While Hollywood is in the process of cleaning house in regards to Harvey Weinstein, recent actions taken by groups like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have raised a few eyebrows in terms of potential hypocrisy. The Academy expelling Weinstein does make a difference in some ways - for one, it removes many of his industry privileges and would make any inevitably ham-fisted attempt at a return near impossible, at least on the scale of power Harvey is used to - but it couldn’t help but draw further attention to the abusers and harassers who remain at the heart of the entertainment industry’s systemic misogyny. Bill Cosby is still a member, as is Oscar winner Roman Polanski. Mel Gibson made a triumphant return to the graces of Hollywood with a slew of nominations this year for Hacksaw Ridge and then there’s the Casey Affleck elephant in the room, as we all remember an accused sexual harasser will be giving a woman her Oscar next year, live in front of a billion people, where she’ll probably have to relent to a hug and a kiss from the man who leveraged his connections to a year long whitewash of an Oscar campaign. Nobody expects the industry to burn itself to the ground, as some of us have been craving over the past fortnight, but when the most obvious abusers remain darlings to the world of cinema, you can’t help but wonder if self-awareness comes into the equation.
Last week also saw Amazon cut ties with some planned Weinstein Company TV projects, the main one being a series to be helmed by noted bully David O. Russell. The multiple Oscar nominee behind American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook has one of the industry’s most visible reputations as a nasty piece of work, both as a bullying colleague and a sexual abuser off-screen. He’s made multiple people’s lives hell and never faced the consequences. It’s ironic that he only loses some of his privileges by proxy of another abuser. They say sunlight is the nest disinfectant so let’s remind the world of the disgusting behaviour of David O. Russell.
On the set of Three Kings, Russell was so aggressive that the second assistant director quit. He frequently screamed in people’s faces, seemingly delighting in humiliating him, and the pressure got to be so much that George Clooney, possibly the nicest man in Hollywood not named Tom Hanks, grabbed him by the throat when Russell started banging him on the head and said, ‘Hit me, you pussy, hit me.’ Clooney admitted he came close to killing him, and called the shoot the worst experience of his life.
There’s the infamous leaked footage of the set of I Heart Huckabees, where Russell further screams at Lily Tomlin. The video is below but be warned, it is supremely uncomfortable to watch. Tomlin has since been complimentary about Russell and referred to the incident as a ‘fracas’ but also said that following their making-up after the fight, she was ‘stoic in my silence’.
The I Heart Huckabees mess briefly put a dent in his career, but after the success of The Fighter, he was back in the good books, then began his three movie partnership with Jennifer Lawrence, who once rhapsodised that ‘I want us to be buried next to each other.’ She won her Oscar with Silver Linings Playbook and has been nominated for her other Russell films, but it is on American Hustle where on-set reports once again began to bubble upwards about his brutal temper. This time, Amy Adams faced the brunt of the action. In the now infamous leaked Sony emails, one exchanged detailed worries about the production.
Are you guys doing anything else with him? I know he’s brilliant but we have someone on our show who worked closely with him on ‘American Hustle’ and not only are the stories about him reforming himself total bullshit but the new stories of his abuse and lunatic behavior are extreme even by Hollywood standards… He grabbed one guy by the collar, cursed out people repeatedly in front of others and so abused Amy Adams that Christian Bale got in his face and told him to stop acting like an asshole.’
Yeah, think about that. Christian Bale thought he was being an arsehole. Christian ‘we are fucking done professionally Bale thought David O. Russell was being a prick.
In a 2015 Vogue profile, when Lawrence further raved working with Russell, she said, ‘Because I’m not so sensitive, we can really talk, like man-to-man. Sometimes he accidentally refers to me as he or him. But he really respects and understands women, and by that I mean he doesn’t treat a woman any differently than he’ll treat a man. He would never tiptoe around a woman.’ When the interviewer mentions this to Adams, she responded, ‘Well, if you mean he doesn’t treat people like a lady, I can agree with that.’
A 2004 New York Times piece by Sharon Waxman, entitled ‘The Nudist Buddhist Borderline-Abusive Love-In’, further details his reputation, including a moment on set where he took off his clothes on set, then where he PUT CHRISTOPHER NOLAN IN A HEADLOCK. At a fucking party! Russell is documented as meeting Nolan at a party, shortly after Jude Law had dropped out of I Heart Huckabees to take a role in The Prestige, and putting him in a goddamn headlock to ‘demand[s] that his fellow director show artistic solidarity and give up his star’. Law did end up working with Russell.
In December 2011, a report was filed by Russell’s transgender niece Nicole Peloquin, age 19, accusing him of groping her. She says the pair were working out at a gym together when he offered ‘to help… with ab exercises.’ When asked about her transition process, Peloquin responded by talking about her hormone regime. She then said Russell put his hands under her top ‘and felt both breasts’. Russell does not deny that these events took place. According to the Chicago Tribune, ‘For his part, Russell confirms that the incident happened, but told police that Peloquin was ‘acting very provocative toward him’ and invited him to feel her breasts. He also admitted to being ‘curious about the breast enhancement.” The case was later closed and no charges were pressed. This was later discussed in the Sony emails, which also say he brought Sally Field to tears at a party.
David O. Russell is a bully. He is someone who delights in intimidating and humiliating his colleagues, someone who sees violence as a way to get what he wants, and someone who saw the body of his niece as something he had right to touch. We don’t just have rumours of his behaviour: We have extensive documentation from a variety of legitimate sources, plus video. I used to joke morbidly that you had to make a movie as good as Chinatown for your abuse to be justified in Hollywood; really, you just need to make something as mediocre as Joy. I cannot fathom why anyone is willing to not only put up with him but consistently compensate his bullying and reward the efforts of his behaviour. Yes, some of his films have made money but there isn’t enough cash in the world to justify what he does. I don’t care how much Jennifer Lawrence loves him, I don’t care how much you liked I Heart Huckabees, and I don’t care how excited you were to see a TV series with Robert De Niro and Julianne Moore: If we want to truly learn from the mistakes of decades of covering up Harvey Weinstein’s abuse, we need to demand better across the board. The Academy says its policy of those who abuse their power will be zero tolerance from now on, so let’s keep them accountable.
I’ll end this post with a story. While making the first Twilight movie, Catherine Hardwicke admitted to going off-set for five minutes one day to have a quick cry. She got it out of her system and went back to work, where she has a reputation for her hard work, positivity and good cast and crew relations. Hardwicke did not get to make the sequel to the film she helped make a staggering success, with Deadline reporting sources saying the studio didn’t like her, allotting the success of the film to the male cinematographer, and calling her female agent hysterical. There was also talk that her brief moment of off-set crying was a sign of her being difficult. Later, Hardwicke pitched to direct a boxing drama called The Fighter. She was told a man had to direct it.
David O. Russell got that job.