Weinstein sexual harassment controversy exposes Hollywood's double standard

When the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape leaked one year ago, capturing then-candidate, now-President Trump bragging in coarse terms in 2005 about being allowed to grab women because he was a celebrity, Hollywood had a meltdown.

Cher called Trump a “scumbag carny barker" on Twitter. Comedian Patton Oswalt labeled him a “sexist creep.” Actress Emmy Rossum wrote: “misogynistic entitled pig.”

This week, amid revelations that Oscar-winning movie and television producer Harvey Weinstein had a long history of sexually harassing women, Hollywood’s response was largely muted. Film studios on Friday all declined to comment.

“Yup. Hollywood shines light on Catholic Church, sex trafficking — let's shine it on ourselves a second and what we've condoned,” actress-writer-producer Lena Dunham wrote on Twitter, one of the few celebrities who took a public stand.

MORE: Lena Dunham, Rose McGowan add voices to Harvey Weinstein scandal

Hollywood has a poor track record when it comes to women. Actresses received just 31.4% of speaking roles in the top 100 films released last year, according to the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg’s School for Communication and Journalism. The “sexy stereotype” persisted with more than a quarter of females in those films wearing sexy attire, compared with 5.7% of men. In 2015, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission opened an investigation into allegedly discriminatory hiring practices against female directors.

“Hollywood likes to project an image of being progressive about issues of race, gender and social issues — but at the end of the day it is an incredibly regressive industry,” said Caroline Heldman, a college professor who has worked with alleged victims of Bill Cosby and Weinstein. “It is an industry that, in many ways, looks more like the 1950s.”

Weinstein, who has taken a leave of absence from his company, attributed his alleged conduct to coming of age “in the ‘60s and 70s, when all of the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.” On Friday, his company’s board said it was investigating the allegations.

The New York Times reported that at least eight settlements had been paid to women who disclosed allegations of sexual harassment to Weinstein Co. or Miramax, the studio that Weinstein and his brother Bob built into a cultural juggernaut with such independent films such as “Pulp Fiction,” “Shakespeare in Love,” and “Chicago.” Weinstein, while on trips to Los Angeles and London, would summon young actresses or assistants to his hotel room, where he would request massages or invite women to watch him shower, the paper said.

Hollywood has long been tarnished with allegations of sexual harassment, dating to the silent film era when actor Roscoe Conkling “Fatty” Arbuckle faced charges in the rape and death of an actress. (Arbuckle was acquitted.) Other prominent stars and directors including Alfred Hitchcock, Marlon Brando and Arnold Schwarzenegger have been accused of inappropriate behavior.

Allegations of sexual misconduct have toppled other media figures, including Fox News architect Roger Ailes and host Bill O’Reilly, and Epic Records Chief Executive L.A. Reid. Scandals have also rocked beloved indie-film institutions, including L.A.’s nonprofit theater Cinefamily (where two leaders recently resigned) and indie-theater chain Alamo Drafthouse. All have denied wrongdoing.

Instead of expressing shock or even dismay, Hollywood insiders acknowledged that Weinstein’s behavior was an “open secret,” the fodder of gossip for decades.

Weinstein’s alleged behavior may have been enabled by Hollywood’s sometimes toxic workplace culture, which often tolerates — and in some cases, glorifies — an array of inappropriate, exploitative conduct. For lowly assistants hungry to get a foot in the door, long hours, demeaning job duties and the occasional cellphone-hurling boss are considered part of the job.

Being “volatile” or “hard-charging” can be a badge of honor, epitomized in such characters as Ari Gold, the rage-prone super-agent in the HBO series “Entourage.” The character was based on Ari Emanuel, now co-chief executive of one of the biggest talent agencies, William Morris Endeavor (and a Democratic fundraiser).

The sordid allegations against Weinstein put Hollywood and Democrats in an awkward spot.

Over the years, Weinstein has given generously to Democrats and liberal causes, contributing more than $600,000 to Democratic politicians and groups, according to federal records. He donated tens of thousands of dollars to the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Obama’s oldest daughter, Malia, worked as an intern for Weinstein Co. in New York last summer prior to enrolling at Harvard University. Weinstein also has contributed to the Clinton Foundation, whose website states that the producer provided well over $100,000 as of June.

Known as a “bundler,” Weinstein also used his vast connections to organize and collect checks from a wide swathe of donors. The mogul threw glamorous fundraisers for Clinton that raised millions for her presidential campaign and were attended by A-list celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lopez. One of the fundraisers was a Broadway musical concert last October that featured “Hamilton” composer Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Weinstein, in his statement, noted that last year he began organizing a $5-million foundation at USC to provide scholarships to women who want to direct films.

Conservatives, who have spent years chafing when Hollywood celebrities moralized about social causes, had a field day over the Weinstein scandal. “Waiting on the professional ‘pro-women’ outrage machine...Sexual Harassment Accusations Against Harvey Weinstein,” Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway wrote Friday morning on Twitter.

Others jumped on the details of Weinstein’s alleged behavior as evidence that the entertainment industry has a double standard when it comes to sexual harassment.

“Hollywood stood by and did nothing and continued to award this person, work with him and glorify him,” Alex Marlow, editor in chief of Breitbart News, said in an interview. The scandal could further erode Hollywood’s credibility with middle America, Marlow said. “While he was allegedly preying on vulnerable people, the whole town that virtue-signals about women’s rights and female empowerment stood silent.”

The Republican Party sent email blasts to members and the media naming Democrats who have accepted money from Weinstein.

Democrats quickly tried to distance themselves. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he would donate $14,200 — the amount that Weinstein contributed to him — to charities supporting women. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) confirmed that they will be donating money given to them by Weinstein to various charities. The amounts ranged from $2,700 to $7,800.

Some speculated the disclosures this week coincide with the weakening clout of Weinstein Co., which has delivered several box-office duds.

But culture is changing too. Women — aided by social media — have been more vocal in recent years, including stepping forward to accuse Bill Cosby of rape. Actress Ashley Judd made a thinly-veiled reference to Weinstein in a 2015 interview with Variety, without mentioning him by name. But this fall, she told her story to the New York Times, saying Weinstein lured her into a hotel room and asked her to watch him shower.

Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit in July 2016 against Ailes exposed a culture of powerful men demanding sexual favors from women, and might have emboldened women to speak out.

The Weinstein scandal received relatively little play Thursday evening on Fox News as the network focused mostly on the Las Vegas massacre. Fox News still is recovering from its own sexual harassment crisis involving O’Reilly and Ailes, who died in May.

Although Weinstein’s volatile behavior, including throwing tables at employees, was widely known, Hollywood was willing to tolerate him because he delivered high-quality films, Academy Awards and, most importantly, big profits.

"We’ve normalized this bad behavior and we rationalize it because 'look at the great contributions these guys are making,'" said Mark Lipton, who interviewed several of Weinstein's employees for his book, "Mean Men: The Perversion of America’s Self-Made Man."

But abuse, whether physical or sexual, "all goes back to power," Lipton said. "It’s acknowledging and recognizing there’s this huge power differential and taking advantage of it for one’s own needs."

Times staff writers Cathleen Decker, Ryan Faughnder and David Lauter contributed to this report.

meg.james@latimes.com

@MegJamesLAT

david.ng@latimes.com

meredith.blake@latimes.com

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