Harvey Weinstein is Hollywood’s Silicon Valley Moment
A few days ago, Chelsea Handler took to Twitter and blew the horn of war. “This is the year of the woman,” she wrote. “From Fox, to Silicon Valley, to Hollywood. We may have lost the election, but it raised sleeping lions.” It was October 8—more than a year after Fox News head Roger Ailes stepped down amidst sexual harassment allegations. A year and a day after then-candidate Donald Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape was released. Three months after Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned amid allegations of ignored sexual harassment complains. Three days after The New York Times published its bombshell exposé uncovering years of sexual harassment allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein—and the very same day he was fired from the studio he had helped found. The lions, it seemed, were awake.
Truth be told, anyone could have written that tweet. But having it be Handler felt right. She’s worked in Hollywood for years, and as her eponymous Netflix show has shown, she knows both Tinsel Town and Silicon Valley well. She was the perfect person to articulate an idea that had been percolating for a while. Harvey Weinstein wasn’t the first person in Hollywood to be accused of sexual misconduct; far from it. Neither were Ailes or the folks at tech companies. But something about them finally facing repercussions has led to a lot of people—survivors and allies alike—being fully fed up.
It took a while to get there, though. As Rachel Maddow pointed out in a segment on her show earlier this week, the rape accusations against Bill Cosby lingered for years; they didn’t start getting widespread attention until comedian Hannibal Buress’ standup routine about them went viral, giving more and more women the courage to come forward. Similarly, in Silicon Valley, Susan Fowler’s blog post about sexist behavior at Uber became a watershed moment for the examination of the treatment of women in tech. In the months since, Google fired James Damore, the author of a sexist anti-diversity memo, women have come forward at other companies to discuss their treatment, and a California state senator has introduced a bill—SB 224—that would update the California civil code to better protect women from sexual harassment in Silicon Valley. Undoubtedly, it’s been a reckoning.
All told, more than a dozen women have come forth with stories about Weinstein’s behavior. What’s been most remarkable, though, is how they’re coming forward. Once the floodgates opened, new stories—and shows of support—started spreading, courtesy of tools Silicon Valley created.
And now, with Harvey Weinstein, that reckoning has come to Hollywood. Obviously, sexist behavior in the industry has been an issue for some time, from the lack of female representation in films and behind the camera to the alleged patterns of behavior from someone like Cosby. (And, lest we forget, Trump’s “grab ’em by the pussy” comment came from a show called Access Hollywood, captured back in the day when he was “a star.”)
But what has made the story about Weinstein feel so different is the speed and voracity with which his accusers have come forward—and the volume at which they’ve been heard. Just a few days after the Times story, The New Yorker published its own monster investigation that detailed even more allegations against Weinstein, including rape, and that same day the Times published a follow-up piece wherein even more women came forward with tales of misconduct by the producer. (Weinstein has denied the allegations, and said through a spokesperson that he’s seeking counseling. Meanwhile, in the wake of the reports, the New York Police Department has launched a probe into Weinstein.)
If you’re a woman working in the world of entertainment, you may not be particularly shocked about the allegations against Weinstein. But you’re likely surprised at how swiftly people rallied to the side of the women who spoke out, instead of disregarding what they said. All told, more than a dozen women have come forth with stories about Weinstein’s behavior. (I’d give a specific number but it seems to change by the hour.)
What’s been most remarkable, though, is how they’re coming forward. Actress Ashley Judd was amongst the first in the pages of the Times, followed by Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie. Actress/director Asia Argento came forward in the New Yorker piece. But once the floodgates opened, new stories—and shows of support—began to spread, courtesy of tools Silicon Valley created. Cara Delevingne and Kate Beckinsale both shared stories via Instagram. Just yesterday, actress Claire Forlani posted a statement on Twitter saying that she’d been approached by Ronan Farrow, who wrote the New Yorker piece, but had declined to comment since some men around her had advised against it. “You see, nothing happened to me with Harvey,” she wrote. “By that I mean I escaped five times.”
One of the most vocal about Weinstein on social media throughout the aftermath has been actress Rose McGowan, whom the original Times piece identified as having reached a settlement with the producer years ago, following an incident in a hotel during the Sundance Film Festival. Since the story published, she’s taken to Twitter to call for a dissolution of the board of the Weinstein Company, and to call out people in Hollywood who claimed they had no knowledge of Weinstein’s actions.
Early Thursday morning, Twitter suspended McGowan’s account, claiming she had violated the service’s rules. The company later clarified that it was because she had posted a private phone number (probably the one in a screencapped email she’d posted Wednesday). Fair enough, but as half of the internet—including McGowan herself—was all too eager to point out, that was a rich justification coming from a platform that seems to be fine with white supremacist Richard Spencer and doesn’t consider President Trump’s tweets to be harassing. Users even threatened to boycott Twitter today over the actress’ suspension.
Twitter, when explaining its reasoning for the suspension, added it is “proud to empower and support the voices on our platform, especially those that speak truth to power. We stand with the brave women and men who use Twitter to share their stories.” The company, like Facebook, has increasingly come under scrutiny for how it has handled harassment and free speech on its platforms. It hasn’t always done well (just ask Zoë Quinn), but if McGowan and her #RoseArmy show anything, it’s that if women are given a platform to speak out, and are believed, their voices have a shot of being louder than their detractors’.
In a curious twist, Deadline reported earlier this week that there might be a movie in the works about Susan Fowler’s experience’s at Uber. Once upon a time, it could’ve easily been a Weinstein Company movie—but at this moment it’s uncertain what the future of the company looks like. Talking with Maddow in a follow-up segment on her show this week, The New Yorker’s Farrow noted that one of the reasons the women who talked to him came forward was because Weinstein doesn’t wield as much power as he used to. Then he added this:
I actually don’t think this is a Hollywood phenomenon. I don’t think
this about Harvey Weinstein, ultimately. I don’t think this is about
the film industry, ultimately. The abuse of power is a phenomenon we
see over and over again in industry after industry. … [There are] a
fusillade of attacks that women face when they speak out and that’s
why it’s so brave what they’ve done here.
Yet, the willingness of sources to speak shows the tides are shifting, the lions are awake, and the powerful—or at least the corrupt among them—are losing their grip. On Wednesday night, Samantha Bee dedicated a full segment to Weinstein on Full Frontal, detailing the reporting on the mogul, as well as conservative media’s attempt to use it to bash left-leaning Hollywood. She ended by noting that sexual harassment is a problem in every industry, not just film. “So listen up creeps of Hollywood: We know who you are,” she concluded. “Women talk to each other, and we talk to journalists, and we talk to lawyers. It’s 2017, and we don’t have to put up with this shit. We are coming for you. Talk to every woman you work with like she has The New York Times on speed-dial. … Talk to every woman like she has me on speed-dial.”
Or, better yet, treat every woman like she has a smartphone—and people who believe her.