For the past week, a barrage of sexual abuse claims concerning Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein have come to light. Survivors’ accounts range from sexual harassment to the most vile cases of rape. The shocking thing is that this is not all that shocking.
Although it may have been unheard of to us, the ‘little people’ in a far-off country, Weinstein’s predatory behaviour has been somewhat of an open secret in the film industry for years. While he is of course reprehensible, Weinstein is not unique in his predaciousness; many in the film industry have warned that the precedent which allows the likes of Weinstein to thrive was set long before his hey-day. With that in mind, it is time to ask, why is the film industry in particular failing its actors like this?
Speaking on Channel 4 News, actress Katherine Kendall, a victim of Weinstein’s harassment, cited the precariousness of acting as a profession as the reason why abuse such as this is allowed to go on. ‘‘The stakes are really high,’’she said, noting that high-level producers such as Weinstein have the power to end a young actor’s career in an instant. Sarah Polley, former actor turned writer and director, noted in a piece for the New York Times that Weinstein is just “one festering pustule in a diseased industry.”
There have been calls for filmmakers to examine the content they are putting forth and how that influences the mindsets of those in the industry. In recent years we’ve seen a string of actresses such as Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke come out and say they refuse to participate in on-screen nudity any longer. The recent ‘Blade Runner 2049′ also features gratuitous coverage of womens’ bodies, attracting criticism to what is otherwise an artful film. Gratuitous nudity and sexual assault scenes are however, a symptom and not the cause, of the culture we live in. To blame others’ films for real-life sexual assault would be to remove responsibility from predators, who should, and do, know better.
While all of Weinstein’s outspoken victims are women, the exposé has opened up a conversation about male sexual assault. Television actors, Terry Crews and James Van Der Beek, have come forward about their experiences of assault at the hands of powerful Hollywood executives. The running theme in all survivors’ stories is an imbalance of power in the industry which exists between the attacker and the attacked.
Attention must also be paid to the hypocrisy which is still ongoing in the light of these numerous cases of assault. Academy darling, Kate Winslet has issued a statement which reprimands Weinstein, yet the Woody Allen film she stars in, Wonder Wheel, has its upcoming release this Winter. Allen has faced allegations of abuse for decades after he began a relationship with his adopted daughter and later married her, yet has been able to succeed and continues making films into his eighties. He has prompted outrage this week after stating he feels ‘‘sad’’ for Harvey Weinstein, a statement which he later retracted.
The film industry is of course not the only place where abuse of power occurs. Vox recently published a heart-rending headline; ‘There is no continent on planet earth without sexual harassment.’ The article detailed the experiences of abuse and sexual assault women geologists faced from their superiors while working in the desolate landscape of Antarctica.
What society in general must realise is that it does not matter how talented, powerful or charismatic a person is, they are not above the law. Moreover, they are not above human decency. The silver lining – and it is a very thin one – is that survivors have felt empowered to come forward, such as with the #MeToo campaign on Twitter. It’s heartening to see that survivors are breaking through the veil of shame which exists surrounding sexual assault, although it should never have been there in the first place.