Harvey Weinstein and Hollywood’s Sexual Assault Problem

With the multiple allegations currently surrounding Harvey Weinstein, Arts Writer Lucy Carr examines the culture of sexual assault within Hollywood.

As more stories emerge every day, the world is left to watch in horror as the darker side of Hollywood unravels before our eyes. In light of the recent outpouring of allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein, a harsh spotlight has been placed on the industry and its relationship with sexual assault; one that has historically been shrouded in silence, swept under the carpet and overlooked by those in positions of privilege and power. This is a disturbing trend that has shockingly allowed men at the top of the hierarchy to easily fit back into their own reality, whether that be producing, directing, acting or other, despite having deeply affected the lives of others through their assaults. Thankfully, this climate of secrecy seems to be drawing to a close. With both women and men coming forward, open discussion has increased regarding why countless men in Hollywood have been able to avoid repercussions regarding allegations of sexual assault, either by receiving lesser sentences or avoiding punishment completely.

Weinstein does not stand alone, being just one in a long list of Hollywood powerhouses who have abused their status in the industry. In 1977, Roman Polanski, acclaimed director of films such as The Pianist and Rosemary’s Baby, was arrested and charged for the drugging and rape of 13 year old girl Samantha Gailey, however through his probation, had time to flee America to France and still avoids staying in countries that will extradite him to the United States. It is rumoured that he is currently shooting a biopic of his own life in Poland. Woody Allen is yet another notable Hollywood legend who has been accused of multiple sexual assault charges and to add a few more to the list, celebrities like Casey Affleck, Nelly, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Charlie Sheen and Brad Pitt are just some of the names that have graced the headlines in recent years for similar charges. Yet, have all these men been expelled from the academy like Weinstein? No, in fact there seems to be little lasting repercussions for any of the allegations, uncovering how sexual assault in Hollywood is something that has become an entrenched part of the system.

Image: Getty Images

In a recent interview with BBC Newsnight, Emma Thompson referred to Hollywood as a ‘ladder’ and with people such as Weinstein at the top, advancing becomes much harder for those struggling to make it into the industry. Prejudice in all its many forms has always been present in Hollywood and it is disheartening to think that despite so many people in the community fighting for equality, there are men behind the scenes like Weinstein who are still such dominating forces, portraying sexual harassment as something which women have to endure to make it big. This toxic masculinity is something that can only be redressed with equality and that means rectifying the power imbalance by increasing representation and diversity in Hollywood.

Looking over all these allegations of sexual assault it is worrying to see how the punishment never seems to fit the crime. This sense of privilege that comes with being famous, it seems, extends to the justice system, no doubt encouraging the harmful culture of victim blaming and silence which prevails at the moment. It is also important to state that these are not just issues confined to Hollywood alone and that it is not just women who face such assaults. This is something that happens to people everyday, all over the globe and it is important to provoke discussion about why this happens and stir action in response to such claims of assault. This will enable us to break free of this culture where the person assaulted gets more scrutiny than the assailant themselves.

While you can’t deny the artistry and talent of a man like Woody Allen or the influence and contributions of a man like Harvey Weinstein, their dedication to the film industry should not negate their crimes. I’m sure many people outside the industry were surprised to see such an avalanche of allegations against Weinstein and even more surprising was how many members of the Hollywood community have since come forward saying they were aware of his predatory actions. What is particularly tragic is that Weinstein is not the only man in Hollywood to have committed such crimes, not will he be the last. Wealth, power and creative standing should not be factors in judging a crime and to paraphrase Oprah, the bravery of Weinstein’s victims in speaking out will hopefully act as a watershed moment that will signify a change within our culture.

This show of solidarity represents one of the first steps in dismantling gender dysfunction and power imbalance in places of work, whether that be in the Hollywood community or everyday offices. We can’t separate Weinstein’s talent from his crimes, nor should we. No matter how much we admire celebrities or celebrate their contribution to popular culture, this should not and cannot give them special powers that allow them to avoid any sort of repercussions. Thankfully, the allegations against Weinstein seem to have opened the floodgates and we can only hope this will lead to a more positive future where no one turns a blind eye, power imbalances are redressed and people can feel safe in their place of work.

Lucy Carr

(Image courtesy of Associated Press)