Harvey Weinstein’s Fate Puts Hollywood on Notice

As police charge the mogul, more boldfaced names are added to a sexual harassment scandal that’s still growing

Harvey Weinstein's Arrest Puts Hollywood on
Harvey: Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock; Illustration: Variety

Just before 7:30 a.m. on May 25, Harvey Weinstein stepped out of a black Toyota SUV in Lower Manhattan and surrendered himself to the New York Police Dept. A scrum of reporters shouted, “Harvey! Harvey!” as photographers jockeyed at the barricades, as though it were just another red carpet premiere.

Weinstein had emerged from a six-month exile in the Arizona desert to be fingerprinted and booked on charges of rape and forcible oral sex. He wore a navy sport coat over a light-blue sweater and carried an armload of books.

One of them was a biography of Elia Kazan, the playboy director who was tangled up in the Red Scare in the 1950s. According to a source, it was a tongue-in-cheek message to the media, accusing them of scapegoating him as part of another Hollywood witch hunt.

Weinstein is certainly correct that he is not the only man in Hollywood preying on women. But given the sheer number and severity of his alleged abuses, he has become the focal point of a reckoning over the ways in which women’s ambitions are exploited and thwarted. While Weinstein was marched alone in handcuffs into a Manhattan courtroom to enter a plea of not guilty, he had a lot of help in getting there.

“The celebration around his charges misses the point,” says Marie Henein, a Toronto attorney who is suing Weinstein, as well as Miramax and Disney, for sexual assault. “There is a measure of individual accountability, but it really doesn’t address the systemic problems that exist in Hollywood.”

Weinstein was such a celebrated figure — dripping with Oscars, the center of every party — that his downfall almost cannot help but force a confrontation with complicity. It has not been pretty.

It began in October with a New York Times exposé, which triggered a cascade of allegations against other powerful men. Brett Ratner was kicked out of his bungalow on the Warner Bros. lot. Kevin Spacey was erased from a movie about J. Paul Getty. A Louis C.K. film disappeared from the release schedule. Just last week, Morgan Freeman was dropped as a Visa pitchman.

Prosecutors are reviewing dozens of allegations against other prominent figures, including Steven Seagal and Ed Westwick, and some are surely watching the Weinstein case in trepidation about who is next.

But it remains to be seen how long-lasting, and how deep, the reckoning will be. At Disney, there is talk that John Lasseter could return from a self-imposed “sabbatical,” which followed accusations that he had groped and forcibly kissed women at Pixar and Disney Animation Studios.

Sources have told Variety that Disney CEO Bob Iger knew of Lasseter’s behavior at least as early as 2010, when Lasseter was seen making out with a staffer at an Oscar wrap party. Yet Disney has not conducted an internal investigation, and some within the company fear that top executives are not serious about changing the culture.

“If the company allows him to come back, that would just be a giant slap in the face to the whole Me Too movement,” said one Disney animator, who asked not to be named to protect her job. “It sends a message to the entire universe of animation that if you’re big enough and bad enough and awesome enough and a creative genius, you can get away with anything.”

If convicted, Weinstein could face up to 25 years in prison. But structural accountability may only come in civil court, where attorneys are going after Miramax, Disney and the Weinstein Co., the latter of which is now in bankruptcy.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys allege that Weinstein’s predation was ignored or even facilitated because he was good for the bottom line.

Cris Armenta, an attorney who is pursuing a class action suit, noted that the Weinstein Co. board of directors approved an employment agreement that required him to reimburse the company for sexual misconduct settlements.

“The suggestion that the directors of his company were unaware and didn’t condone it is absurd,” she said. “There were lawyers who participated in the confidentiality of settlement agreements. There are others who were aware and helped create an environment that helped him conduct himself the way he did.”
Henein argues that the complicity is evident in the term “the casting couch.”

“You are allowed to demand sexual favors from women to promote them through the industry. That’s a standard practice,” she said. “Harvey Weinstein doesn’t invent this. What is the culture that allows that?”

The Bill Cosby prosecution offered a similar lesson in sheer impunity — but criminal courts are unlikely to handle any but the most egregious cases.

In Los Angeles, the district attorney’s office has established a Hollywood sex crimes task force to handle the influx. Yet many of the cases that have been presented to prosecutors are beyond the statute of limitations.

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. submitted a case against Spacey that is believed to be too old to file charges. The office also declined to prosecute five cases against director James Toback, finding that all were too old, and too low-level, to bring charges now. The NYPD is investigating Toback as well.

Weinstein is also under investigation by Scotland Yard, and the L.A. District Attorney’s office is looking at five cases involving the disgraced mogul. The most likely to lead to prosecution may be an allegation that he raped an Italian model at Mr. C Beverly Hills in 2013, which does fall within the statute of limitations.

But now that New York prosecutors have made their move, L.A. District Attorney Jackie Lacey may be content to wait her turn.

Weinstein posted $1 million cash bail on May 25 and has been fitted with an ankle monitor. For now, he is not allowed to leave New York or Connecticut without the court’s permission — though he may seek approval to return to Arizona, where he has been receiving expensive therapy. He was required to surrender his passport.

A grand jury is expected to indict Weinstein on the sex crimes charges, which would supersede the criminal complaint, at which point his attorney, Benjamin Brafman, will move for a dismissal. Weinstein’s team is set to argue that District Attorney Cyrus Vance faced intense political pressure to bring a case.
The former mogul appeared stone-faced in court, saying almost nothing as he stood in handcuffs. According to a source familiar with his state of mind, Weinstein feels almost relieved to have been charged. He did not like waiting for Vance’s office to make up its mind. Now, at least, he knows what is in front of him and has a way to fight back.

He may also attempt to atone publicly. Weinstein continues to believe that he was abusive and boorish but that he did not cross the line into illegal conduct. In another year or so, he will learn whether a jury agrees with him.