The image of Harvey Weinstein in handcuffs was one that many of us had dreamed about for years, but never believed for one second would become reality. To see him surrender himself to the authorities, with books about the great auteurs of cinema and musicals under his arm, brought undeniable satisfaction to countless women. When he walked out in handcuffs, that callous smirk still on his face, the aggravation didn’t last long. We knew this was a man at his lowest. The beast declawed. It would be easy to say that the emperor had no clothes, but given the circumstances, it would not necessarily be the best metaphor to run with.
Weinstein looked pale, weighed down by his own loneliness, and according to his lawyers, he is left without support. If this was intended to inspire sympathy, it spectacularly backfired. How do you add layers of emotion to a man whose modus operandi for several decades was to isolate, to bully, to undermine, and to gaslight? If one were to write a movie with a villain as coldly manipulative as Weinstein, it would be sent back for edits on the grounds of being two-dimensional.
The charges have been filed - rape and other forms of sexual misconduct. The allegations came from dozens of women, including some of the most famous figures in the world of celebrity, but these charges related only to two accusers. It seems unbalance - where is the justice for the countless others? - but sometimes, one works with what they have. For a man who used to getting what he wanted through plea deals and big pay-offs, it’s something of a surprise that Weinstein decided to plead not guilty.
It’s no shock at all to see he’s lawyered himself up to the teeth, including hiring Ben Brafman, who successfully defended Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, against sexual assault charges. As noted by the BBC, Brafman won the day through attacking the credibility of Strauss-Kahn’s accuser, a strategy Weinstein is not unfamiliar with, as we saw through the avalanche of tabloid smears that followed Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, the model who filed a police report on Weinstein in 2015. The police had audio recording of Weinstein admitting his wrongdoing to her, but after an ‘anonymous source’ ran to the New York Post with every scrap of dirt against her, Gutierrez agreed to sign an NDA and move on.
Brafman told reporters that he expected any woman who came forward with allegations to essentially crumble under cross examination, and that ‘if we even get that far, [they] will not be believed.’ The #MeToo movement that burst to life in the aftermath of Weinstein’s downfall has changed public opinions massively on how we believe victims of sexual harassment and assault, but it hasn’t made things easier for all women. Even Weinstein at his nadir is still more powerful than most of us could ever hope to be. Most of us have been waiting with increasing dread for the inevitable backlash to this all, because it’s easier for media and patriarchy to define something this earth-shaking as a fad and not a demand for systemic change.
There is no guarantee of a guilty verdict. The court of public opinion is not the court of law, and even now, Weinstein has the resources to make this charge go the way he wants if the stars align. This trial will take a very long time, and in the jingle-jangle chaos of 2018, anything can and probably will happen.
But our interest in what happens next extends beyond the courtroom. Weinstein was a king of a mighty industry, in part through self-appointment but mostly because the titans in power wanted him there. From Miramax to The Weinstein Company, the beast made money, won awards and guaranteed the inimitable sheen of prestige. The man was thanked more than God in Oscar speeches. The stars could joke about him killing people on their behalf and everyone would laugh. Seth Macfarlane could make a casting couch joke while reading out the Oscar nominations, then claim it was a slam against the man himself, even though the punchline was aimed at the women. Decades of stories of Weinstein’s brutish behaviour and intimidation became Hollywood lore you just had no accept because hey, that’s how the industry is. Surviving Weinstein was a badge of honour for the creators who bashed heads with him: Calling him out was playing against the rules. Culpability in Hollywood was the name of the game, and the industry had to be publicly embarrassed into changing its objective. Even then, it happened in part because they had nothing more to gain from Weinstein. The kingmaker had used up all his aces.
There won’t be casual industry meetings in hotel rooms anymore. Talk to anyone who’s worked in entertainment and the chances are they have multiple stories about perfectly innocent interviews or shop talk taking place at the Hilton suite. It speaks volumes to the priorities and gender make-up of the business that such occurrences were the norm, even if nothing untoward was happening. SAG-AFTRA have already called for an end to such practices.
It’s easy to talk about change, and the abstract notion of how to accomplish it. We’ve heard a lot over the past few years about working up from the grassroots, listening to victims, bringing parity to the boardroom, and so on. All those things are true and necessary but creating the required shift in attitude is another matter entirely. Weinstein fell in part because the industry was publicly embarrassed into giving a shit. Even with the eyes of the world focused on them, we see how the same old excuses are applied, and how those familiar tools of rehabilitation are trotted out, with varying results. They tried it with Jeffrey Tambor - and media outlets played along, as they were so used to doing - but it didn’t stick. Audiences have less patience for these justifications. The anger has become impossible to ignore, but will the profit margins follow suit? Will our refusal to ignore the elephants in the room lead to us voting with our wallets? Or will movies like the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them sequel still make bank, thus reassuring that Johnny Depp is still seen as worth the effort?
Weinstein was released on $1m bail. He has to wear a GPS tracker at all times, and his passport was surrendered to the authorities. He’ll be back in court on 30th July. For now, he is alone. His wife and children have left him, the industry bigwigs aren’t returning his calls, and the narrative around him is out of his hands. There will be a movie made about his downfall, but he won’t get the glory from it. I want to say the age of the ‘difficult’ man is over, that we are no longer tolerant of abusive thugs who cloak their wrongdoing in the prestige of artistic success. It’s not. It will probably never die, but the sheen has been removed, and the platform has been shifted to those whose voices deserve it the most. There is no room for complacency, but for once, for this moment, the villain has gotten what he deserves.