The Critical Mass

Harvey Weinstein fooled me, too

Harvey Weinstein is the entertainment story of the moment, although it’s certainly not the kind of press he’s been accustomed to receiving over the years. One of the mighty has fallen. A front-page blockbuster story in The New York Times alleging you have sexually harassed, and even assaulted women, can do that.

Sometimes.

Weinstein has been perhaps the biggest name in the entertainment industry for a few decades. A producer of film and theater. I interviewed him a year ago, as a road production of Finding Neverland, which he’d been involved with as both a film and movie, was coming to Rochester. I dug out the notes I’d taken from our conversation. He’d been heavily involved in the development of the show from the beginning, and was eager for people to understand the changes that had been made since its debut. “It’s more fun,” Weinstein said. “It deals with a great subject matter, and you walk out of the theater feeling stronger. We’ve added new songs, so the ending is really upbeat and fun and much more triumphant.”

That is the mission of this kind of entertainment, he said. “These are tough times in our country, economically, for a lot of people. When they see Finding Neverland, the story of Peter Pan, families walk out of the show so happy. And that makes me happy.”

I’m sure he is right, although big-time Broadway musicals are not my thing. Once we’d dispensed with the chatter about Peter Pan creator John Barrie, who was a peculiar fellow, we moved on to what I was really interested in hearing about. The intersection of entertainment, politics and social issues.

Weinstein walked that none-too-subtle line of family entertainment and addressing challenging issues. On both fronts, he moved in hefty celebrity circles. And the entertainers were not always singing about little boys who can fly.

Weinstein was calling from his Manhattan office, ebullient over the previous evening’s benefit for Hillary Clinton, which he co-produced. Was he the liberal entertainment elite we’ve been warned of?

“This is what we do, speak as citizens,” Weinstein said. He has been speaking out for years on AIDS, juvenile diabetes, gun control, universal health care, poverty and multiple sclerosis research. Weinstein also produced the acclaimed 2014 film The Imitation Game, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, who broke the German Enigma code machine during World War II, and then as a gay man was persecuted by the British government. As I had just watched the film, which is awash in socially-conscious messages still relevant to today, I asked Weinstein about it.

“Thirty-nine thousand British men or women who were criminalized as homosexual, between 1900 to World War II,” he said. “And were still criminalized as of the movie’s release.

“Benedict Cumberbatch and I talked about it, the importance of it. And it led to a movement to de-criminalize those people.” In fact, Weinstein helped to lead that campaign to pardon gay men convicted under the same law that had resulted in Turing’s chemical castration.

Filmgoers seek out such message films because, Weinstein said, “They want to know the truth.”

I asked Weinstein, what motivated him to take the lead on social issues?

“My dad,” he said. “He was a GI in World War II, he saw active combat. He always said that without the GI Bill, neither my brother or I would have been able to go to college.  That’s the importance of the government setting up services to help people.

“When my Dad passed away, I went to a theater and saw An American in Paris. That helped me get through a tough time.”

So I ended up liking the guy. But he didn’t scream at me, call me a fucker, push me into a wall, threaten he was going to ruin my career. Nor did he invite me to his hotel room, expose himself to me and masturbate into a potted plant. All things that, over the past week, he’s been accused of doing.

And it keeps getting worse. Weinstein has admitted to much of this astoundingly bad behavior, although not the assault and rape allegations. The first lawyer that he had retained as the charges were becoming public knowledge suggested that Weinstein was simply a dinosaur acting as men did a few decades ago, and was still learning how to behave in the 21st century.

That’s a pretty astounding piece of logic. Apparently young women who want to work in the entertainment industry have to put up with the slow learning curve of men such as Weinstein. And that excuse also defies common sense. As the head of a vast entertainment conglomerate, Weinstein can’t operate from the past. He not only has to know what’s happening now, he has to anticipate what people will want in 2019.

So Weinstein fooled me. Get in line. I interviewed Bill Cosby a year or two before the rape allegations against him emerged. I had no idea. Years ago, I was fond of a literate, socially liberal band called Moxy Fruvous. I interviewed its frontman, Jian Ghomeshi, who went on to become a well-known Canadian broadcaster, until more than 20 women accused him of slapping, punching, biting, choking or smothering them.

Ghomeshi was acquitted in the 2014 trial on charges brought by three of the women, although there was a stipulation that he had to apologize to one of his accusers. Cosby’s sexual assault trial this summer ended in a mistrial. The investigation into the Weinstein allegations has just begun.

So now we have questions to ponder.

One, how did Weinstein get away with it for so long? Who stayed silent, when they should have spoken out?

And two, if you want to use them as Exhibits A, B and C of liberals being just as capable of egregious behavior as anyone else on the political spectrum, that’s fine. I’ve seen such talk on the internet.

I’m not too sure of Cosby’s politics; I know him as a guy who spoke often of the value of education, and scolded black teenagers for wearing saggy pants. Weinstein and Ghomeshi I took as progressive, forward-thinking men. But once we saw who these guys really were, all three of their careers, and their legacies, were ruined.

But we now have another one in the White House. One blockbuster story after another. A man who’s admitted to committing sexual assault, if you recall the infamous Access Hollywood tape: “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” A man whose own words and actions confirm he is racist, misogynist, bigot, business scam artist, ecology assassin and prodigious liar.

Shouldn’t the president of the United States be held to a higher standard than a guy who makes movies and Broadway shows about Peter Pan?

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