Can Consumer Demand Change Hollywood?

“You don’t want it to lead to a witch hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself. That’s not right either.”

These comments from Hollywood filmmaker Woody Allen following the allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein scream “men protecting men.” Further, they have a sinister implication: that men in positions of power — like Allen or Weinstein — don’t want to have to defend themselves. In fact, they don’t think it’s “right.”

In reporting on Allen’s recent commons, The New York Times mentions Allen’s own scandals of the early 90’s — in which Allen was accused of sexually abusing his 7-year-old daughter — as having “left Mr. Allen’s reputation badly damaged.” I disagree. Allen’s film career is still thriving to this day, and his daughter, Dylan Farrow, even felt the need to remind everyone of the affair through an open letter in 2014. Not surprisingly, Allen was saved by Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein who produced “Bullets over Broadway” shortly after the allegations. At the time, Weinstein claimed being “shunned by Hollywood means nothing to Miramax.”

I would never attempt to argue Allen’s guilt (or lack thereof). I, and anyone else not involved, have no idea what happened in 1993. However, this great scandal — before being promptly forgotten — and the following partnership between Allen and Weinstein bring to light an now-obvious narrative: it is possible that powerful men in entertainment can get away with disgusting acts due to the influence they hold.

This narrative was further proven true earlier this month when The New York Times reported that Weinstein, the man behind “Shakespeare in Love”, “My Week with Marilyn”, “Good Will Hunting”, and so many more iconic films, has been not only sexually harassing actresses and employees but also paying them for their silence. The article was prompted by the revelations of actress Ashley Judd. The story that has been told and retold goes as follows. Judd, twenty years ago, went to a “meeting” with Weinstein only to be greeted by the man himself in a bathrobe, expecting a massage or an audience for his shower. Almost as chilling as the event itself is Judd’s initial reaction: “How do I get out of the room as fast as possible without alienating Harvey Weinstein?”

For most women and situations, the question Judd asked herself would have ended with “as fast as possible.” Unfortunately, in Judd’s case, alienating Weinstein was a big factor. The power structure that exists in Hollywood and the entertainment industry breeds a culture of silence. It is difficult enough for victims of any sexual abuse to come forward about their experiences, but adding the threat of a ruined career makes it near impossible.

As time has passed since this story originally broke, countless women have come forward about their experiences in Hollywood, primarily with Weinstein. These women range from employees at The Weinstein Company to big stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie. It is worth mentioning that both of these stars acted against Weinstein, if not in the public eye. While Paltrow publicly became the face of Miramax with “Emma” and “Shakespeare in Love”, privately her boyfriend at the time, Brad Pitt, berated Weinstein for his actions. Jolie, after fending off unwanted advances in a hotel room, refused to ever work with the producer again and claims she warned other actresses as well. While these private actions are admirable and brave in the face of trauma from the events and the power Weinstein held over the actresses, even after the two became practically untouchable superstars they did not feel able to tell their stories until the public outcry of this past month.

Judd’s story and those of the other women sparked a public outrage unlike anything Hollywood has seen in quite some time. This prompted many more to come forward, and not just about Weinstein. In fact, as I sit here writing this article, I just received a news alert that Ben Affleck’s groping of Hilarie Burton is coming back to light.

After hearing these stories, it is easy to sit at home and be disgusted, waiting for the next story to break. But is there anything to be done to change it? When this pattern of silence has been systemically perpetrated, even pre-dating the likes of Roman Polanski, how can there possibly be anything we can do about it? We, the average Americans who simply watch these movies without the eye or knowledge of stories on set?

I look to the words of one of the alleged victims for an answer. Tomi-Ann Roberts was an aspiring actress in 1984 when, in a private meeting with Weinstein, he undressed, went into a bathtub, and asked her to join. Roberts, now a psychology professor at Colorado College and a mere consumer of movies, reportedly “has trouble” watching Weinstein films, saying, “[Before going to the theater] I would always ask, is it a Miramax movie?”

More of us should follow Roberts’ lead. Let’s use consumer demand to prove culture shift can not happen exclusively in the “real world” but can affect what goes on behind closed doors. Let’s boycott films and be outraged when perpetrators of the toxic culture win Oscars. Let’s reward directors, producers, screenwriters, and actors who speak out and against the male-dominated power structure by going to see their movies in theaters, instead of waiting to stream them for free later. Let’s actually purchase Ke$ha’s latest album, but not Dr. Luke’s latest single. Let’s not wait for the Harvey Weinstein of tomorrow to be the only reason we talk about misogyny again.

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