Hollywood Features

Women, Cinema & Sexism: Harvey Weinstein Has Opened Pandora’s Box & We Need To Deal With It

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When The New York Times broke the story on how Harvey Weinstein coerced, harassed, abused, assaulted and even raped scores of women and silenced them by using his power and money, we at Silverscreen were momentarily stumped as to how to cover this news. As more and more women came forward with horrifying stories of how they were terrorised by an entitled, misogynistic man that Hollywood has nursed, fed and turned into a monstrous form of patriarchy, the initial shock led to anger, then tired resignation and tacit admission that this is something not new or surprising. The responses to the now viral hashtag #MeToo, started by Alyssa Milano, will only validate this point.

Harvey Weinstein’s case has opened the Pandora’s box and in the words of Kate McKinnon, “Pandora is pissed.” While stories of Weinstein’s misconduct piled on, we were left grappling as to what aspect we should focus on:

  • The bare facts of the sordid tales.
  • That Hollywood has a history of glorifying sexual predators.
  • How the stars, mainly the men who claimed that they were not aware or chose to look the other way, are nothing but complicit in the giant cover up.
  • Back home, where actresses are scared to own the term ‘feminist’ and where the release of an actor and an accused in a sexual harassment and abduction case from jail is unabashedly celebrated.

We decided that it’s best if the women speak. In a series of stories, Silverscreen will speak to women working in the film industry – be it actresses, the production crew or singers – and highlight the everyday workplace sexism that they have to fight to advance their careers. Our aim is to bring out the malaise that is endemic to the industry.

In this introductory piece, we dissect the points mentioned above.

Harvey Weinstein the indestructible movie mogul maintained a steady facade of a trendsetter, the man with the golden touch, a conscientious liberal who has donated millions to the campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He has participated in the Women’s March and has donated generously to organisations associated with gender rights. He has reportedly donated $100,000 to Rutgers University’s new Gloria Steinem Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies. Most reports said that Weinstein’s sexual misconduct was an open secret in Hollywood for years.

Megan Garber writes for The Atlantic: “The headlines about Weinstein speak of “open secrets” because, indeed, what the following stories amount to are on-the-record confirmations of the horrific rumors that have followed him, like a trail of exhaust, for decades.”

Then why this prolonged silence?

Guardian’s Zoe Williams writes on how difficult it is for women to come out against their sexual abuser, especially when a man of power is involved. She tries to pin down the perpetrators and questions whether it is an institutional failure or the silence of the bystanders (male and female).

“If you had a lot of professional or cultural capital yourself, it is less likely that you would be sexually harassed; when you chastise victims for not speaking out sooner, you’re asking women to suffer the double punishment of being harassed in the first place, and then having to kill the green shoots of a nascent career for some higher altruistic purpose. Practically if not explicitly, it’s not much different from saying it’s their fault,” she writes.

Lena Dunham and Mayim Bialik have written op-eds in The New York Times explaining the challenges of navigating the bro clan of Hollywood and the demeaning “locker room talk”.

Dunham writes, “Mr Weinstein may be the most powerful man in Hollywood to be revealed as a predator, but he’s certainly not the only one who has been allowed to run wild. His behavior, silently co-signed for decades by employees and collaborators, is a microcosm of what has been happening in Hollywood since always and of what workplace harassment looks like for women everywhere.”

Despite debates and discussions, the fact that systemic sexism is still continuing became especially evident in the US after Donald ‘grab-them-by-the-pussy’ Trump was elected as President. The so-called liberals who queued up to lampoon the new President are now having a hard time to go against one of their own. Matt Damon, who was accused of killing a story on Weinstein’s transgressions in 2004, told Deadline: “Look, even before I was famous, I didn’t abide this kind of behavior. But now, as the father of four daughters, this is the kind of sexual predation that keeps me up at night.” As if having daughters will give him the sudden wisdom of gender rights and equality. Ben Affleck’s statement brought forth harassment allegations against him and his lack of outrage against his own brother Casey Affleck who was accused of sexual abuse. Meryl Streep came across rather as an apologist when she issued this statement: “Harvey supported the work fiercely, was exasperating but respectful with me in our working relationship, and with many others with whom he worked professionally.” It is the same network of people who have continued to put the likes of Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Woody Allen, Hugh Hefner on a pedestal.

Perhaps Rebecca Solnit, writer and feminist, explains it best: “There is a solution, but I don’t know how we reach it, except in a plethora of small acts that accrete into a different world view and different values. It’s in how we raise boys, in what we define as erotic, in how men can discourage each other from the idea that dominating and harming women enhances their status…”

At this point, it is redundant to assert that this is not just Hollywood’s problem. The problem runs deeper in a country where the High Court acquits a rape accused, stating in the order: “Instances of woman behaviour are not unknown that a feeble ‘no’ may mean a ‘yes’…” The court order further states: “In such cases, it would be really difficult to decipher whether little or no resistance and a feeble ‘no’ was actually a denial of consent.”

India boasts of a roaring film industry – Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood, Mollywood – so many of them. Rape jokes, stalking, complete disregard for consent, misogynistic songs, objectification, slut-shaming have been normalised through pop culture. There are Indian Harvey Weinsteins too – lurking in the shadows protected by what is called the male privilege. Notice how many actresses from India have joined the #MeToo movement? Forget the outrage, there is not enough free space to start a discourse.

Through this series, we will highlight how numerous women in the film industry are negotiating institutional sexism. That aside, we also bring some uplifting stories: of women who have felt safe within the industry, and the people who help them feel so.

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Illustration by Dani Charles.

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