This post contains my opinions and musings on an issue far too big for me to solve on one Monday morning.
It should be regarded as opinion and musings only.
Hooray for Hollywood. I have loved you ever since I can remember and will love you until the day I die… but we need to talk about Harvey.
When I heard the news filtering through about the abhorrent behaviour of Harvey Weinstein, one of the most powerful and influential men in Hollywood, I was genuinely saddened. I felt disappointed, let down by a man I have never met. You see, my career plan at the age of around sixteen years old, was to study film, move to Hollywood and produce movies with Harvey Weinstein.
In my head, I land in Hollywood with suitcase in hand, knock on the Miramax door (which is a large studio lot gate, in my teenage fantasy) and ask for a job. Mr Weinstein is so impressed with my plucky ambition and attitude that he hires me on sight and we go on to make critically acclaimed films that see me, eventually, picking up the Academy Award for Best Picture in a stunning gown as my Mother looks proudly on from the audience – because I have always promised Mum that I would take her to the OSCARs. Frankly, the whole plan was largely derivative of the ‘Gotta Dance’ sequence from Singin’ in the Rain and entirely fantastical.
Yesterday, I read the news that Harvey Weinstein had been kicked off the board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Good.
A excerpt of the statement made accompanying the Academy’s decision was as follows:
“We do so not simply to separate ourselves from someone who does not merit the respect of his colleagues but also to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over. What’s at issue here is a deeply troubling problem that has no place in our society. The Board continues to work to establish ethical standards of conduct that all Academy members will be expected to exemplify.”
I have felt the presence of the glass ceiling more so over the last 12 months than ever in my life. I see myself as an optimist and look for the good in all people, but I am not feeling it on a global scale of late. Having the background in loving Hollywood that I do, I have heard horrendous stories about the treatment of both aspiring and established actresses that date way back before this latest letch was even born. I cannot fathom why we still having this discussion in 2017.
The idea of ‘the casting couch’ is one that we have all heard of and I feel more than a little naive to have imagined that this had died out with the old Studio System. The questions that I find myself asking today are…
Has Hollywood changed? Will it change? Can it change?
Also, what can we do about it? The familiar victim-shaming chorus of ‘why didn’t you say something?’ has been chiming away all week with all the helpfulness of something really bloody unhelpful. Why did none of these victims speak out? Try because they were terrified, embarrassed, ashamed to do so. It’s all part of the very clever rouse that Weinstein was running all by himself because no other powerful man in Hollywood has ever EVER used his position to take advantage of a woman sexually. I cannot help but laugh a little laugh to myself, as if to mask the inherent tragedy of the whole thing, that Weinstein is seeking help for a ‘sex addiction’. Doubtless he will apologise for his past, be cured, and return to work in 6 months or less.
Sex addiction? FFS.
We are talking about numerous accusations of rape and serious sexual harassment here. This is not funny. I can’t even muster a wry smile to mask the horror of this. This man used his position to lure women into a room to rape them, using their careers as both carrot and stick. Apologies for the phallic analogies there but they do work – sleep with me and you will get the role/win the award/live forever, don’t sleep with me and you will never work again. Terror, confusion, embarrassment, shock tactics, the unspoken code of ‘professionalism’, and the threat of libel. You probably wouldn’t say anything either.
Talking to my girlfriends at the weekend threw up numerous examples of uncomfortable situations and that kind of low-level sexual harassment that no woman would bother to report… and no girl would know to. Many of these stories date back to our teens and twenties and we have all thought of the clever retorts that we would give now if in the same position. We didn’t though. Our responses were to be silent or to cry. We discussed what we were wearing at the time.
I’ve spoken to friends who refuse to watch the films of this actor or this director because of similar allegations made about them. Let’s hit Hollywood where it hurts – in the wallet – and boycott the movies. Here is the reality check – if you were to go through and ‘ethically cleanse’ your movie collection, you would probably never watch a movie again. No more Hitchcock, Sternberg, MGM, Woody Allen, Polanski, the list goes on from minor letchery and rumour to serious allegation and conviction. The powerful have always taken advantage, whether it be in the medication of child performers to keep their energy levels up during long days of shooting, the use of black performers solely in ‘step-and-fetch-it’ roles which perpetuated views that black people were inferior to white people, or the fact that the very gaze of the camera is male; we have been conditioned to view women through a male gaze by Hollywood.
Just watch the male Olympic team sequence in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and you will see that this is right. A load of men, all in tiny trunks, being sung about by a woman (the incredible Jane Russell) but so alien is it for us to see men’s bodies portrayed in this way that the scene feels homoerotic. There is nothing remotely gay about Jane Russell trying to get laid.
We can only assume that the camera is the view of a heterosexual white male and in order for the gaze to change, the people behind the cameras need to change.
To answer my own questions, has Hollywood changed? Probably not. Will it change? It certainly could, with more women in positions of power and a commitment by all to not accept the misuse of power to rape and sexually harass those lower down the ladder (I really should not have to spell this shit out, should I?). Can it change? I have to believe that it can. Of course Hollywood can change. It’s easy. It just has to want to change.
After all, would this behaviour, open letchery and sexual harassment perpetrated by a man in power, be tolerated in the real world away from the hills of Hollywood?