Power and powerlessness – why Hollywood’s latest sexual assault scandal can’t be ignored

The recent allegations made against the powerful entertainment industry mogul, Harvey Weinstein, paint an incredibly chilling portrait of a sexual predator of the highest order – guiltless, pitiless, physically powerful, domineering, intelligent, calculating and exceptionally successful, both professionally and criminally. Truly, a man without conscience.

Who is Harvey Weinstein?

Weinstein co-founded the Hollywood stalwart studio, Miramax, and then the equally respected Weinstein Company. He played an instrumental role in bringing films like Pulp Fiction, The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, The King’s Speech and Good Will Hunting to the silver screen. The New Yorker journo, Ronan Farrow, astutely writes that at the Oscars, Weinstein “has been thanked more than almost anyone else in history, just after Steven Spielberg and right before God”.

Numerous women, however, allege that under the glitz, glamour, fame and red carpets lies a dark world of manipulation, coercion, smear campaigns, sexual harassment, outright sexual assault and a carefully constructed culture of fear – all orchestrated by a man who thought himself to have God-like power.

“I must have said no a thousand times”

Over two dozen women, all aspiring actresses in a vulnerable position (and hoping for a chance to receive a role in a Weinstein film), have come forward – and all relate a consistent pattern of cold-hearted predatory behaviour.

  • Weinstein would propose a business meeting, often with a female studio exec present to lure the actresses in and lull them into a sense of safety.
  • The female exec would then be excused, and Weinstein would, after reminding the women of his power, influence and the successful careers enjoyed by actresses in his films, set to work.
  • It wasn’t simply a strong-arm tactic – resistance was met with the sexual violence of a physically potent man.

Three women who came forward, Asia Argento, Lucia Evans and an anonymous source, have said that Weinstein had forced them into receiving and performing oral sex as well as being subjected to vaginal penetration. Evans relates that Weinstein was brazen enough to physically force her (by taking her head) to perform oral sex on him in an office building filled with people.

In the case of Argento, Weinstein had invited her to a hotel room under the pretext of a party held by Miramax. This, she relates, was a lie, and she found no-one but Weinstein in the room. After sexual advances, a frustrated and impatient Weinstein forced her legs open and performed oral sex, not only without consent, but with complete indifference to her repeatedly saying “no”.

Weinstein’s unwavering dominance and persistence is, if only briefly, displayed in a secret wire recording made by a young actress, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, whom he had groped the day before (see below). The word, “predator” could only begin to describe the single-mindedness of his planned assault.

Trauma, guilt and debasement

The astounding inequality of the power involved in sexual assault is only underscored by the accounts given by the many women who have spoken on record. Forced to perform oral sex, Evans noted: “I just sort of gave up. That’s the most horrible part of it, and that’s why he’s been able to do this for so long to so many women: people give up, and then they feel like it’s their fault”. She continued,

Female casting director, Harvey wants to meet. Everything was designed to make me feel comfortable before it happened. And then the shame in what happened was also designed to keep me quiet.

Argento echoed Evans’s sentiments,

The thing about being a victim is I felt responsible… if I were a strong woman, I would have kicked him in the balls and run away. But I didn’t. And I felt so responsible.

Highlighting how a powerful man could use the considerable resources at his disposal to further debase and publicly humiliate a victim, an anonymous source confessed:

[I experienced] horror, disbelief and shame… I thought about how impressive his legal team is, and I thought about how much I would lose, and I decided to just move forward… I was in a vulnerable position and needed my job… It just increases the shame and the guilt.

Power, fear, silence and an escape from consequences

Why, we are all tempted to ask, did those who knew about this open secret fail to act, fail to approach the police or fail to break the silence in Weinstein’s company? Once again, the immense disparity in power came into play. The above video containing audio from Gutierrez’s post-groping encounter with Weinstein would have been enough to charge the mogul with sexual abuse in the third degree, which carries a sentence of 3 months. The case, however, wasn’t further pursued as tabloids timeously began to publish details about Gutierrez’s sexual history, which included a previous allegation of sexual assault and her attendance at a risqué party (involving former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi). Character assassination is as old as time itself, and the implicit message was clear: mess with me and I’ll destroy your reputation and credibility.

The smear campaign worked, and Gutierrez was silenced by a highly restrictive non-disclosure agreement which included an affidavit stating that Weinstein was innocent of her allegations. The pattern of threats, the ending of actresses’ careers, extreme intimidation by an expensive legal team, pay-offs and the uneasy complicity of Weinstein’s employees combined to create not only a culture of fear, but an environment that was positively ripe for sexual exploitation and assault. Moreover, it ensured that the alleged predator would never face any consequences for his actions.

Emma de Caunes, a French actress who spoke out about her own experience with Weinstein, has perhaps summed up the profoundly pathological nature of the situation perfectly:

It was like a hunter with a wild animal. The fear turns him on.

Have no doubt; structural gender inequality – and the victimisation it enables – is alive and well.

Caxton Central

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