(IMAGE: The Storming of the Bastille” by Jean-​Pierre Houël, from the Bibliothèque nationale de France/​WikiCommons)

Power is per­cep­tion. That’s obvi­ous­ly sim­pli­fy­ing a com­plex con­cept, but from a broad, his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive, it’s not far afield of the truth. The two most momen­tous polit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tions of the past sev­er­al cen­turies – French and Russian – did not turn on a change in tac­tics, tech­nol­o­gy or even cul­ture. They turned on a change in per­cep­tion. Once the peo­ple were con­vinced that the monarch in ques­tion – whether King Louis XVI or Tsar Nicholas – was dam­aged goods, the jig was up. Nothing would hold them back from tear­ing down the ves­tiges of pow­er and replac­ing them. When French rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies stormed the prison and armory com­plex known as the Bastille on July 14, 1789, it was a sym­bol­ic act. Only sev­en pris­on­ers were held inside at the time, and there was no prac­ti­cal rea­son to attack the fortress oth­er than that it was an emblem of pow­er and oppression.

The Bastille, of course, was not the first such instance of per­cep­tion under­min­ing pow­er – Shakespeare’s plays are rich with warn­ings about pride and the rela­tion­ship between pow­er and hubris, almost always couched in a his­tor­i­cal con­text. It’s the cen­tral theme of both Julius Caesar and Othello and plays a large part in Richard III, Macbeth and King Lear. Oblivious to the fragili­ty of his pow­er and the inevitabil­i­ty of his fate, Caesar says of him­self in Julius Caesar, Act I:

Such men as he be nev­er at heart’s ease whiles they behold a greater than them­selves, and there­fore are they very dan­ger­ous. I rather tell thee what is to be feared than what I fear; for always I am Caesar.” 

Which brings us to Harvey Weinstein. The pre­cip­i­tous fall of the man who single-​handedly res­ur­rect­ed the inde­pen­dent film indus­try, who for­ev­er changed the way Oscar cam­paigns were designed and run, whose larger-​than-​life per­sona and pugna­cious man­age­ment style echoed the bygone gen­er­a­tion of moguls who built Hollywood, whose pow­er to make or break careers was con­sid­ered so absolute as to make him untouch­able, has sent shock waves through the movie busi­ness. Given Hollywood’s his­toric tol­er­ance for bad behav­ior – any­thing that shocks this town war­rants attention.

As with past Hollywood scan­dals, it’s going to take time to sort through it all and fig­ure out where we actu­al­ly emerge on the oth­er side. Most of us want to believe we will end up in a bet­ter place – but we’ve had that hope before. It’s incum­bent upon every­one – the peo­ple who make movies, write about movies and watch movies – to main­tain the pres­sure – not just to insure that we nev­er go through this again, but to insure that our daugh­ters and sons nev­er go through it at all.

this is about the victims, the tireless dreamers – men and women – who for generations have been lured like the children in Stephen King’s IT into a sewer of exploitation and abuse by reprobates posing as dream merchants.

At the risk of evok­ing Mark Antony, my aim here is not to fur­ther bury Harvey but to hope­ful­ly pro­voke some self-​reflection and soul-​searching. There’s no point in rehash­ing the hor­ri­fy­ing rev­e­la­tions from the New York Times piece that set events in motion, nor the more recent New Yorker piece that fur­ther mag­ni­fied Weinstein’s report­ed grotes­queries. My col­league Ray Greene has curat­ed a superb chronol­o­gy of the entire Harvey Weinstein affair here, to which I would refer any­one look­ing to get a han­dle on the avalanche of events that are still com­pound­ing at this very moment. These are still the ear­ly days of a scan­dal that promis­es to deep­en and broad­en over the com­ing months, and there is undoubt­ed­ly much, much more to come. Lest we allow our­selves to be con­sumed with the tawdry and the sen­sa­tion­al, it’s impor­tant that we main­tain some perspective.

