Hollywood Was Complicit in Harvey Weinstein’s Abuse, and Now It Gets to Profit From It

With MeToo stories, Hollywood gets to have its cake and eat it too

Hollywood Was Complicit in Harvey Weinstein’s Abuse, and Now It Gets to Profit From It
Image:Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Hearst Magazines (Getty Images)

Deadline reported Monday that actresses Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan will portray New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor in a new movie chronicling how they broke the allegations that Harvey Weinstein had assaulted multiple actors over the last several decades. An adaptation of Twohey and Kantor’s best-selling book She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, the film is an opportunity to remind audiences of the immense labor Twohey and Kantor put into their enormous investigation, one which was often overshadowed and even erased by glowing, celebrity coverage of Ronan Farrow’s reporting at The New Yorker. But the investigation’s transformation from Pulitzer-prize winning journalism into Hollywood film feels slightly perverse given its subject matter: the complicity of Hollywood and the film industry in the abuse itself.

The stories of Weinstein’s abuse opened the floodgate for testimony about abuse in the entertainment industry. Suddenly, it wasn’t just Weinstein who was outed as a predator—it was beloved TV anchors, men responsible for programming at streaming services, protected comedians, record moguls, celebrity chefs. Although MeToo’s reckoning moved beyond actresses and artists as farmworkers, nurses, students, and Amazon workers spoke out against sexual assault and harassment in their fields, the focus of the movement still felt chained largely to the wealthiest women. While the movement emphasized the importance of sharing stories about gender-based violence, it was hard to ignore the increasing prevalence of the confessional “MeToo story” as a sensational product bound to celebrity. Stories accumulated in peaks and valleys, as men and their abuse were singled out as individual actors, often removed from their positions within systems that only supported their abuse.

Hollywood moved to capitalize on that product, as the real-life stories were dramatized in films and documentaries and MeToo became a handy marketing term, slapped onto projects without much coherent thought. Companies and critics began to flashily advertise nearly any post-2017 program that so much as touched the subject of women’s trauma and sexual abuse as emblematic of the movement. Documentaries like On the Record, Leaving Neverland, At the Heart of Gold, and Surviving R. Kelly expanded on previously published journalism and brought it to new audiences, but movies and TV shows like The Assistant and The Morning Show, fictionalized their source material like the Weinstein and Matt Lauer stories on-screen, the former focusing on rank-and-file workers and the latter focusing on celebrities. The 2019 film Bombshell about Roger Ailes’ sexual harassment starring Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman as Megan Kelly and Gretchen Carlson began development in 2017, just a year after Carlson filed her lawsuit against Ailes.

The film adaptation of She Said will be directed by Maria Schrader, who helmed the Emmy-winning show Unorthodox, and is written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz. It would be unfair to prematurely critique the movie’s realization of the Weinstein story before it even exists. But there is an unignorable kind of vulturism in how quickly the industry has turned real-life stories of abuse into movies and TV shows, a medium that more often than not dramatizes its source material, rendering reporters as beautiful superheroes. Directors, producers, and writers who abuse and harass women still work behind the scenes in the industry, while it presents a facade of reform to the public by putting out projects about abused women. Though it’s been nearly five years since the Weinstein story broke, a movie adaptation of the story feels misguided in a distinctly meta way; in making over the Weinstein story as a star-studded project, Hollywood, an industry that unequivocally allowed for Weinstein’s abuse, gets to have its cake and eat it too.

But then again journalism can fall prey to the same instincts as entertainment. Every other day a site like Jezebel covers stories of sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry, but also within franchises like McDonald’s, and it’s depressingly clear in the traffic what more people are quick to click on. The turnover of a work of journalism like the Weinstein story into feature film underlines the question of what such reporting should do, and whose gaze it should submit to. Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor’s reporting did what good reporting should do: it uncovered and exposed the decades-long abuse experienced by actresses at the hands of Hollywood’s most powerful producer, and it opened a continuing conversation about consent and harassment. Does a movie adaptation extend the life and impact of that reporting, or does it prematurely glamorize it through medium alone?

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