Gold Standard

Harvey Weinstein's legacy: A first step to removing the industry's systemic sexism

The first time I met Harvey Weinstein he called me an idiot in front of a theater full of people. The last time I spoke to him he told me he knew who my enemies were and threatened to give me to them on a “dish served cold” so they could carve me up “like turkey on Thanksgiving.”

In the intervening 16 years, there were phone calls and emails, messages delivered by intermediaries, occasionally complimentary, mostly complaining about something I had written about one of his movies during awards season.

And now he’s gone, fired from the company he co-founded, in the wake of reports that he sexually assaulted and harassed women for decades.

The allegations, published in the New York Times and the New Yorker, including specific claims of rape and behavior patterns of Weinstein using his position as a heavyweight producer to make sexual advances to countless women while Weinstein Co. executives looked the other way.

The New Yorker report also contained a chilling audio recording captured during a New York Police Department sting operation in 2015 in which Weinstein admits to groping model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, describing it as behavior he is “used to.” That investigation was later dropped.

Because my dealings across the coast with Weinstein were usually conducted by phone and always narrowly focused on the films and actors he was pushing in Oscar races, I never heard these ugly stories. I can’t say my ignorance isn’t sobering.

If you were a woman working for or meeting with Weinstein, you had to know. It was a matter of survival. Women employed by Weinstein would offer each other advice. Wear a parka if he wants to meet with you as a barrier against unwelcome advances. Double up if he asks for a solo meeting. Emily Nestor, one of many women who alleged that she was harassed at the company in the New Yorker story, said the mistreatment of women was a perpetual problem within Weinstein’s New York offices.

That all these women feared speaking out, dreading the embarrassment, retaliation and ruin that would follow, isn’t surprising — just profoundly depressing. Women have to put up with this garbage in every line of work.

In his clueless apology, Weinstein blamed coming of age in the ’60s and ’70s when “all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”

And that is also the culture now.

Weinstein wasn’t fired because of his behavior. The company’s all-male board fired him because his behavior became public and, thus, bad for business.

If you’re a woman and you bravely speak out about this kind of awful conduct, it’s guaranteed that a chorus of male naysayers will lecture you, belittle you and call you a liar. If you have the stomach for it, simply do a Twitter search, plugging in the names of Weinstein’s accusers. The hatred is sickening.

When Meryl Streep issued a statement calling Weinstein’s behavior inexcusable and saying she wasn’t aware of the offenses, she was derided for acting too late and castigated for claiming not to know. “Meryl Streep’s statement is a self-serving exoneration of Hollywood,” a Daily Beast editor huffed on social media.

Here’s the thing: This isn’t about Meryl Streep. Or Ashley Judd. Or Rose McGowan. Or Asia Argento. Or Kate Beckinsale. Or any of the other women who have called out Weinstein and the industry’s mistreatment of women.

It’s about Harvey Weinstein and the countless men like him in the entertainment industry. It’s about systemic sexism. It’s about the criminal abuse of power. It’s about sexual assault. It’s about enabling and shielding predators with silence and shrugs. It’s about leading someone to believe you’re interested in them as a human being, as was the case with Weinstein and television reporter Lauren Sivan, and then, minutes later, unzipping your pants, masturbating and ejaculating into a potted plant.

If you’re a man, you simply take it for granted that you won’t have to watch someone spill his seed in a succulent. The first time I met Weinstein was also at a restaurant, along with my colleague at the time, film critic Bob Strauss. Weinstein’s first wife, Eve, joined us. His fly stayed closed.

Weinstein was upset because I had written a couple of stories deriding “Chocolat,” suggesting it had no business in that year’s best picture race.

After a glass of wine, we walked over to a Westwood theater showing his movie. When the credits finished rolling, he introduced himself to the surprised audience, asking if they enjoyed “Chocolat” and wondering whether they thought it was a worthy best-picture nominee. “These guys here say it isn’t,” Weinstein grumbled, pointing at Bob and me. It was a stunt. It was (sort of) good-natured. I left with a story to tell.

After that, I’d hear from him or his intermediaries annually. One year, his office called several times while I was out with my family celebrating my son’s birthday. He was nothing if not persistent. I can’t even remember the nature of that particular gripe.

Last year, I called Weinstein to ask what was going on with “The Founder,” a movie that kept shifting its release date. After a few minutes, the conversation took a darker turn. Times film critic Justin Chang had written that Weinstein had “mishandled” the film’s promotion and distribution,” a criticism that riled him, leading Weinstein to bring up many perceived slights I had written about him over the years, threaten to pull advertising from the L.A. Times and, yes, ruin my career.

“I know how to make you personally look like ...,” Weinstein said. “And I’m not going to do it. Just because you do it to me doesn’t mean I’ll do it to you. I refuse. I just want you to know that I can, but I choose not to.”

But if he did decide to do it, Weinstein added, he wanted to make something clear. “Remember one thing about Harvey Weinstein: I am covered everywhere on the globe.”

The exchange checked off all the bullying boxes — a little unhinged, a little delusional, wholly coercive, a belief that he holds all the cards and you’re at his benevolent mercy. An insignificant glimpse into his abusive methodology, incomparable to the abuse and harassment he inflicted on so many women.

But he was right about one thing. As we’re seeing, he is covered everywhere on the globe.

As we ponder his legacy, we know it won’t be about the Oscars or changing American independent cinema.

But it might eventually be seen as the first step toward removing the cancerous misogyny residing inside the entertainment industry and, yes, society. Because Weinstein’s behavior isn’t an aberration. It exists everywhere. And it’s time to start opening our eyes and speaking out when we see men abusing their power — and applaud those brave enough to refuse to be intimidated. It’s time to put a full stop on this ugliness.

glenn.whipp@latimes.com

Twitter: @glennwhipp

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