We should remem­ber that this is about more than Harvey Weinstein; there remain far too many preda­tors still lurk­ing in Hollywood’s board­rooms, agen­cies and exec­u­tive suites whose pre­da­tions must con­tin­ue to be exposed until they are weed­ed out and poli­cies imple­ment­ed to pre­vent their kind from ever again hav­ing sway in the cor­ri­dors of pow­er. But most impor­tant­ly, this is about the vic­tims, the tire­less dream­ers – men and women – who for gen­er­a­tions have been lured like the chil­dren in Stephen King’s IT into a sew­er of exploita­tion and abuse by repro­bates pos­ing as dream mer­chants. Whatever we do going for­ward, it should serve their inter­ests; what­ev­er enables them to heal and receive jus­tice, what­ev­er insures that we build a bet­ter indus­try for future gen­er­a­tions – we must do.

I grew up hear­ing far too many sala­cious sto­ries about Hollywood fig­ures of yes­ter­year. My father had worked in the stu­dio sys­tem as a speech and dra­ma coach, and had wit­nessed a good deal of bad behav­ior. These were not sto­ries recount­ed at din­ner par­ties for the amuse­ment of guests, but sto­ries shared pri­vate­ly with me when­ev­er he per­ceived that I was becom­ing undu­ly seduced by the illu­sion of Hollywood glam­or, as he once was. Still, hear­ing some­thing sec­ond­hand is nev­er as pow­er­ful as wit­ness­ing it firsthand.

It was the ear­ly 90s and I was bare­ly out of UCLA film school when an acquain­tance, a free­lance pro­duc­tion man­ag­er, offered me a job as a pro­duc­tion assis­tant. It wasn’t much – just a week­end unit for a fea­ture film that was shoot­ing pri­mar­i­ly out of state, but need­ed a few scenes shot in Los Angeles. Of course I said yes. It was work on a set and it paid $250. That’s all I need­ed to know.

As it turned out, the Los Angeles Unit” was basi­cal­ly a sham cre­at­ed by one of the pro­duc­ers to build him­self a direct­ing reel. None of it had to be shot in Los Angeles, much less as a sep­a­rate unit. The pro­duc­er in ques­tion had sim­ply carved it out of the reg­u­lar sched­ule and award­ed it to him­self. Along with that impe­ri­ous act came an impe­ri­ous atti­tude – con­de­scen­sion, ver­bal abuse, phys­i­cal intim­i­da­tion. It was humil­i­at­ing, to me and to oth­ers, but none of it was espe­cial­ly shock­ing – until the last day. As we were wrap­ping the final loca­tion on UCLA’s Sorority Row, I observed and over­heard the pro­duc­er in ques­tion and anoth­er mem­ber of the crew flirt­ing with one of the soror­i­ty sis­ters. Had this been a ran­dom pick-​up in a bar, it would sim­ply have been sleazy and tacky. That it was tak­ing place between a mar­ried Hollywood pro­duc­er and a young female col­lege stu­dent made it all deeply dis­turb­ing. After the flir­ta­tion end­ed and the girl returned to the house, the mar­ried pro­duc­er and the crew mem­ber had a high-​fiving bro moment after which the pro­duc­er quipped: Oh, yeah! She knows how the game is played.”

In that one, stomach-​churning moment, I expe­ri­enced the fatal­is­tic real­iza­tion of so many pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions that this is sim­ply how the busi­ness is. It wasn’t for me to try and change it. Who was I but a pow­er­less pro­duc­tion assis­tant? In the end I wasn’t even paid my $250. What’s the point of imag­in­ing you can change the entrenched behav­iors of peo­ple who can’t be both­ered to meet a pay­roll? Did I real­ly want to wreck my career before it had begun? I had no pow­er. These peo­ple had all the power.

Some years lat­er, I crossed paths with the pro­duc­er again. He had long since fall­en from grace and his hoped-​for direct­ing career had nev­er mate­ri­al­ized. It was at the Loews Hotel in Santa Monica dur­ing the annu­al American Film Market, in the hotel lob­by where film buy­ers and sell­ers from around the world rub elbows in a foul-​smelling fog of sweat, sleaze and avarice. I spot­ted him instant­ly from across the lob­by – after all, he still owed me $250. Moments lat­er, in the cor­ner of my eye, I caught him in a double-​take of me. He knew he rec­og­nized me, but couldn’t place the face. Was I some­one he should remem­ber? Someone impor­tant? Someone with power?

