After Weinstein: Hollywood has to change how it views women
- Credit: Archant
The accusations of sexual assault surrounding Harvey Weinstein has thrown the spotlight on Hollywood and the way it works. Arts editor Andrew Clarke says that the time has come for the film industry to clean up its act and that means giving women an equal voice
The past week has not been a great one for Hollywood. The film industry has not covered itself in glory as accusations of rape and sexual harassment have been levelled at film boss Harvey Weinstein, one of the most successful producers in the industry, which resulted in him being fired by his brother from his own film company and being officially censured by both the Oscars and BAFTA organisations.
The list of high profile names who have suffered at the hands of Weinstein – Angelina Jolie, Kate Beckinsale, Lysette Anthony, Lea Seydoux, Rose McGowan, Lena Headey, Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow to name a few – has rocked the entertainment world, but what of the less high profile names? Those who don’t attract the same support or attention. Their ordeals are no less harrowing.
What has emerged from a week-long series of increasingly uncomfortable revelations is that this isn’t just a problem with Harvey Weinstein. It’s clear that the Casting Couch isn’t just a relic of Hollywood’s rather sordid past, but a fully-functional piece of kit in the modern workplace.
This is made clear by actresses who have alleged that other producers have tried to score sexual favours from hungry young would-be stars in return for that all-important break-through role. Some complied, some resisted, but no-one up until now spoke up because they didn’t want to ruin their chances of work in the future. It’s clear that not only did Harvey Weinstein and his fellow producers wield great power, but the system itself was corrupt and allowed them to run their businesses as if they were Sultans in a harem.
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Until now, they liked to think that they were untouchable. Protected by banks of highly paid lawyers, the Hollywood casting system appeared impregnable. The fact that it took the New York Times 17 years to get enough evidence to break the story on Harvey Weinstein, even though there was plenty of gossip about him (echoes of Jimmy Saville here) says it all.
What has happened in the past was dreadful. There’s no way to put a positive spin on the situation. It was corrupt and horrible, but we can’t wallow in the salacious nastiness of it all. We need to move on, fix the way that the film industry works and make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.
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It’s easier said than done – particularly when the arts deal in emotional, revealing subjects like love, lust, sex, revenge and betrayal on a daily basis. But, make no mistake the atrocities committed by Weinstein were not about sex, they were about power and the fact that he had control over those around him. But, Hollywood can take a few simple measures which will help prevent further exploitation.
The most obvious is to never allow after-hours meetings where auditionees are alone in hotel bedrooms with a producer or director. Meetings should be held during office hours, or in a hotel bar or restaurant, in public view. It would always be wise for agents or assistants to also be present – just for everyone’s safety.
For more long-term changes. Hollywood needs to rebalance itself. We need to promote more female producers and film-makers into this resolutely male-centric environment. Commission more films with a female-focus and this will automatically promote a healthier, more balanced view on the world.
Also by female-focused movies I don’t mean more by-the-numbers rom-coms either. I mean fund films with strong, witty, intelligent, independent women who can drive the plot forward – actresses who would be today’s equivalent of Katherine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis, Myrna Loy and Rosalind Russell, feisty, head-strong leading ladies who were not always chasing some knight in shining armour.
It’s interesting to note that the best time for films with dynamic female heroines came during the early 1930s, the time before the Hayes Code sent women back to the kitchen and insisted married couples had separate beds. Between 1930-34, women dared to be adventurers, have affairs and take charge of their own lives – think of Dietrich in Morocco, Garbo in Mata Hari and Jean Harlow in Red Dust.
There’s no reason why we couldn’t have equally empowered female characters in films today, being directed by female directors and written by women. Also it would be a mistake to assume that strong female characters have to be bunny boilers like Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction or psychopathic killers like Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct – as good as those films were.
Surely it would be better to have strong, engaging female characters who are shown to be enjoying life on their terms – look at the roles played Katharine Hepburn. Her characters may have butted heads with her male co-stars, but she was never subservient. Films with dynamic sparring partners have much more energy and are far more entertaining than dumb, mono-syllabic action heroes.
This whole Harvey Weinstein debacle is appalling, but let’s use it to make a real difference and make movies better for actors and audiences.