Condemning a monster like Harvey Weinstein is easy. But in the weeks that followed the floodgates of allegations incited by a New York Times and New Yorker, industry people have been forced to engage in a much more difficult conversation with themselves.
What role did they play? None have had to reckon with this haunting question more than the people closest to Weinstein, like his former employees at The Weinstein Co.
The messy, raw, personal experiences of “select” employees (who remained anonymous) were gathered in a document and reported Thursday in a powerful New Yorker article by Dana Goodyear, peeling back another tragic layer of this already wretched story: that Weinstein’s abusive behavior was not restricted to sexual assault. And that while the focus should remain squarely on the survivors of his sexual predation, there are also victims of a different nature.
The workplace environment created by Weinstein sounds eerily familiar to those who’ve read the countless accounts of his sexual assaults; tactics of intimidation, manipulation, shame, pity, dominance, showboating, fear, gaslighting, and silencing.
From the document:
Harvey throttled someone. Harvey called an employee a fucking moron. Harvey threw the shoes, the book, the phone, the eggs. Harvey went to work with his shirt on inside-out and no one had the courage to tell him. If you fucking say anything to him, the assistant said to the other assistant, I’m dead. Harvey would eat the fries off your plate, smash them in his face, and wash them down with a cigarette and a Diet Coke. He belittled and berated: You can’t name three Frank Capra movies? What the fuck are you even doing here? He was funny; he was grotesque, a boisterous, boorish, outrageous, gluttonous caricature of a man, a Hollywood type … Years later, the people who worked for him — survivors, they called themselves, of Miramax and the Weinstein Company — still met regularly to tell stories about Harvey Weinstein.
Terry Press, now the president of CBS Films, went as far as to say that, “I consider many people at the Weinstein Company to have suffered some sort of Stockholm syndrome … If you go to meetings and someone’s physically accosting an employee, the message it sends is, It’s a free-for-all, no rules and no decorum.”
But sexual assault and rape? At least this group of employees says that was never in their view. Also from the statement:
We all knew that we were working for a man with an infamous temper. We did not know we were working for a serial sexual predator. We knew that our boss could be manipulative. We did not know that he used his power to systematically assault and silence women. We had an idea that he was a womanizer who had extra-marital affairs. We did not know he was a violent aggressor and alleged rapist.
But to say that we are shocked and surprised only makes us part of the problem.
Our company was built on Harvey’s unbridled ambition — his aggressive deal making, his insatiable desire to win and get what he wanted, his unabashed love for celebrity — these traits were legendary, and the art they produced made an indelible mark on the entertainment industry.
But we now know that behind closed doors, these were the same traits that made him a monster. He created a toxic ecosystem where his abuse could flourish unchecked for decades.
Frustratingly, it would seem that the Harvey Weinstein problem is much more complicated and multilayered than the simple outcry “everybody knew” suggests. Because the details revealed in the article should make us pause to reflect on our own reflexive need for outrage, and need to villify and blame his employees.
Scenes in the article that describe the internal meetings that took place between Weinstein’s employees in the wake of the revelations are eye-opening. In one, they (like all of us) sat in a room and collectively read, watched, and listened to the never-ending, stomach-churning details as they unraveled in real-time. Visibly shaken, openly weeping, they started putting two and two together — certain moments, memories, and stories they’d heard while working for Weinstein that were suddenly thrown into a harsh new light.
As they shared these with one another, they come to the realization they are actually compiling evidence for their own culpability. At a separate gathering between many of Weinstein’s female ex-employees, one source said that, “You feel a little bit like an idiot. … There were things you knew. Clearly there was also a strategy on his part.”
As they wrestled with understanding what that strategy was — how Weinstein managed to make them all accomplices to his crimes — the truth begins to tumble out of their mouths:
“Looking back, the problem is that the unspoken message we were being given from the powers that be across media, Hollywood, and politics is that he can get away with this shit.”
“But get away with what?” a woman in black said. “At the time, you didn’t know this was happening. What you knew was that he was a bully, a screamer, a yeller, a thrower, a pig—not that he was a rapist … .”
The hostess said, “The public lynching has been so severe that I think it’s a huge warning call to men in the future. Probably there are people—any number of agents—”
“I want to talk about that,” the woman in jeans said. “The larger culture of harassment and bullying, because you don’t feel like you can come out and report something. The patriarchy is creating this environment for men and women of misogyny and sexism. There is somehow this understanding that you can be this caricature of being bombastic and bullying and treating your underlings—”
“As inhuman,” a fourth woman, chopping chicken, said.
Often, our brains will work on overtime to justify, ignore, and disregard the niggling signs that we might be party to enabling abuse — whether its our own abuse, or others. Those are the defense tactics of a mind that feels helpless to put an end to it. And that is especially true for those blind to their own trauma at the hands of said abuser.
But the line between willful blindness and unconscious blindness is frustratingly thin. And we owe it to ourselves and Weinstein’s victims to do the hard, uncomfortable work of putting or own feet to the fire to understand the complicated connection between the two.