By: Hanna Mullen & Kathryn Barrett
Harvey Weinstein was a famous film producer who’s time in the spotlight was thankfully cut short due to the numerous women who chose to speak up and report allegations of sexual abuse/manipulation against him back in 2017. There has been a clear issue in the film industry that screams patriarchy. This scandal sparked millions of women to out their abusers, many of whom were very influential men. This act of outing powerful men for the sexual abusers they are has come to be called The Weinstein Effect, which essentially sparked a huge flame into the fourth wave of feminism. Let’s explore how the many “Harvey Weinsteins” have dominated the film industry and diminished women along the way.
Image 1: Vanity Fair
In conversation with the film industry, it’s evident that behind the scenes, men are easily and naturally given a powerful seat and obtain most control when it comes to filmmaking. Not only has this resulted in a power imbalance between men and women, causing a lack of female movie directors, but this has created a hostile environment where women don’t feel comfortable working. More so women have a harder time advancing in this male dominated field. The little percentage of women that do get to advance are often sexually abused/manipulated in order to do so by men who hold this power. These men then make their victims feel as if they owe their success to them. In this essay, we will argue how this power imbalance in the film industry is, “enabled by institutional structures and empowered by cultural norms,” resulting in men like Harvey Winstein to feel more entitled with getting away with sexual harassment…which has inevitably led to an influx of female participation in the fourth wave of feminism (Fortmueller).
Image 2: Google
There has never been a time where the film industry wasn’t a male dominated field. Starting from the starring roles to the supporting cast and behind the scenes, men are single-handedly given more opportunities. When we take a look at what Google finds as the greatest film directors, only 1 of the top 10 directors that come up are women. There are several reasons why we see this. Because of mythical norms that men are stronger and better suited to be in charge, we see a rise in men on set and behind set. With men in charge, comes men who feel entitled enough to control all those on set, including women, which has caused distrust between women and their male counterparts. It makes it hard for women to not only work with men, but also climb the ladder to achieve and be trusted to take on such roles like directors.
Image 3: The Daily Dot
With distrust, comes lack of representation. When looking back at decades in the past, we’ve clearly made some progress. However, when it comes to even Hollywood’s biggest awards, we often see women not even honored as a recognized director in the hottest films. With men dominating the film industry like we saw in the Google search of “greatest film directors in the 21st century, it’s clear that film producers, press, & society are not doing enough to recognize the work being put in by women in the industry. This screenshot of Natalie Portman at the Golden Globe Awards in 2018. Although she did not want to discredit the work by the male nominees being honored in the director category, she felt that it was unfair to not recognize the lack of representation. Portman recalls an uncomfortable reaction that shifted the room into a slightly tense environment after she made the comment. In 2018, we started to see a rise in the Times Up movement so why should women bend in order to make men feel comfortable when it doesn’t benefit them?
Image 4: Cosmopolitan
Without making things uncomfortable, how will things change? Above we see a graphic that displays twelve of the top one hundred leading actors in Hollywood who have only worked with women directors FOUR times. When you do the math for these leading men, the percentages come out to about 4% to 14% of the movies each leading man has worked for that has involved a woman director. With leading actors in Hollywood gravitating towards men directors, there is less opportunity for recognition when it comes to audiences gravitating towards the most well-known actors. As we’ve learned, audiences tend to favor male actors as the leading roles in movies, but we can’t help but think that this is because it’s all that audiences are used to.
Image 5: USA Today
To shed more light on this issue, the image above is from a study done by USA Today. They claim more than 94% of women have experienced some form of sexual misconduct in the film industry. 94%. In the case with Weinstien, one wonders how he was able to contribute to such a high percentage and get away with his perversions for over 4 decades, without getting caught? It’s simple. Hollywood is “dominated by an elite group of male power players,” where “only nepotism can lead aspiring artists to fame and fortune” (Khorasani pp 115). That is why so many of the women Weinstein abused chose to stay quiet for so long. Not only was a job with Mr. Weinstein a “privileged perch at the nexus of money, fame and art,” but many women feared “retaliation” and losing their jobs. More so, Weinstein was powerful and rich enough to “buy his victims’ silence with settlements and nondisclosure agreements” (Khorasani pp 118). This is where we, as a society, must take a look at Hollywood’s history and discover why it has “historically bred a culture of sexual harassment and inequality” (Khorasani pp 115). This type of vast power imbalance between gatekeepers and those desperately trying to make it in such an elusive industry, contributes to the toxic masculinity cycle that is the Hollywood system. It begins with the lack of female movie directors behind the scenes. We live in such a progressive era, where it’s time women are taken more seriously and given a chance to share their perspective of reality. This sharing of perspective can then make men in this industry feel more empathetic towards women’s struggle for equality in such a male dominated field. All it takes is empathy. This could be the key to overcoming this power imbalance in Hollywood and put a complete stop to the breeding of such men like Harvey Weinstein all together.
