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'Weinstein's predatory power-play is an example of workplace harassment everywhere'

And the most shocking thing is that this is nothing new, writes Anna Timoney.

Anna Timoney Lifestyle writer

LAST WEEK, NEWS broke that a series of sexual assault allegations had been meted against Hollywood power-player Harvey Weinstein. The claims span nearly three decades and put the once-revered producer of films like Pulp Fiction and Sex, Lies and Videotape at the centre of one of the biggest scandals to shake the film world in years.

According to the New York Times report, the allegations come mainly from young girls who had been struggling to break into the industry and include Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan and Asia Argento. Accusations levelled against the 65-year-old run the gamut of sexual harassment – from forcing women to massage him and watch him naked to, in more severe cases, forcibly performing or receiving oral sex and forcing vaginal sex.

Harvey Weinstein’s position at The Weinstein Company has been terminated but the prolific producer’s response to the claims remains conflicted. “The way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologise for it”, Weinstein said, before later refuting the New York Times report.

Rumours circulating for years

Rumours about Weinstein’s aggressive sexual behaviour have been circulating Hollywood for years. Reports indicate that people either abetted his actions or stood by and said nothing.

This, after all, was the co-founder of the production-and-distribution companies Miramax and the Weinstein Company, the magnanimous benefactor of countless charities and the champion of the Democratic Party. Weinstein had the power to make or break careers and people were cowed by that.

The most shocking thing is that this is nothing new. Since the dawn of Hollywood, women have been made to feel that this kind of behaviour is the norm, that it is necessary for them to get a tougher skin, that tolerating lewd remarks or worse is all part of the sacrifice of making it.

Budding actresses are often plunged into the queasy dilemma of extricating themselves from an uncomfortable situation without damaging the ego of the person who could make them a star. This predatory power-play lurking behind the silver screen is a lurid example of workplace harassment everywhere.

Undertone that success lessens abuse

What makes it more complicated is that all this seediness is inextricably linked with films adored by the public and accolades won by the cast. There is a disturbing undertone that somehow success or “art” lessens the weight of abuse.

Take the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen and Roman Polanski whose careers have long been mired in controversy and conjecture. These figures are largely veiled by their work. The public doesn’t want their favourite film tainted by something unsavoury and so they laud the art rather than demonise the artist. And it’s not just the audience that is guilty of this tacit compliance.

Hollywood predators are often responsible for winning people their Oscars.  “I have great respect for Harvey as an artist, and owe him and his brother a debt of gratitude for the early success in my career, including the Oscar,” actress Mira Sorvino told the New Yorker as an explanation for why she has struggled with whether to report Weinstein’s unwelcome overtures for so many years.

Wrapped up with all that fear and revulsion is an uneasy gratitude. Things are hushed up, people are paid off and the cycle continues.

On shaky ground finally

Lena Dunham tweeted: “Hollywood shines light on Catholic Church, sex trafficking – let’s shine it on ourselves a second and what we’ve condoned.” Tinsel Town’s misogynistic bullies may finally be on shaky ground. The whole world is watching. The film industry’s dirty little secret has become a glaring, unavoidable truth and women are rallying together in shock and horror.

The resounding battle-cry from Lena Dunham, Rose McGowan and other heroes is that women will not tolerate this anymore. Actresses can step out from the shadow of men and make their own success. Hollywood has always been the first to interrogate things that are “wrong”.

Just listen to any awards acceptance speech for a litany of ways to better the world – from climate pontificating to Trump bashing. But now Hollywood is forced to interrogate itself. And the industry is doing this not just through public statements but through the production of fresh art.

New wave of cinematic feminists

Creatives are channelling all that jaded, dispirited feeling about the industry’s sexism into film.  Chief amongst this new wave of cinematic feminists are Claire Bermingham and Dani Alvarado.

Fed up with the whole scene and disheartened by the endless stream of rejections, crummy one-directional roles and unwelcome advances from big-name creeps, they decided to put their energy into a project of their own. The result, Lost Beneath the Stars (which they have written, produced and starred in) blithely showcases the truth behind the veneer. This is the kind of work we need now more than ever.

Anna Timoney is a lifestyle writer and advertising copywriter splitting her time between London and Margate. Lost Beneath the Stars is heading to the Warsaw International Film Festival but win or lose, Claire and Danny have firmly established themselves as Hollywood’s new guard of feisty stars. Lost Beneath the Stars will be released Spring 2018. Black Cove, a thriller/horror, will be shot in Ireland in 2018.

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About the author:

Anna Timoney  / Lifestyle writer

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