‘Harvey’: Berkoff’s prospective play about a predator

Harvey Weinstein is a name anyone who has turned on the news or opened Twitter in the last year will be familiar with. Most people are also painfully aware of the horrible acts he committed to receiving this kind of global infamy and how his ousting has had a ripple, or rather, tidal wave effect across Hollywood and the entertainment industry. It was Weinstein’s scandal that drove the #MeToo movement to the forefront of everyone’s minds and social media platforms. Now, actor and playwright Steven Berkoff has written and wants to stage a play entitled ‘Harvey’, where he will portray the titular role of none other than Mr Weinstein himself. Berkoff is no stranger to playing evil as many of his most notable characters have been villains, such as General Orlov in ‘Octopussy’ and Adolf Hitler in the TV mini-series ‘War and Remembrance’.

When asked in an interview with the Guardian, Berkoff described Weinstein as a “creature who offers freedom, offers to change your life”. His description of the Hollywood mogul sounds affectionate, almost as though he is in awe of the sheer power that Weinstein had over those he employed. In reality, this power should be something that is feared and reprimanded, as it seems unfair that one person should be able to control another person’s life with such a tight grip. This sympathy is not unintentional on the part of Berkoff as he has admitted that he wants to play Harvey with some compassion. To any person aware of the allegations made about Harvey Weinstein, they would know that compassion and sympathy are two of the last things that he deserves.

Berkoff’s justification for his empathetic portrayal of Weinstein is that he does not want his character to be used as a prop for anti-Semitism. This is, of course, referring to the fact that Harvey Weinstein is Jewish and that the Jewish race/community have not always been portrayed in the kindest of lights within the entertainment industry. This caution is probably prompted by Berkoff’s own Jewish heritage. While this is certainly a valid concern within the entertainment industry in general, it seems like a convenient excuse for Berkoff to employ.

With the #MeToo movement growing in relevance and strength every single day, it seems that more and more men are quick to defend their own and other people’s actions. It is often claimed that the people in support of #MeToo are using it to take down all men, regardless of their behaviour; while Berkoff does not come across that way in his interviews, there is every possibility that he does not see the force as to which Harvey Weinstein was punished as necessary. It is hard to believe that an audience would come away from watching a play about Harvey Weinstein and the aspect they focus on is that he is Jewish. It could be argued that there are more pressing issues within Weinstein’s life that one should be concerned with. With common sense aside, the audiences that would be critiquing Harvey Weinstein are likely to be people who disagree with and condemn his behaviour and would be open-minded members of society who would be able to recognise that his vile actions were not a result of his ethnic background.

Another issue with the play is that it would be drawing attention back to Harvey Weinstein, and while it would not be portraying him as the hero of the story, the sympathetic approach Berkoff appears to be giving people the go-ahead to carry on behaving in ways that make both women and men uncomfortable. It may be time to take the focus off the individuals and shift it towards the issue as a whole. Sexual assault does not only take place in Hollywood, but it is also a very real and very present issue that sometimes happens right outside our front doors, or even within the walls of our very homes. If we carry on focusing on the abusers and predators within Hollywood, it will start to feel as though sexual harassment is a far-off magical concept that only happens in the mystical, untouchable land of the celebrity. There is no way to create a character that could ever accurately portray a sexual predator because there is not one box they could fit into. Every victim sees a different face and hears a different voice, by bringing us back to the Harvey Weinstein scandal we dismiss what is happening outside, in the real world.


Emily Parry

Image courtesy of Time Magazine and The Irish Times.