The Motion Picture Academy wasted no time in giving the boot to much disgraced, one-time film big shot Harvey Weinstein. It’s only the second time in the 90-year history of the organization that it has expelled a member. This might not be the end of the story for the Academy. The Weinstein expulsion raises several troubling questions. The first is the Academy’s own reason for kicking Weinstein out. He represents, so it said, what’s “repugnant, abhorrent and antithetical to the high standards of the Academy and the creative community it represents.”
That’s a noble statement. And few would argue that Weinstein’s two-decade sexual predator rampage more than qualified him for the ax. The problem with this, actually two problems with this, is that Weinstein could not have committed his long reign of sexual terrorism without a well-heeled and well-placed stable of enablers, fellow producers, directors, actors and actresses, agents, film industry and studio officials, attorneys, Miramax and maybe even Disney officials and most troubling, the victims themselves who either were brow-beaten into silence or took cash from Weinstein for their silence. The other part of the Academy’s noble statement that’s bothersome is that the Academy’s words, “repugnant,” “abhorrent” and “antithetical” to what’s generally considered accepted moral and ethical standards of behavior could be applied to legions of film industry notables.
The two names that immediately sprung to everyone lips after Weinstein’s ouster were Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski. Cosby is just as disgraced as Weinstein. And in some ways maybe even more so. He’s been charged and tried for sexual crimes. He has not been convicted. But he has not been acquitted either. Beyond that there’s his own sworn affidavit that he drugged and sexually violated at least one woman. Dozens more claim the same about him. Polanski is not just disgraced, but a long-standing fugitive from the country for a rape charge.
Two possible law breakers, two accused sexual predators, and both remain Academy members. There almost certainly will be no move made by the Academy to expel them. Weinstein has got to feel looking at them, just me too? The Academy didn’t stop with its lofty words about enforcing high moral standards in the film industry. It went further and loudly declared that booting out Weinstein sends the strong message that the Academy has zero tolerance for sexual victimization.
This is a message that needs to be sent. However, the two problems with this is that with Cosby, Polanski, and packs of other film industry sexual victimizers, it’s a message that should have been sent years ago. The other problem is: can one really believe that Hollywood will police itself when it comes to cracking down on sexual predators. And, just how will it do that?
Weinstein was a soft target. His fingerprint has been all over the film industry in the last two decades. Some of the biggest female film stars have publicly lambasted him and accused him of sexually hectoring them. His real and alleged sexual transgressions dominated the news cycle for more than a week. This effectively made him the perfect sacrificial lamb.
But, he’s the rare exception, and it’s likely to stay that way. The Academy hinted as much when several unidentified members said that the decision to expel one of their own was a tough one. They were concerned that it might set a dangerous precedent and leave the organization wide open to the expectation that it will be the morals policeman for the industry. There is also concern that member expulsions for alleged sexual or moral lapses could infringe on privacy and first amendment protections. These are reasons the Academy in its long history has protected, covered up, winked and nodded at, but always maintained a rigid hands-off policy toward some of the most outrageous sexual behavior by industry insiders.
The film business has prided itself on being on the cutting edge of culture and art, and creativity. A big part of its cultural laissez faire in recent times has been an open, or at least, non-judgmental attitude toward sex. The stories about women trying to make it in the industry having to bed down on a director or producer’s casting coach are legendary. Though Weinstein played fast and loose with those rules, he still had a virtual pass to sexually harass and proposition any and every woman he desired with no fear of reprimand. The same was true of Cosby and a host of other film industry icons. They all continued to work steadily in the industry and bagged many of the industry’s highest awards, prizes, honors, and praise.
The Weinstein saga, though, has cast the public’s glare on the ugly sexual predations in the film industry. And it forced Hollywood to do something this time around it refused to do in the past. That’s not look the other way at sexual victimization. That’s great, but there’s still Cosby and Polanski, and others.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. His latest book is, The Trump Challenge to Black America (Middle Passage Press) will be released in August. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.