Power… is perception.

The past few years have been a peri­od of painful but nec­es­sary tran­si­tion for the movie busi­ness. Already strug­gling with a chang­ing tech­no­log­i­cal and busi­ness envi­ron­ment under­min­ing much of its estab­lished foun­da­tion, Hollywood has been forced to con­front an array of deeply engrained racial, sex­u­al, polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al prej­u­dices. Many have been called out and con­front­ed. Others need to fol­low. A new aware­ness and sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty is tak­ing root. More needs to be done. Part of this is of neces­si­ty – the days when pow­er­ful press agents could con­trol the flow of infor­ma­tion and cov­er up their clients’ indis­cre­tions or keep secret the nature of their sex­u­al­i­ty are long gone. In the era of social media, trans­paren­cy isn’t just an eth­i­cal oblig­a­tion – it’s com­mon sense. The old ways, how­ev­er, die hard and their most ardent prac­ti­tion­ers will not go down with­out a fight. Harvey Weinstein is no lone wolf. Such inci­dents as have been report­ed this past week are shock­ing only because of the names involved and, frankly, because they’ve actu­al­ly been report­ed at all. The prover­bial Hollywood Casting Couch exist­ed long before Harvey and even in the wake of his fall it will per­sist for the very sim­ple rea­son that we – all of us – have accept­ed it.

How do I know that? Simple. Because it’s the prover­bial Hollywood Casting Couch. The prac­tice of trad­ing sex for career advance­ment – the deprav­i­ty of the pow­er­ful exploit­ing the vul­ner­a­ble – became so engrained and accept­ed that it was giv­en a name, a euphemism, which became part of show­biz vernacular.

When we gave the lan­guage per­mis­sion to euphem­ize the sex­u­al exploita­tion of the weak, we tac­it­ly accept­ed the practice.

That’s not to say such accep­tance wasn’t under­stand­able. When con­front­ed with a Sisyphean prob­lem – such as my PA expe­ri­ence – accep­tance is typ­i­cal­ly the only ratio­nal path for­ward. Until we real­ize that pow­er… is perception.

We... need to insure that we do not miss this opportunity to learn, to educate, to heal and to fix, once and for all, a broken system that has been handed down, from generation to generation, degenerate and injurious, for far too long.

What we should take from the Weinstein affair is a real­iza­tion that no one who still clings to the old ways is untouch­able. Not Louis XVI, not Tsar Nicholas, not Caesar, not Harvey Weinstein, not what­ev­er name­less preda­tor is des­per­ate­ly hop­ing Harvey is the sac­ri­fi­cial lamb that saves the flock. The moment to storm the Bastille is now.

To be sure, Hollywood is no stranger to attacks – politi­cians, cen­sors, reli­gious lead­ers and cul­tur­al man­darins have all launched broad­sides at one time or anoth­er which pow­er bro­kers have sim­ply swat­ted away like biplanes buzzing about King Kong’s head. What’s dif­fer­ent now is the attacks are com­ing from with­in – from the artists and cre­ators who have final­ly, at long last, had enough. Those with the courage to step for­ward are to be com­mend­ed and sup­port­ed. Others still live in fear of reprisal and des­per­ate­ly need the sup­port – legal­ly and emo­tion­al­ly – to come for­ward and bring the abusers to jus­tice. When the weak per­ceive that the pow­er­ful no longer have the means to do them harm – then and only then will they be set free because pow­er… is perception.

