As more and more survivors of assault and coercion step forward to attack the culture that silences women, it becomes clear we’re going to need to think about how we remember some foundational works of film and the men who made them. This article is the first in a series where we examine the cultural impact of entertainment industry titans and then grapple with the allegations that have had them expelled from public life.
Every man, me included, who says he’s never mistreated a woman, is either lying or in denial. There are those of us who feel bad about it—who want to go back in time and slap the shit out of our past selves—and then there are your Harvey Weinsteins.
Harvey and his brother Bob were concert promoters when they decided to take a risk and create a film production company in 1979. They named it Miramax, combining the first names of their parents, Miriam and Max. Remember this as we discuss how inextricably linked are the rise of their studios, the visibility and prestige of the art they eventually produced, and the accompanying egos of the brothers themselves, and what it allowed them to get away with.
Now, both brothers stand accused not just of sexual assault and harassment, but, in Harvey’s case, of going to absurd, supervillain-like lengths to cover up his filthy behavior, including harassment campaigns, a small army of lawyers serving up settlements that essentially let them continue their evil consequence-free, and ex-Mossad private investigators. (Links to reports detailing these allegations are included at the end.) For many, having to associate pop culture gems of the latter 20th Century like Clerks or Pulp Fiction with the unspeakable things now coming to light is a deeply painful and disconcerting experience. And then there’s me, who disliked those stupid fucking movies with their too-clever-by-half quotes just enough that I feel like I have a less sentimental view of the situation.
For me, the ’90s pop culture dominance of the films Miramax acquired and distributed marked a deeply irritating trend of smart-assery and sarcasm that was too good for you to understand. There were the “cool” kids, and then there were the kids who wouldn’t shut the hell up about Clerks. There were the “popular” kids, and then there were the kids who got hopped up on Pixie Sticks and joined the A/V club just so they could produce their weird stream-of-consciousness homages to Reservoir Dogs (distributed by Miramax in 1992).
If those works ensured I never felt like I belonged anywhere, it’s only because of directors like Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino. The Weinstein brothers made money off the artistic sparks that the other major studios were rejecting—and then, it seems, used it to rape people.
I haven’t yet read anything that’s really examined the career of Weinstein other than to say it was distinguished. So, let’s look at the film empire that raped seemingly every starlet in Hollywood.
The ’70s and ’80s: Grab and Slash (and Rape)
I’m not cutting for fun. I’m cutting for the shit to work. All my life I served one master: the film. I love movies. —Harvey Weinstein in an interview with The New Yorker, 2002
It wouldn’t be until the 1990s and their creation of Dimension Films that Harvey and Bob Weinstein would actually begin producing films. When they began, their entire business model was predicated on acquiring films, making them palatable to U.S. audiences (usually by cutting them) and then scoring them good theatrical runs aggressive Oscar campaigns. 1981’s The Secret Policeman’s Ball was a concert film the Weinsteins essentially created by chopping the daylights out of two films and smashing them into one for North American release.
Flipping those films—buying them up cheap and distributing them to critical fanfare and good box office returns, and who cares about the odd flop when it only cost a million to pick up?—netted the brothers enough money to begin striking out on their own in the 1990s.
In the meantime, though, Harvey was allegedly a very busy man. Weinstein is reported to have raped Hope Exiner d’Amore, who worked for the concert promotion company he ran before getting into film, telling her there was a reservation mistake that put them in the same hotel room. He also allegedly raped actress Cynthia Burr in a hallway in New York City. In 1980 he got naked in front of an intern and asked her if it was the highlight of her internship.
Inviting a college junior to his hotel room to supposedly discuss a role in 1984, he is alleged to have appeared nude in a bathtub and pressured her to take off her clothes. Also during that year, he also reportedly forced a crew member on Playing For Keeps down onto a bed and raped her while she resisted. She would later decline to file a police report out of fear of losing her job. According to a police report that actress Lysette Anthony filed just last month, Weinstein came to her house and raped her, and she continued meeting with him afterward to fulfill her career duties. Heather Kerr quit acting after Weinstein asked her to touch his junk in 1989.
Get all that? That was more rape than notable films which Weinstein didn’t actually make.
The ’90s: Annoyingly quotable indie classics, behind-the-scenes rage (and also rape)
I wasn’t even supposed to be here today! ‚Clerks, 1994
Inextricable from these horrible allegations is the fact that Harvey Weinstein is not just a physically large man, not just a powerful and influential man, but also widely reputed to be exactly the kind of unpleasant person I’ve structured my entire career around never working under for reasons having nothing to do with rape.
Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures details the rise of Miramax through the ’90s, and the author paints a portrait of a screaming, raging tyrant who put a reporter in a headlock while throwing him out of a party and, at one point, who shouted down Julie Taymor and her husband because he didn’t like how a test screening of Frida had turned out.
Yet, it was in 1993 when Disney purchased Miramax and essentially gave Harvey Weinstein access to a much larger pot of money to start acquiring seminal pop culture films like the aforementioned Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino films. By then, subdivision Dimension Films had already become the company’s vehicle to distributing trashy teen horror and slasher films, scoring its first major hit with The Crow in 1994 and inflicting the Scream series on the world.
The ’90s were also, allegedly, a very, very busy time for Weinstein’s sexual assault. He met Kate Beckinsale, then just 17, while wearing a bathrobe and tried to get her drunk—something Beckinsale will presumably never forget but which Weinstein evidently did, as she claims he later asked her if he’d tried anything. She says she was able to make an excuse and beat a hasty retreat.
“I realized he couldn’t remember if he had assaulted me or not,” Beckinsale later said, claiming, too, that her rejections of him damaged her career. If that’s the reason the only thing we see her in anymore are those Underworld films, that’s another thing Weinstein must answer for.
Weinstein tried to rape Sophie Dix in a hotel room, settling for masturbating in her general direction once she shut a bathroom door in his face (allegedly). Reports detail two separate settlements involving female subordinates whom Weinstein mistreated. This is just up through 1990 or the early ’90s. Were I to detail the full list of allegations during this period, this would rapidly become a 3,000 word article. It’s far easier to just name the actresses he either raped or propositioned: Rose McGowan, Darryl Hannah, Asia Argento, Angelina Jolie, Sarah Polley and Lauren Holly are just the ones I’m 95 percent sure you’ve heard of.
This was made possible in part by you renting From Dusk till Dawn three or four times.
2000s: Splitting from Disney, forming The Weinstein Company, still raping people
Miramax had pushed away much of its support by 2004, when its contract with Disney (and the equally widely-reported-to-be-insufferable-to-work-with Michael Eisner) was set to expire. Ultimately, the Weinsteins decided to split from Miramax and form The Weinstein Company, taking Dimension Films with them and continuing to broker deals on everything from the brief spate of lame early ’00s horror remakes like The Amityville Horror or Halloween to important social milestone films like Transamerica. Now, 12 years after its founding, the company, so inextricable from the brothers who gave it its name, seems to be all but destroyed in the wake of the scandals following both of them.
Again, just the list of women you have heard of whom he is alleged to have raped or harassed during this period reads like every cool fandom you’ve been meaning to get into lately: Cara Delevingne, Lena Headey, Lupita Nyong’o. Various other models, anonymous actresses, and female subordinates at his company or companies peripheral to him have also spoken out about alleged abuses.
I am somebody who argues that there should be a separation between art and artist in the mind of the audience. That separation shouldn’t supersede all reason, but it should be possible to watch a movie or read a book and be able to lay aside your aversion to a creator’s personal life.
In this case, it’s hard, nearly impossible, to do it, and not just because I will rage-puke if one more person tries to quote the café scene in Reservoir Dogs to me. Those films weren’t created by the Weinstein brothers, but they were marketed and foisted upon the public by them. In a way, this large body of contemporary art has been used and abused just like the dozens upon dozens of women that include some of Hollywood’s brightest stars, and who paint a picture of Harvey Weinstein as a man who used that art to amass himself a mountain of cash on which he could lounge in a bathrobe, beckoning to desperate young women and throwing tantrums or just outright raping them when they had the audacity not to appreciate it.
Through no fault of the directors and actors and all the crew who made all these movies possible, including some earnest first-timers just grateful to get their foot in the door of the dream factory, they were complicit in this and so were you and me.
If that horrible truth means everybody gets on board with changing this culture, with finally enforcing the dire consequences that should accompany abuse and coming to the aid of people like the mile-long list of women above, then I’m cool with it, and you can probably still enjoy watching Fanboys.
Allegations against Bob Weinstein can be found here.
Allegations against Harvey Weinstein can be found here and here.
Scream is stupid and Kenneth Lowe works in media relations in state government in Illinois. His works have also appeared in Colombia Reports, Illinois Issues Magazine, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.