Assault, Pursue, Deflect: Lessons Learned From the Weinstein Institution
By LUANA DUMITRACHE | NOVEMBER 16, 2017
It’s the oldest trick in the book: Deflection.
You earn a bad grade on your math test, so you buy your mom chocolates. You lose your roommate’s sweater, so you spend hours begging her to recount the details of her Friday night date. You force someone to perform oral sex against their will in the middle of a hallway, so your public apology thirteen years later avows pending self-improvement and time in therapy.
Film producer and co-founder of Miramax Harvey Weinstein was a household name long before recent allegations of sexual assault made him justifiably infamous. Weinstein has been frequently praised for his many achievements including, among several others, a 1999 Academy Award and 2003 Golden Globe. He has also demonstrated avid support for liberal ideologies through generous donations to the Democratic party and Democratic National Committee. His name is associated with movies including Pulp Fiction, Shakespeare in Love, and August: Osage County. His reputation has jokingly been referred to as comparable only to that of God.
Unfortunately for Weinstein, extensive credits on IMDB have not stopped severe industry backlash following numerous accusations of sexual harassment and assault. Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, and Gwyneth Paltrow are just a few of the women that have made allegations. The list of women who have stepped forward following the New York Times’ initial coverage of Weinstein’s misconduct has grown extensively, spanning 64 women in total. The NYPD and Scotland Yard have launched ongoing investigations into Weinstein’s behavior. In addition to possible criminal charges and prosecution, Weinstein will likely face the revocation of several honors accumulated over the course of his career, including the French Legion d'Honneur and British title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
In a statement to the New York Times on October 5, Weinstein apologized to three decades’ worth of women who have stepped forward with sexual assault and harassment claims. He stated “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it. Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go. My journey now will be to learn about myself and to conquer my demons.”
Weinstein’s apology clearly reveals his blatant disregard for the emotional and psychological trauma his victims suffered as a consequence of his virulent sexual urges. Weinstein, having initially denied all charges directed at him, acknowledges the validity of some assault claims only while he continues to divert blame away from himself. He blames the culture of the 60s and 70s, where the “rules about behavior and workplaces were different.” He cites personal struggles with “inner demons” in a thinly-veiled attempt to lessen the gravity of his crimes by arousing sympathy. Weinstein’s behavior is unacceptable, even without the absurdity of his attempt to replace blame with pity. His apology, and alleged goals to “better himself,” showcase only the sentiments of a man egotistical enough to regret one thing: the consequences his actions have had for his own wealth and reputation.
In concluding his statement to the New York Times, Weinstein makes a final stab at diverting blame, describing future projects he intends to channel his energy into. He states, “One year ago, I began organizing a $5 million foundation to give scholarships to women directors at USC. While this might seem coincidental, it has been in the works for a year. It will be named after my mom and I won't disappoint her.” Weinstein’s hopeful expression that “actions will speak louder than [his] words” is ironic at best, and a pristine example of sheer manipulation at its worst. It is laughable, astonishing, and unsurprisingly egocentric that claims of sexual assault are deflected with a reference to a generous donation made to support women in the film industry. The concluding remark of Weinstein’s apology seeks to leave audiences with a glimmer of hope for the fallen mogul’s future character development, and distract from the magnitude of his crimes.
Good thing no one is falling for it.
After USC student Tiana Lowe started a Change.org petition calling for USC to reject what she called Weinstein’s “blood money,” the University issued a statement to the Hollywood Reporter stating, “The USC School of Cinematic Arts will not proceed with Mr. Weinstein’s pledge to fund a $5M endowment for women filmmakers.”
The insincerity of Weinstein’s apology statement is magnified by recent news revealing his persistent efforts to silence women and derail stories detailing his actions. A New Yorker article published November 6 discloses the nature of Weinstein’s business arrangements with a private intelligence company called Black Cube. It seems that as recently as the fall of 2016, Weinstein hired Black Cube and similar agencies to make sure the truth of his behavior would never see the light of a printing press. Actions truly do speak louder than words, but regrettably not to Harvey’s advantage.
Assuming fake identities, Black Cube employees engaged in espionage against many of Weinstein's accusers. Actress Rose McGowan, who publicly accused Weinstein of rape on October 12, was contacted and met several times with Diana Filip, a Black Cube agent claiming to be a women’s rights advocate. Unknown to McGowan, her conversations with Filip were recorded, contributing to hundreds of pages’ worth of transcripts delivered to Weinstein. The “primary objectives” detailed in his contract with Black Cube were to “prevent the publication of a new negative article in a leading NY newspaper” and “obtain content” of a book written by McGowan, which is set to be published in January. The article the contract refers to was published in the New York Times on October 5, detailing Weinstein’s many attempts to either pay off or intimidate his accusers into silence.
Black Cube and McGowan are just one example of numerous outreach efforts made to preserve Weinstein’s reputation, dating back much further than the fall of 2016. Dealings with corporate investigations firm Kroll enabled Weinstein to reach a settlement with Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, an Italian model who made sexual assault allegations after Weinstein reportedly groped her. Los-Angeles based firm PSOPS investigated women with possible stories on Weinstein, looking deep into their personal lives to find shreds of evidence that could be used to discredit negative claims. These companies pursued not only the women tied to Weinstein, but reporters working on stories with regard to him. Surveillance of reporters like David Carr, who was working on a Weinstein story as early as 2015, was meant to gain insight into information that may discredit them. These investigations were all equipped with a shared goal; stifle stories detailing Weinstein’s relations with women.
It is difficult to contest the veracity of every individual claim made against Weinstein. This has not discouraged some, including Woody Allen, to have joined him in attempting to divert blame. Allen, who has previously come under fire for sexual assault, cautioned against “witch hunts” of innocent men. Maybe Allen should stick to his own affairs –– like the one he had with former girlfriend Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter. A woman 35 years his junior, Soon-Yi Previn married Allen as soon as she came of age. Yet despite every resistance that Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, James Toback, Mark Halperin, Donald Trump, and a dizzying list of others have mounted against women who have wanted to make their voices heard, here we are: A Google search for the mere words “witch hunt” elicits a slew of articles wittingly retorting Allen’s unnecessary warning. A North Coast Journal article graciously enlists to help men avoid witch hunts by advising, “Whenever possible, avoid attending meetings in your bathrobe or, you know, naked.” A new narrative seems to be emerging with regard to women and sexual assault. Harvey missed the wave of well-intentioned but misinformed masses ready to ask, “But what was she wearing?” at the mention of any man’s alleged misconduct.
The sheer force with which Weinstein’s downward spiral has proceeded, regardless of the wealth of time and money he invested in the interest of preventing it, is as remarkable as it is rousing. From the social media explosion of the hashtag #MeToo, marches on Hollywood Boulevard, and the continued revelations of women against men in positions of intimidating reputation, something amazing is rising from the ashes of lies men like Weinstein have left in their wake. It remains to be seen whether this moment of hope for a more united commitment to honest discourse, security of women's rights, and justice in the face of crime will finally lead to tangible change. Like the outrage and mourning that follows every widely publicized mass shooting but somehow falls short of enacting significant policy changes on the issue, the stories of women stepping forward need to be regarded as a catalyst for necessary action. The discord between tragedies should be cumulative; instead, we decide there is no point in wasting attention on the gaps between them. It's time to pay attention. A chance to shift a paradigm of society has been given to women and men alike.
This time, it will not be wasted.