Harvey Weinstein’s spectacular plunge into disgrace has been astounding to watch. Not only has a who’s who of Hollywood denounced him, but his company has fired him, his brother called him a “sick man” and a “liar” and his wife left him. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts suspended his membership, USC turned down a $5-million gift from him and the British government may strip him of an honorary order of chivalry.
The rejection that may hurt the most, however, could come Saturday, when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ Board of Governors meets to consider whether to revoke the film producer’s membership. The organization released a statement this week calling the sexual harassment and sexual assaults he has been accused of “repugnant, abhorrent, and antithetical to the high standards of the Academy and the creative community it represents.”
If half the stories about Weinstein are true, the academy’s statement is entirely justified. And if, as a result, the organization wants to boot him from its ranks, it should by all means do so. In our view, the speed and fury with which the Hollywood community has repudiated Weinstein in recent days has been a good thing, sending a strong message to others that sexual harassment and sexual assault are corrosive and unacceptable.
But academy members also should move forward thoughtfully. If they’re going to oust Weinstein because his behavior is what they call “antithetical to the high standards of the Academy,” then why have they allowed Roman Polanski to be a member — and why did they give an Oscar to him in 2003 — even though he is a fugitive who fled the country to avoid more jail time for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl? And where were the emergency meetings to discuss Bill Cosby, who is also a member of the academy and who is awaiting a retrial for sexual assault — and has faced dozens of allegations at least as horrifying as the accusations made against Weinstein.
The behavior of which Weinstein has been accused is deplorable, but if the academy is going to begin policing its members to make sure they meet its “standards,” it needs to think about what those standards are and apply them consistently. Any industry group should be able to establish a code of conduct for its members and be allowed to enforce that code, but fairness requires that it not be used selectively or capriciously or only when headlines are swirling and outrage is in the air.
We’d like to believe that the industry (and, frankly, society) is turning a corner. But expelling Harvey Weinstein from the academy has value only if it is backed by a real commitment to change.
The academy, the studios, the stars and the rest of the industry need to make it clear that even after Weinstein slinks away, they will stay focused on this. There needs to be a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault and sexual harassment. That, in turn, will be more achievable only when there are more women in leadership positions — meaning executives, producers, directors. (The Weinstein Co.’s board was all male.) Maybe someone should step forward to replace the $5 million Weinstein was going to give USC to train female directors. Also, there should be fewer nondisclosure agreements that prohibit people from speaking up about sexual misconduct. And there should be more ethical corporate leaders who are willing to confront problems head on, rather than just buying the silence of accusers.
Blame Harvey Weinstein, by all means. But don’t stop there.