Discover more from The Bulwark
How did Harvey Weinstein Get Away With It for So Long?
The central question of Ken Auletta’s Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence, to my mind, is the one posed by the subject line above: How did he manage to get away with it for so long? It’s the question I hoped to answer, at least in part, during my interview with Auletta. Weinstein assaulted women for decades—literally, decades—and it just didn’t matter. He acted with complete impunity because he was immune from consequences.
One fact that jumped out at me: the first of his victims to go to police did so in 2015. For decades he had assaulted women, either forcing himself on them or demanding sexual favors for professional consideration. It was his modus operandi since working as a concert promoter in Buffalo with his brother in the 1970s. And it wasn’t until 2015 that Ambra Battilana Gutierrez would—after Weinstein attempted to fondle her breasts, run his hand up her skirt, and kiss her—file an actual complaint with the police.
“Not a single one of Harvey’s previous victims, in assaults ranging over decades, had ever taken this step,” Auletta writes. That’s probably why he didn’t suspect anything when she agreed to meet him again. He likely never even considered that she might be wearing a wire. Who would do such a thing to the Harvey Weinstein.
Though Gutierrez’s case ultimately went nowhere, it’s safe to say that the publicity his arrest generated helped convince other women to come forward to Ronan Farrow of the New Yorker and Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of the New York Times. But that dam breaking in 2017 doesn’t explain why the dam held as long as it did. Why did it take so long for Weinstein to receive his comeuppance?
There are broader cultural reasons surrounding the treatment of sexual assault victims, of course, and those shouldn’t be undersold here. But Weinstein’s perspicacity in protecting his position shouldn’t be under-appreciated here. As Auletta recounts in his book, Weinstein had many levers he could pull.
A big one was his status as a political powerbroker. He was a huge fundraiser for the Clintons; one of President Obama’s daughters interned for him; he raked in huge sums for Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Those sorts of friends will buy you a lot of cover when it comes to potential embarrassment.
On top of that, Weinstein used his Disney-funded publishing house, Talk Books, to hand out lucrative deals to potential allies and enemies alike. Seven-figure or near-seven-figure deals for Rudy Giuliani, David Boies, and Madeleine Albright, as well as contracts for the daughters of former Vice* President Al Gore buy you a lot of cover, as do big checks for journalists like Tim Russert, media moguls like Arianna Huffington, gossip columnists like Paula Froelich and Mitchell Fink, and industry powers like Peter Bart, Todd McCarthy, and Marshall Fine. Everyone likes money, and Harvey had plenty to pass around.
And, of course, if you had Oscar aspirations he was the guy to go to, the guy who revolutionized the Oscar campaign, the guy who could go toe-to-toe with Steven Spielberg at the Academy … and win. He had political power, the press in his pocket, money to throw around, and a dangerous combo of undeniable artistic taste and a desire to get in the gutter and scrap for the awards that confirm such taste. Few enemies could be more formidable than a man with that quartet of attributes.
The culture of silence was, in the end, a culture of fear. Of Weinstein, yes, but also of Hollywood’s own sordid history and the predations of the casting couch. “His secrets also stayed secret because in the movie business, abnormal male sexual aggression was thought to be common, fit for private whispers but not public shame,” Auletta writes.
“This was Hollywood’s culture of silence.”
*VP Gore, duh.
If a friend forwarded you this email or you’re seeing it via Twitter, sign up below. Don’t cost nothin’.
This week I reviewed Vengeance, a movie that flirts with condescending tourism but, I think, transcends those pitfalls by having something genuinely interesting to say about our addiction to hot-take culture. Also, writer-director-star B.J. Novak’s solution to said cultural problem is … well, it’s something! Will be curious to hear what others make of it.
Speaking of hot takes, I got a little hot under the collar this week while writing my take on Volodomyr Zelensky and his wife’s appearance in Vogue. I’m sorry, but if you’re wasting your time being mad at the guy trying to save his country instead of the Russian tyrant trying to dismember it, I have no use for you.
Speaking of Snyder, Snyder’s Batfleck is coming back, it looks like. What the world needs now, more than ever, is Murder Batman.
Make sure to check out the special bonus episode of ATMA, in which we discussed our favorite and least-favorite alien designs.
The trailer for the Ana de Armas-starring Marilyn Monroe film, Blonde, makes it look as though the film is about a woman who creates a persona for the screen and suffers as it slowly destroys her soul. No idea how something like that could possibly be relevant today.
Always pays to be wary of early, unconfirmed news, but: Everything I’ve heard about preview screenings for Evil Dead Rise suggests that audience scores have been through the roof. If the picture’s as good as the numbers suggest, Warner Brothers would have little to lose by putting it in theaters during the summer doldrums. Given that no movie being released between … well, now, basically, and Halloween Ends is tracking to open north of $40 million, competition is light.
Assigned Viewing: Time Bandits (HBO Max)
When I heard that David Warner died, my first, immediate thought was to his role as Evil in Time Bandits, Terry Gilliam’s children’s fantasy about good, evil, time travel, and thieving little people. Warner was in many memorable movies and TV shows over the years, and always quite good even if the material was … lacking. But his wonderfully hammy turn as Evil remains the height of his work, as far as I’m concerned. Wondering why God didn’t start with lasers, 8 o’clock, day one, during creation? It’s hard to top a monologue like that.