Lena Dunham to Hollywood men: Speak up, or be complicit


Lena Dunham has a message for Hollywood — specifically, its men: speak up about sexual harassment, or risk aiding and abetting abhorrent behavior.

In an op-ed for the New York Times on Monday, the actress and director came out not only against the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, recently fired from his film studio after allegations of sexual harassment became public, but also the entire industry, charging that it has for too long turned a blind eye to what she sees as a pervasive culture sexism and sexual predation, and in doing so, essentially became complicit in the widespread abuse of women.

Weinstein’s behavior, Dunham wrote, “silently co-signed for decades by employees and collaborators, is a microcosm of what has been happening in Hollywood since always and of what workplace harassment looks like for women everywhere.”

“So why the deafening silence, particularly from the industry’s men, when one of our own is outed as having a nasty taste for humiliating and traumatizing women?” she continued.

In the handful of days since the New York Times detailed decades-spanning sexual harassment allegations against the Hollywood mogul, leading to his firing from the movie studio he co-founded with his brother, Weinstein wrote an email to Hollywood executives pleading for them to help him save his job.

“Just give me the time to get therapy. Do not let me get fired. If the industry supports me, that is all I need,” Weinstein wrote in the email, which was leaked and read on MSNBC’s “Deadline: White House.”

Harvey Weinstein was accused of decades of sexual harassment. Celebrities, late-night hosts and conservative critics responded to the news. (Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)

But by then, numerous high-profile celebrities had come out in force to denounce the movie producer.

Meryl Streep, who not long ago venerated Weinstein as both “God” and “punisher,” has called Weinstein’s behavior “inexcusable,” while Mark Ruffalo has called it “a disgusting abuse of power.”

Politicians, meanwhile, are giving away to charities thousands of dollars in donations that they had received from Weinstein over the years in an effort to distance themselves from the disgraced industry titan.

Revelations of Weinstein’s alleged serial sexual harassment have also forced some actors to introspect and ask themselves why they let the rumors slide by.

The actress Glenn Close, for example, said in a statement to the New York Times that “for many years, I have been aware of the vague rumors that Harvey Weinstein had a pattern of behaving inappropriately around women. Harvey has always been decent to me, but now that the rumors are being substantiated, I feel angry and darkly sad.”

Actor-director Kevin Smith felt a similar sense of guilt and shame. “He financed the first 14 years of my career — and now I know while I was profiting, others were in terrible pain. It makes me feel ashamed,” Smith wrote in a tweet.

And Jessica Chastain tweeted that she was “warned from the beginning.”

In an interview with the Daily Beast, George Clooney condemned Weinstein’s actions as “indefensible.” Clooney added that he had heard rumors dating back to the ’90s that “certain actresses had slept with Harvey to get a role,” but that he had taken those rumors “with a grain of salt.”

In her op-ed, Dunham called on the men of Hollywood to step up the fight against sexual harassment in Hollywood and beyond, even while acknowledging that “ignoring bad behavior remains the signature move of men in Hollywood.”

“Men of Hollywood, what are you sorry for? What will you refuse to accept anymore?… Are you operating under the assumption that this is very sad but that it is not your problem?” Dunham wrote.

Last week, Dunham had already publicly denounced Weinstein in a series of tweets.

Will Hollywood heed Dunham’s exhortations and shed its culture of silence around sexual abuse? As the Post’s Stephanie Merry has written, “In recent years Hollywood actors have started opening up about the horrors of the ‘casting couch’ and the harassment and abuse they’ve endured. But few have named names, even if they’ve attained A-list status. The risks — even at the top — just seem too high.”

But there is also hope for real change, Merry writes.

“Regardless, Weinstein’s firing could represent a very real change, thanks to a group of women who went on the record with all the details. Retribution isn’t a sure thing when people name names, but one thing is certain: Justice never comes when people don’t.”

Still, the industry has remained largely silent, at least for now.

A New York Times reporter reached out to 40 entertainment industry players, and “almost all refused to speak for the record” about Weinstein.

The Guardian, CNN, and the Daily Beast were all similarly given the silent treatment. Each publication had reached out to at least a dozen Hollywood players, and almost all failed to respond or declined to comment.

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