Image 6: Time’s Up
However, it’s easier said than done. The #MeToo movement was in response to the Weinstein allegations and created a safe space for survivors of sexual misconduct to come forward and out their abusers. Although this was/is a very impactful movement for survivors, it did/does little to nothing with action against sexual misconduct. That’s why the #Time’sUp movement sprang into fruition. This movement was created by Hollywood celebrities in response to the #MeToo movement. It’s a “new approach to addressing some of the systemic challenges of Hollywood,” by taking a more “forceful position against harassment and bias” (Fortmueller). Now that women have made their voices heard, they’re turning that “pain into action” (Time’s Up.) Whether it be the creation of GoFundMe campaigns in order to raise money for victims or demanding legal change, this movement proves how far females have come with making their voices heard and actually confronting an industry that has belittled, degraded and kept them silenced for so long. This power imbalance has enabled men like Weinstein to get away with sexual abuse/manipulation for far too long. Women have finally had enough. They are angry and demand justice.
Image 7: New York Times
Half the Picture is a documentary directed by female filmmaker, Amy Adrion. This documentary talks about the very few female directors in Hollywood, their struggles in such a male dominated industry and their hopes for changing hostile Hollywood into a safer place for females to have an equal chance to work/advance in. Women directors, like Gina Prince By-the-Wood, understand that the lack of female film directors is a major reason for the power imbalance in the film industry. Men aren’t giving women a chance to share their perspective of reality. They aren’t being exposed to womens’ point of view. They don’t understand our struggles ,therefore they can’t have any empathy towards us. This causes them to be more aggressive or feel more entitled with abusing the power they’re naturally given and sexually abuse/manipulate women because they know they won’t be held accountable. Half the Picture laid the foundation for women to confront and act on such gender injustices they face in the industry. It inspires female film directors to not be afraid of entering such a male dominated space, to have the strength they need in order to confront men like Weinstein, to make their voices heard unapologetically.
Image 8: Youtube
In addition, there are more and more female filmmakers creating content that calls out sexually abusing men, like Weinstein, in the film industry. This image is referring to the short sketch called Last F**kable Day on comedy central, directed by female filmmaker Nicole Holofcener. The sketch sarcastically sheds light on men like Weinstein in the industry and the way they objectify women, deciding when they should retire from the film industry due to them not being “f**kable anymore” (Last). The fact that this sketch was directed by a female, with an entire female cast proves how women are not afraid to be on the same playing field as men. The sarcastic tone throughout the sketch is subtly hinting at all the anger that is pent up in women fighting for justice in the workplace. These female film directors and women participating in this fourth wave of feminism are not backing down and are growing stronger and stronger everyday when it comes to standing up for women’s rights.
Image 9: The New York Times
As men have dominated the roles of leading characters, producing roles, writers, directors, and many other behind the scenes positions, it’s rare to see women at the forefront of an entire film. Women have worked hard to get past the Harvey Weinsteins in the industry who told them that they could never make it further without the help of a man and rewarding him along the way. Cathy Yan, director, stands with two leading female actors, Margot Robbie & Rosie Pereze. Yan describes how she tried to rid of the male gaze by showing how you can have risqué scenes while also protecting female actresses. Yan discussed with the New York Times about a scene where a female character had to dance on a table for a billionaire and strip. Yan strayed away from allowing the camera to make women feel vulnerable and keeping the lens focused on her face. Yan rejects the male gaze and shows all directors and filmmakers that you can have certain types of scenes in movies without objectifying the women behind the lens. It’s people like Yan who are breaking barriers by not only surpassing the male trenches of the film industry but also she empowers women by allowing them to act in their own skin without losing themselves as many have before due to the patriarchy behind the scenes.
In conclusion, there have been many obstacles women have had to overcome and will have to continue to do so. From the beginning of filmmaking we’ve seen an extreme imbalance in men and women behind the scenes and in front of the lens. Women have worked hard to create a more equal industry, but men in power like Harvey Weinstein have made it a lot harder to power through the unequal opportunities and treatment. With statistics like 94% of women in the film industry experiencing sexual misconduct to men choosing to work with men over women directors, it’s a steep slope for women who are trying to surpass the odds set in front of them. The inequality in the film industry not only sparked an influx in the fourth feminist movement, but introduced movements like “Time’s Up” and “Me Too”. While these movements and protests have not solved any issues, it’s brought the issues of inequality and sexual misconduct to the forefront of the film industry that cannot be ignored. Women have challenged ideas that have been applied before them and have shown audiences that you don’t have to objectify women by showing their body in a vulnerable way, but rather to show that there is a way to convey messages without doing so. While men like Harvey Weinstein have used their power to control women around them in the industry, women can no longer stay silent. In fact, they call a wrap on this treatment.
Khorasani, Sara. Harvey of Hollywood: The Face that Launched a Thousand Stories, 41 HastingsComm. & Ent. L.J. 103 (2019). https://repository.uchastings.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1804&context=hastings_comm_ent_law_journal