Weinstein sexual misconduct scandal

Mogul’s fall opens floodgates

Actress Alyssa Milano inspired the social media campaign in which women used the hashtag #MeToo to acknowledge that they had been sexually harassed or assaulted.
Actress Alyssa Milano inspired the social media campaign in which women used the hashtag #MeToo to acknowledge that they had been sexually harassed or assaulted.PHOTO: REUTERS
Many stars such as singer Lady Gaga acknowledged they had been sexually harassed or assaulted.
Many stars such as singer Lady Gaga acknowledged they had been sexually harassed or assaulted.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LOS ANGELES • Movie producer Harvey Weinstein is certainly not the first powerful man publicly and credibly accused of sexually harassing or abusing women in recent years.

Since 2015, Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, Fox News prime-time host Bill O'Reilly and comedian and actor Bill Cosby have suffered professional, financial or reputational setbacks after numerous women told stories of their sexual misconduct.

But the outcry accompanying Weinstein's downfall seems louder and more impassioned - perhaps because his accusers include stars such as Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow.

"I think this is a watershed moment," said producer Gail Berman, who had top jobs at Paramount Pictures and the Fox network.

That became clear on Sunday, when Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were flooded with messages from women who used the hashtag #MeToo to acknowledge that they had dealt with sexual harassment or assault.

A tweet posted by actress Alyssa Milano inspired the online campaign. "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet," she wrote.

Twitter promoted the #MeToo campaign on Moments, its platform of highlighted stories, and the hashtag went on to be used more than 500,000 times in its first 24 hours by people from all lines of work.

Many simply wrote "me too", including actresses Anna Paquin, Patricia Arquette, Debra Messing, Anika Noni Rose, singer Lady Gaga and one-time White House intern Monica Lewinsky, who was at the centre of the scandal in the 1990s that led to the impeachment trial of former United States president Bill Clinton.

Singer Sheryl Crow, actress Evan Rachel Wood, poet Najwa Zebian and many others described their personal experiences of harassment or assault.

Wood wrote of being raped more than once: "I instinctually shut down. My body remembered, so it protected me. I disappeared."

Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow applauded the movement. "The democratisation of the spread of information can finally move faster than a powerful media mogul's attempts to bury it," she said by e-mail.

In recent days, singer Bjork, Riverdale actress Lili Reinhart and Inside Edition correspondent Lisa Guerrero lodged new accusations against other men who work in entertainment.

Singer and actress Courtney Love accused the powerful Creative Artists Agency of punishing her after she raised questions about Weinstein's behaviour in 2005 and a recently unearthed video clip of her making the charge has gone viral.

Model Cameron Russell started an Instagram thread on misconduct by men in fashion. It has led to more than 50 models anonymously sharing their stories of harassment.

Kicked off by reports on the allegations against Weinstein, the outpouring came a little more than a year after The Washington Post published leaked excerpts from an Access Hollywood tape in which then US presidential candidate Donald Trump boasted of groping women.

At issue now is whether Hollywood can continue its old way of doing business, with self-styled "outlaw" executives and auteurs getting away with sexual misconduct as lawyers and publicists protect them.

Beginning with an article about the allegations against Weinstein that The New York Times published on Oct 5, more than 30 accusers have stepped forward with charges of harassment, assault and rape against the mogul.

The police in New York and London have started criminal investigations. (Weinstein has denied engaging in non-consensual sex.)

Ms Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women's Law Centre, said that, since the story broke, "we've gotten twice the volume of calls of people who have said they've experienced harassment".

The reaction has also led some senior women in Hollywood to predict that their long-time calls for change may finally come to something.

"I don't think this is going back to the status quo," said Berman. "You'll see that there will be improvement."

"Make no mistake about it, he is a monster," producer Jeffrey Katzenberg said of Weinstein on Monday, during an interview at The Wall Street Journal D.Live conference in Laguna Beach, California.

"The problem is there is a pack of wolves; he is not a lone actor in this. That is what we really need to find a way to deal with."

On Monday, the Producers Guild of America moved to terminate Weinstein's membership.

Last Saturday, the board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences stripped him of his academy membership.

The move drew ridicule from HBO comedy host John Oliver, given that it did no such thing in the cases of Cosby and director Roman Polanski, who pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 and then fled the country.

"So congratulations, Hollywood," Oliver said.

"See you at the next Oscars, where - and this is true - Casey Affleck will be presenting Best Actress."

The reference was cutting: Affleck, who won Best Actor at this year's Oscars for Manchester By The Sea, had settled sexual harassment allegations made against him by two female producers in civil suits.

He has denied the accusations.

Director Woody Allen served as the imperfect messenger for those cautioning against what he termed a "witch hunt".

Some executives also said they were wary of false accusations getting easy play on social media.

In breaking the news about the allegations, The Times and The New Yorker carefully corroborated the women's stories. Social media has no such checks and balances.

Director Lars von Trier rejected Bjork's allegation, which she posted on Facebook, that he sexually harassed her during the making of the 2000 movie Dancer In The Dark.

"That was not the case. But that we were definitely not friends, that's a fact," he told the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten.

A spreadsheet listing men in the media business accused of sexist behaviours ranging from inappropriate flirting to rape surfaced last week and was circulated by e-mail.

BuzzFeed writer Doree Shafrir weighed in on the list, writing of men who were said to be guilty of behaviours such as leering: "Things do get complicated when you start lumping all this behaviour together in a big anonymous spreadsheet of unsubstantiated allegations against dozens of named men."

Each successive case of a powerful man's misdeeds bursting into the open helps to embolden the next round, feminist Gloria Steinem said.

"When dealing with deep bias like racism and sexism, it usually takes more than one injustice - or even a few," she wrote in an e-mail.

"The Weinstein scandal would probably have been taken less seriously if Cosby, Ailes and others hadn't come first and been within easy memory."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2017, with the headline 'Mogul’s fall opens floodgates'. Print Edition | Subscribe