This is not to sug­gest that chang­ing per­cep­tion is an easy task, nor that there aren’t seri­ous prac­ti­cal hur­dles to clear first – legal hur­dles in par­tic­u­lar. It’s been over five years since Corey Feldman came clean on the child­hood sex­u­al abuse he and his late friend and col­league Corey Haim suf­fered at the hands of grown men, one of whom he says raped Haim when he was just eleven years of age. He is, how­ev­er, unable to name names,” he says, because statutes of lim­i­ta­tion have expired and the risk of law­suits favors the abusers. For any­one who has nev­er been trapped in the jus­tice sys­tem, it’s easy to call that a cop-​out – but ask­ing vic­tims of sex­u­al abuse to endure years of cost­ly lit­i­ga­tion, includ­ing humil­i­at­ing depo­si­tions and threats of coun­ter­suits as a means to achiev­ing jus­tice is effec­tive­ly ask­ing them to be vic­tim­ized all over again. For per­cep­tion to change, laws and statutes need to change with the full force of the Hollywood com­mu­ni­ty brought to bear to make it happen.

I was in high school when I read Indecent Exposure, the first of many best­sellers to cap­i­tal­ize on Hollywood scan­dals (which all sit on my shelf like vol­umes of the Talmud). The book, for the unini­ti­at­ed, is a cau­tion­ary tale that is rel­e­vant to cur­rent events on many lev­els. In 1977, when Oscar-​winning actor Cliff Robertson received a 1099 for a $10,000 pay­ment from Columbia Pictures he nev­er received, it tipped off an inves­ti­ga­tion that exposed stu­dio chief and for­mer agent David Begelman as a forg­er and an embez­zler. This cre­at­ed a rift in the studio’s board and when all was said and done, both Begelman and Columbia CEO Alan Hirschfield were gone, and Cliff Robertson was blacklisted.

All over $10,000.

That a third of the Weinstein Company’s board resigned over the deci­sion to sanc­tion and even­tu­al­ly fire Harvey from the com­pa­ny he co-​founded is evi­dence that despite chang­ing atti­tudes on the ground floor, the cul­ture in the suites is still deeply entrenched in the past. There remain many who place a pre­mi­um on loy­al­ty above all else. We should not assume that the cul­ture that once pun­ished Cliff Robertson for doing the hon­est and decent thing in stand­ing up to pow­er will not also attempt to pun­ish those like Ashley Judd for sim­i­lar­ly refus­ing to back down. Since the Weinstein sto­ries broke, Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Asia Argento, Mira Sorvino, Rosanna Arquette and oth­ers have added their sto­ries to the nar­ra­tive and their voic­es to the cho­rus for change. We must heed their call. How this affair is han­dled, how the indi­vid­u­als involved are treat­ed, will be close­ly watched by those who have not yet decid­ed whether the risk in com­ing for­ward is worth it.

We, as a com­mu­ni­ty of film­mak­ers, film­go­ers, film lovers, for the sake of our indus­try, for the sake of our art, for the sake of our friends, co-​workers, fam­i­ly mem­bers and just com­mon decen­cy, need to insure that we do not miss this oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn, to edu­cate, to heal and to fix, once and for all, a bro­ken sys­tem that has been hand­ed down, from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, degen­er­ate and inju­ri­ous, for far too long.

Both the French and Russian Revolutions failed to stop at the top­pling of their mon­archs, so great was their ani­mus toward tyran­ny. Both quick­ly descend­ed into an orgy of regi­cide, mass mur­der and vengeance. Both nations suf­fered great­ly for their missed oppor­tu­ni­ties and quick­ly fell back under the pall of oppression.

The cur­rent moment fur­nish­es us an oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn from the past, a rare chance for Hollywood to rein­vent itself. Storming the Bastille need not devolve into vengeance and ret­ri­bu­tion lest we miss a cru­cial chance to seize the high­er road of jus­tice and redemp­tion. As we expose the fragili­ty of pow­er and empow­er the vul­ner­a­ble to step for­ward, those respon­si­ble for uphold­ing the old ways will face what­ev­er jus­tice soci­ety elects to mete out. Our task is to replace the old ways with new ways, to give vic­tims a path for­ward and to give future gen­er­a­tions a bet­ter path in – herald­ing a new cul­ture that rewards decen­cy, exalts tal­ent, hon­ors integri­ty and right­ful­ly earns the trust and respect of film­go­ers. The mea­sure of our suc­cess will not be found in the rub­ble of the Bastille but in what we choose to build in its place.


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