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Friday, October 13, 2017

Hollywood Coercion: Weinstein and the Casting Couch

The ongoing scandal that Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein, allegedly used intimidation, coercion and, if needs be, brute force to grope, abuse or rape women should come as no surprise, and certainly not to anyone who either worked in, or had connections to, the film industry. If anything, it should be a surprise that it has taken so long to come out. 

My own Weinstein anecdote was at Cannes 1997 the year that the first Austin Powers film was released. A good girlfriend of mine had come to Cannes with me that year. She was good looking, sexy and extremely extrovert, so had after
a few days really made her presence felt. One night she rang up very excited because she was on her way to Hotel Cap-Ferrat, one of the top hotels outside of Cannes where a lot of the top Hollywood people and stars stayed, including, I believe, Weinstein. 

She was in the company of an Italian man who’s name I can’t remember, but If was told afterwards that the Italian man’s role was allegedly to act as bait and bring back women for Weinstein. My friend, it appeared, was to be that 
night’s entertainment. In the end my friend was fine, plus she was smart enough and streetwise enough to have handled herself. However, for many young women working in the film industry and caught up in the excitement of Cannes the outcome could have been very different.  

My company, Redemption is very much on the fringes of the film industry but nevertheless during the nineties and noughties for a couple of weeks a year I would always attend the Cannes film festival. Cannes in its heyday would bring in thousands of the great and the good into a what is essentially a small coastal town and transform it into a wonderland of flash cars, yachts, ghastliness, bling and excess. 

The Cannes film festival is essentially a melĂ©e of hundreds small, independent or national film companies trying to do deals to license or sell their films, or to get finance for a script or project, or, if you are an actor, to get a part in a film and so on. On top of that there are the big studios and film companies promoting key films, as well as the prestigious Palme D’or for the best film in competition.

Holding all this together are the marketing, PR and entertainment companies who organise all the parties and launches that go on every day. Finally, there are the journalists, the press and the TV and internet companies who also arrive in their thousands - all wanting a story and an invitation to the party.

Added to this excited mass of humanity will be alcohol, drugs, glamour, money and sex, lots of sex and lots of money with everyone wanting one or the other and the person who had both, plus that rarest aphrodisiac of all, real power, was Harvey Weinstein. 

Its perhaps easy to forget now that in the nineties just how magnificent Weinstein’s record was. This was the man who, with his brother Bob, had either distributed, produced or executive produced some of the greatest and trendiest films of the 20th Century including; Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Sex, Lies and Videotape, Scandal, Clerks, The Crow, Good Will Hunting and the Scream series all of which helped make Miramax the most successful independent studio in America prior to it being sold to Disney in 1993. 

There is no other industry like film, apart perhaps now in the age of celebrity for celebrities sake when the internet and reality TV have to an extent democratised the pursuit of fame, that attracts so many dreamers, people who are desperate for their first break - to act in a film, or write a film, or direct a film. Film makes fanatics of those that want to be part of it and as such people will do almost anything to make their dreams come true, literally anything … 

So Harvey Weinstein was the man with the midas grope and a finger, at the very least, in every actress. He would, like many popstars and other men with power or fame and with something that women wanted, have seen the exchange of sex for a part in one of his films or work in his company as a fair trade. And Weinstein was in no way an exception to this, its just that he did it all the time and in the main got away with it - if one woman told him to fuck off, then the 
next one would give him what he wanted and get the role or job in return. 

Weinstein’s three mistakes were firstly thinking that this was normal or acceptable behaviour, secondly carrying on doing it when his power was diminishing, and thirdly not seeing that society was changing and that the new generation of women were just not going to except being used for sex if they didn’t want to be.  

I have no doubt that a lot of the allegations now being made are true but also think, now that the worm has turned that there is danger, as with the Jimmy Saville scandal, that a kind of victim hysteria can take over whereby almost any woman that encountered Weinstein will be seeing themselves as having been abused. There is also a danger that Hollywood trendiness could make being one of Harvey’s victims a badge of honour and in Hollywood no one wants to be left out. 

My guess is that this will run and run, with Weinstein’s erstwhile friends proving to be fair-weather and treacherous who will turn on him now that he has no value thus reducing Weinstein to pariah status. However, it would be very wrong to
think that Weinstein is unique because he isn’t, in fact I can think of several film people with similar reputations and I am sure that there are hundreds of others who would have seen the ’casting couch’ as a perk of their office and just as many actresses (and actors) who would, sadly, have seen it as a price to pay for getting their foot in the door.

© Nigel Wingrove 2017

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