Status anxiety

I met Weinstein and, yes, I’d heard the rumours

14 October 2017

9:00 AM

14 October 2017

9:00 AM

According to an ex-employee of Harvey Weinstein’s, the movie producer once whispered something to himself that she found so disturbing she wrote it down. After leaving his film company, where she claimed to have acted as a ‘honeypot’ to lure young models and actresses to meetings with her boss in hotel rooms, she signed a confidentiality agreement. But she has decided to speak out anyway. The words he muttered were: ‘There are things I’ve done that nobody knows.’

This is one of the less shocking details in a long New Yorker article published on Tuesday in which 13 women allege that Weinstein sexually harassed or assaulted them, including three who accuse him of rape. This followed a New York Times investigative piece last week in which the 65-year-old producer is accused of having reached legal settlements with eight women over a period dating back 30 years. The Weinstein Company initially said that he would be taking a leave of absence and his lawyer, Lisa Bloom, described the allegations as ‘patently false’. Then, a few days later, the company announced he had been fired and his lawyer decided she could no longer work for him.

If the accusations are true — and Weinstein denies he has ever had non-consensual sex — this scandal will confirm the deepest suspicions of American conservatives about Hollywood liberals. Until now, Weinstein has been one of the film industry’s most prominent supporters of progressive causes, particularly women’s rights. He helped to endow a chair at Rutgers University in the name of Gloria Steinem, the feminist author, and in January he made a point of joining a women’s march at the Sundance Film Festival to protest against the serial groper in the White House. It goes without saying that he was hugger-mugger with the most prominent Democrats in the land. Last year he held a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, and earlier this year he employed Malia Obama, the ex-President’s daughter, as an intern.

How big the scandal grows will depend on how complicit his colleagues were in his alleged wrongdoing. I don’t just mean his employees, many of whom stand accused of covering for their boss. I mean the filmmakers he has worked with for the past three decades. Gwyneth Paltrow broke cover earlier this week to claim she had been sexually harassed by Weinstein when she was 22. Why, then, did she thank him three years later when she won an Oscar for her performance in Shakespeare in Love? The same goes for Angelina Jolie and all the other actresses who have gone on the record only in the past week to describe the ordeals Harvey put them through. Why didn’t they speak up sooner?

There are extenuating circumstances, of course. Weinstein is one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood and they probably feared their careers would suffer if they blew the whistle on him, assuming the allegations are true. Many of them also say they felt a deep, personal shame that they’d been abused in this way and didn’t want the world to know about it. No, the people whose careers may now be in danger are the male filmmakers who worked with him — people like Ben Affleck, the co-writer and co-star of Good Will Hunting, which Weinstein produced. He has said he is ‘saddened and angry’ about the alleged abuse, but the actress Rose McGowan, who claims she was assaulted by Weinstein in 1997, has accused Affleck of knowing all about his supposed behaviour. Affleck has not responded to her claim.

Full disclosure: I met Harvey Weinstein at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007 and then at Cannes in 2008. Both times it was in connection with the film version of my book How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, which he had expressed an interest in producing. I had heard the same rumours about him as everyone else, but nothing concrete enough to write about. The reason these allegations haven’t surfaced until now is because no one has been willing to go on the record.

Some people have come to Weinstein’s defence, not by pointing out he is innocent until proven guilty, but by claiming that the behaviour he has been accused of is par for the course in Hollywood. But the latest revelations in the New Yorker, if true, render that defence untenable. It feels like the end for Harvey Weinstein — and it’s a scandal which will infect dozens of others, too.

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