By no means a Hollywood insider, I have to say, I am just a lover of film. Have been since I was at least 13. That's the summer - I remember it well - that I spent in the dark of the Walters Art Gallery auditorium getting my introduction to the classics of film. Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn... I fell in love with Hollywood's Golden Age. It led me to The Oscars, and histories of The Academy, and to taking film seriously, and to the criticism of Pauline Kael (along with Steinem, the writer I aspire to be).
I don't care a lot about celebrity, but I like getting the "inside scoop" on Hollywood, how films are made, who's doing what, what it takes to get to the top. Over the years, I've learned about producers, and studios and the work of directors... just to keep up, to be "in the know."
The point of all of this, and why I bring it up now is that... I'm no insider, and even I can't say I had no idea what was going on with Harvey Weinstein.
In the midst of his stunning downfall, the claims of "I had no idea" or "if I had known" are spreading far and wide. And I get it. No one, really, had a handle on the specifics and the scope of Weinstein's activities until near simultaneous reporting from The New York Times and The New Yorker (I'll get to Ronan Farrow in a minute), and there's an enormity to the revelations in total that matters. But at the same time... this thing about "knowing," and what it means, sticks with me, and I suspect, it will haunt us in film and pop culture in the months to come.
My point about knowing, and saying that I knew... something, is that Harvey Weinstein's very public lifestyle and professional behavior were pretty much impossible to hide. He was proclaimed legendarily difficult, temperamental, and damned everywhere with faint praise when directors and stars of his productions were interviewed. Stories abounded of his crass acts, bad moods and public unpleasantness. They were joined - and here's what people tended to focus on - by tales of his passionate concern for the quality of the finished product, his commitment to the talent, and his hucksterish skills promoting the work he cared about.
And herein lie a number of the problems his actual behavior have revealed. First, there's the unmitigated power he held over individuals and careers. The success of Miramax, and subsequently The Weinstein Company, lay in cornering the market of "Art House" or "Classy" productions, the stuff we call "Oscar bait" and "small films" which imply both Too Good for the Mass Audience and a sort of labor of love that may never make back its cost. In fact, Weinstein was very good at turning a profit on these productions, both by keeping them relatively cheap and promoting the hell out of the ones that he thought would catch on. But outside of Weinstein, that kind of success has been increasingly rare. And because of it Weinstien had a power over one segment of the film industry (at his height) that was fairly unmatched going back perhaps as far as the days of the great moguls. That power, in turn, made it easy for him to corner aspiring starlets and other neophytes, and behave in spectacularly inappropriate ways with no fear of consequence.
Second, Weinstein benefitted from the casual ways of doing business in Hollywood, where there is a formal casting process for most roles and another, less formal approach to star parts and star making ones. This story isn't new, and the rumors have abounded, forever, that the route to stardom for many, if not most, is littered with agreeing to do things one wouldn't necessarily want to do... and the winners are the ones who did. The revelations of Weinstein, literally "go down on this and I'll make you a star," are little more than... well, the fantasy made flesh, and a reminder that the reality is way worse than any fantasy would ever imply.
Weinstein's fall, some have suggested, is actually an indication that he hasn't actually been powerful for some time, and I tend to agree. Primacy has a short shelf life in Hollywood, and we're long past the days of high Merchant Ivory and Shakespeare in Love. The Weinstein Company is important, but plenty of avenues exist to go independent, and Moonlight is merely the latest in a string of examples of how the Awards givers are aching to challenge the public to see more and better. Weinstein can be taken down now because, in part, his hand doesn't control all the levers like it used to - remember when he launched Tina Brown into Talk? And while this week's events may have hastened his breakup with Georgina Chapman, how long was that marriage going to last if Marchesa's dominance of the gown market was sliding away from lack of celebrity stylist use?
The thing about Weinstein in Hollywood is that there's always a Weinstein. Someone with too much power (hey Mike Ovitz), too much control (hey Mike Eisner), too much bad behavior (hey Simpson and Bruckheimer). The question is, do we plan to take the next woman - or man - seriously when charges of sexual misconduct come up? Is Hollywood planning to rule some behavior ethically unacceptable, no matter how powerful? Or, as we did this time, are we going to sit there and pretend, with straight faces, that we would have done something... if only we had known. Because we knew. People knew. And people did, in essence, nothing.
In the aftermath, as we do in America, there's a fervent search for someone to blame. It makes things easier, and absolves us from the harder conversations that a) lots of people have some responsibility here and b) that blaming isn't really the point. Blame Hillary Clinton for not responding fast enough. Blame NBC for not feeling that Ronan Farrow's story was strong enough last March or last August... or whenever. Blame Cyrus Vance Jr. for not prosecuting Weinstein in 2015. Blame Bob Weinstein, because surely "brother's keeper" ought to mean something. Blaming is useless (and with Clinton, among a list of politicians and other celebrities, especially ridiculous), and misses the point. If this behavior troubles you deeply - and God knows, shouldn't it? - then the problems we have are about preventing it, and taking it seriously when its reported. And I, for one, have heard precious little about fixing that.
I hate the idea that good people knew and did nothing. It saddens me to think that women who could have saved one another from predatory behavior were too scared or felt too powerless to intervene. It angers me that someone like Vance, or members of the TWC board, can sit there and make excuses for not doing enough, or anything, soon enough. Mostly I just hate knowing that as bad as I ever thought Harvey Weinstein was, he was something far, far worse. The problem is.. that's not all we know. But I think we'll pretend not to know, again, next time.