Disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein is finally on trial for sexual assault and rape charges, and Hollywood wants us to know they’re horrified – despite years of quietly letting Weinstein prey on women, and even joking about it.
Jury selection for Weinstein’s trial has begun, and all eyes were on the one-time Hollywood titan as he hobbled into court on Monday, seemingly trying to look older than his 67 years. Over 100 women have gone on the record accusing him of varying levels of sexual impropriety, from unwanted advances to rape.
Hundreds more, however, remained silent while he was allegedly preying on these women, even though Weinstein’s behavior was one of the biggest “open secrets” in the industry. When Weinstein was finally indicted on five felony counts of sexual assault and rape in 2018 in New York, the number of previously silent boldface names who admitted they had “heard stories” of the megaproducer’s “inappropriate” behavior was almost comical. Most in Hollywood expressed relief that he was finally being held to account, but some continued to plead ignorance or even praise the mogul, especially actors whose careers he’d launched or aided.
Award-winning actors Meryl Streep and Matt Damon both insisted they hadn’t known about his casting couch antics, though Damon himself was accused of helping to kill a story exposing Weinstein’s predation. Filmmaker Michael Moore called Weinstein “one of the best people to work with” in Hollywood in 2015; two years later, he wasn’t just acting shocked at Weinstein’s sexual improprieties, but demanding the industry introduce gender quotas on its boards to forestall future Weinsteins.
Widespread awareness that Weinstein was hurting women didn’t stop anyone from working with him during the height of his career, so long as that awareness remained confined to the industry.
But Weinstein could not have operated without the consent of that industry, which still viewed the “casting couch” concept – in which sex is exchanged for roles – as a normal and acceptable part of the business. NBC sitcom 30 Rock was mocking his sexual quid-pro-quos all the way back in 2012, while Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane’s own joke about the predatory producer at a 2013 Oscars event was met with raucous laughter, suggesting the audience knew full well what he was talking about.
That the allegations against Weinstein never “stuck” until recently was attributed to his legendary ability to “spin – or suppress – anything,” with help from the large number of journalists on his payroll. He was also known to threaten anyone who tried to expose him, and boasted of his ability to make or break an actor’s career. Some women (including actor Rose McGowan, one of his most vocal accusers) were paid off with settlements, and employees were silenced with NDAs.
It wasn’t until late 2017 that the #MeToo movement kicked off, when Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan told their Harvey Weinstein stories – on the record – to the New York Times, which published them along with a handful of similar accusations from lesser-known women.
Former model Jasmine Lobe, who claims to be among Weinstein’s victims, told CBS on Monday that if the producer isn’t convicted, he’ll be back at work in no time.
In addition to the New York state charges, Weinstein was charged on Monday with sexual assault of two women in Los Angeles. The producer, however, has vowed he will be “fully exonerated” and return to work, #MeToo or no #MeToo. And decades of silence from the industry prove that it’s not Weinstein’s predatory behavior that bothers Hollywood – merely the negative publicity from that behavior being exposed. Weinstein is not the only casting couch predator in the industry; he’s just the most recent one to be caught.