Harvey Weinstein Is the (Whispered) Talk of Hollywood

The New York Times
Harvey Weinstein Is the (Whispered) Talk of Hollywood
OCT. 8, 2017

Hollywood is usually a spotlight-seeking town. But there has been mostly public silence in the wake of a report that found that at least eight settlements had been paid to women who said the film producer Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed them. CreditChad Ress for The New York Times

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Movie potentates were peppered across the Tower Bar here as usual on Friday night. Over in one dimly lit corner sat a martini-drinking movie star and his manager. And the restaurant’s lively owner, Jeff Klein, worked the room as he normally does, pausing to schmooze here and shake an important hand there.

At each banquette, as starlets of yesteryear gazed from their photographs on the walnut walls, he found himself in the same discussion. “All night long,” Mr. Klein said, “it seemed like there was only one topic: Harvey Weinstein. It’s all anyone wanted to talk about.”

On Thursday, The New York Times published an investigation that found at least eight settlements paid over several decades to women who said Mr. Weinstein, high-powered film producer, had sexually harassed them. It was the equivalent of a neutron bomb going off in Hollywood, which came to a virtual standstill as stars, agents, producers, studio executives and publicists discussed almost nothing else. Some people were disgusted by the accusations. Others, perhaps recalling being on the receiving end of Mr. Weinstein’s notorious temper, gleefully passed around a link to a pop-up website selling R.I.P. Harvey clothes. And that was before Mr. Weinstein was fired by his film company on Sunday.

But few in this spotlight-seeking town spoke publicly.

Welcome to Hollywood, where people love to wag self-righteous fingers — over the past year, awards shows have become a platform for industry bigwigs to rail against the Trump administration — but run for cover whenever the topic casts show business in an unflattering light.

From Thursday to Saturday, I called more than 40 entertainment industry players, and almost all refused to speak for the record. Some said it was because their companies (or publicists) needed to approve anything they would say, while others gave reasons that painted a picture of a community hobbled by fear, self-interest and hypocrisy. “Ladies of Hollywood,” Rose McGowan, one of the actresses who settled with Mr. Weinstein, wrote on Twitter on Friday, “your silence is deafening.”

A publicist for an A-list actress said there was no “upside” for her client to comment, especially since she did not have a movie to promote. One producer wanted to know who else was on the record so he would be “quoted in good company.” An agent said he was repulsed by the silence and quoted a Latin phrase meaning, “He who sits quietly gives consent.” Then he refused to talk.

Along with Ms. McGowan, some other famous voices took to Twitter, including Lena Dunham and Brie Larson. But they were the exceptions.

“It’s been extremely quiet — almost radio silence,” said Claudia Eller, editor of Variety. “Part of the reason is that Hollywood always protects its own. Going back through history. And there is still a lot of fear. Is Harvey really done?” In Hollywood, after all, there is no shortage of sequels.

Of course, almost no one gets ahead in Hollywood by being a boy scout. In this image-conscious land, where publicists sometimes seem to outnumber people to publicize, the rule is to avoid being linked with controversy by any means necessary, lest you risk having your brand being tarnished or any of your own untoward behavior exposed.

Matthew Belloni, editor of The Hollywood Reporter, pointed to culpability as an explanation — executives, agents and celebrities who knew or had heard that Mr. Weinstein was behaving this way toward women and did nothing. “It’s embarrassment that they didn’t say anything,” Mr. Belloni said.

Mr. Weinstein, who acknowledged in a statement that his behavior had “caused a lot of pain,” announced an “indefinite” leave from his company to seek therapy before being fired on Sunday. At the same time, his major business partners have stood silent. Amazon Studios, which has two television series in the works with the Weinstein Company, did not respond to a query. The Viacom-owned Paramount Network, as well as A&E and Showtime, declined to comment.

Kevin Costner, who is producing and starring in a planned Weinstein-made series called “Yellowstone,” was “not available due to his filming schedule,” his spokesman emailed.

Not everyone has developed a sudden case of laryngitis.

“It took enormous courage for these women to come forward, and I applaud them,” Amy Pascal, a producer and former studio chief, said in an interview. She was speaking of actresses like Ashley Judd, who told The Times that she had been sexually harassed by Mr. Weinstein. The actor Seth Rogen wrote on Twitter on Saturday, after a lawyer advising Mr. Weinstein resigned, “I believe all the women coming forward about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment. It takes bravery to do so.”

But bold condemnation of Mr. Weinstein remained sparse on Sunday, especially by celebrities, many of whom seized on social media to harshly criticize President Trump for the “Access Hollywood” tape, made public a year ago this weekend, in which he boasted about kissing and grabbing women. Hollywood also denounced Roger Ailes, the former Fox News chief, and Bill O’Reilly, the former Fox News host, when women came forward with sexual harassment accusations against them. “Fox watchers turn a blind eye to predators; no morality at all,” Bette Midler wrote on Twitter at the time, with celebrities like Rosie O’Donnell, Chelsea Handler and Cher also offering biting rebukes.

(Mr. Trump dismissed his comments as “locker room talk,” and Mr. Ailes and Mr. O’Reilly denied the accusations against them.)

Many people online have noticed, in particular, conservatives.

“Thoughts on Harvey Weinstein?” Donald Trump Jr., the eldest son of President Trump, asked Jimmy Kimmel on Twitter on Saturday. Mr. Kimmel, who has become an outspoken critic of the administration and, like most of his fellow late-night talk show hosts, had not yet said anything on the air about Mr. Weinstein, responded, “It’s disgusting.”

That led some fans to thank him. “Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Rogen thank you for addressing the Harvey Weinstein situation,” wrote a Twitter user named Margaret. “Silence from most celebrities is gross.”

Some people in Hollywood contend that Mr. Weinstein is different from Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Trump, because, to a degree, he fessed up.

While the volcanic Mr. Weinstein is reviled — privately — by wide swaths of the entertainment industry, he also has a lot of friends. One producer who has worked repeatedly with Mr. Weinstein said that he wasn’t speaking out because “I happen to think the world of the guy.”

Mr. Weinstein made a lot of careers, starting at Miramax in the 1990s and then at the Weinstein Company, which was founded in 2005. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck might not be stars without “Good Will Hunting,” released by Miramax in 1997. Quentin Tarantino can credit Mr. Weinstein with getting “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill” into theaters. Gwyneth Paltrow thanked Mr. Weinstein and Miramax for “their undying support of me,” when she accepted the best actress trophy for “Shakespeare in Love” at the 1999 Academy Awards.

But silence works both ways, Ms. Eller pointed out. “It’s striking that nobody has come to Harvey’s defense, either,” she said.

Especially considering that Mr. Weinstein has tried to rally support. According to two people briefed on the matter, who naturally spoke on the condition of anonymity, he reached out to top agents at William Morris Endeavor and Creative Artists Agency and asked them to sign a letter of support and release it publicly.

They said no.

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