak danger we all face as women in the workplace. Against all encouragement from our friends and loved ones, and confidence we have in our abilities, females have been, and will continue to be, disadvantaged in the Hollywood system. It is high time we reclaim that system.
I see so much bravery from the women coming forward against Weinstein. Their experiences with him, all alone, sometimes as young as 16 or 17, all echo the same icky, exploitative setting. The same setting shared by too many females’ experiences with uncles, teachers or friends’ fathers. By banding together with their messages, these actresses and industry workers are all confirming what society denies: it is okay to speak on your sexual assault. Moreover, you must speak up against your sexual assaulter.
Now that Weinstein has been fired from the Weinstein Company and his Academy membership has been suspended indefinitely, it appears as though we are getting a glimpse behind the curtain; the doors to the Chocolate Factory are opening. The system is finally getting the exposé it deserves and individuals with connections to Weinstein are being held accountable in the media.
That was all made possible by women using their voice. And that power resounds louder than any response a miserable, rapist executive could ever dream of making.
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The National Sexual Assault Hotline is 1-800-656-4673. Online chat is available here.