LOS ANGELES (NYTimes) - As actresses came forward publicly on Tuesday with vivid accounts of sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein stretching back decades, questions arose about Disney, which owned his Miramax studio when some of the harassment was alleged to have taken place.
In a statement, the Walt Disney Co. said it was "unaware of any complaints, lawsuits or settlements" regarding the sexual behaviour of Weinstein, who left Disney in 2005 to found the Weinstein Co., another film and television studio. Disney's statement added that Weinstein and his brother, Bob Weinstein, who co-founded Miramax, had "operated and managed their business with virtual autonomy".
Michael D. Eisner, who ran Disney during the Weinsteins' tenure there, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday: "Fired Weinsteins because they were irresponsible, and Harvey was an incorrigible bully. Had no idea he was capable of these horrible actions." Eisner declined to comment further.
Also on Tuesday, the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts said it had decided to reject Weinstein's earlier pledge to fund a US$5 million endowment for female film-makers.
Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was then in charge of Disney's movie divisions, bought Miramax in 1993 for US$80 million. At the time, Miramax was becoming a superpower in the art film business by turning offbeat, inexpensive movies into mainstream hits. It was in 1992, for instance, that Miramax released the micro-budgeted thriller The Crying Game, which collected US$62 million at the box office, or US$110 million (S$149 million) in today's dollars.
On Tuesday, Katzenberg released an email that he sent to Weinstein on Sunday and that said he was "sickened" by the allegations. "There appear to be two Harvey Weinsteins...one that I have known well, appreciated and admired and another that I have not known at all," Katzenberg's email said.
Robert A. Iger, Disney's current chief executive, said in a separate statement, "Harvey Weinstein's reported behavioir is abhorrent and unacceptable, and it has no place in our society."
Disney sold Miramax in 2010 for US$660 million.
The flurry of comments came five days after a New York Times investigation chronicled a hidden history of sexual harassment allegations against Weinstein, including settlements paid, often involving former employees, over three decades. On Sunday, the Weinstein Co. fired him.
Disney's purchase of Miramax included provisions that shielded Miramax from corporate interference. The Weinsteins were given the ability to "greenlight" films with budgets of tens of millions of dollars without approval from Disney. Miramax also got to retain its own chief financial officer, head of human relations and general counsel.
According to reports at the time, the brothers demanded the autonomy, arguing that their films - which would include rough-and-rowdy titles like Pulp Fiction, released in 1994 - could not be incubated inside a corporate environment.
While with Disney, Miramax released more than 300 movies, which generated US$5 billion in North American ticket sales and tallied at least 220 Academy Award nominations and 53 wins, including best picture Oscars for Shakespeare In Love (1998), The English Patient (1996) and Chicago (2002).
But Disney also clashed bitterly with the Weinsteins, who took advantage of their autonomy to start an expensive magazine, Talk, without approval and to move forward with the 2004 political documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 despite being told that Disney would not distribute it. At the time, executives at Disney said Miramax had hidden its financing of that film by not including it on monthly reports about films in development; Miramax officials countered that they were aboveboard.