The XX Factor

Should Celebrities Be Obligated to Disavow Harvey Weinstein?

Weinstein with Aziz Ansari and Netflix’s VP of original series Cindy Holland.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Netflix

Since the New York Times published a piece on the decades of sexual-harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein on Thursday, the entertainment industry has been quick to respond. New accusations surfaced from a TV journalist, a model, and an actress who was just 18 when Weinstein allegedly had her audition for him while he was wearing nothing but a dressing gown. Weinstein’s lawyer, Lisa Bloom, quit her post, and the board of directors of his own company terminated his employment.

But for several news outlets, some industry bigwigs aren’t moving fast enough. “Only One Of Hollywood’s 25 Highest-Earning Stars Has Commented on Harvey Weinstein,” LAist claimed in a Monday piece. (That one was Mark Ruffalo, who declined to comment beyond a tweet about Weinstein’s “disgusting abuse of power.”) Both LAist and the Guardian contacted press representatives for several big-name actors and directors to see if they’d renounce Weinstein on the record. Few responded.

This angle mirrors a piece BuzzFeed published after the most recent sexual-abuse allegations against R. Kelly. The article was a simple list of 43 artists who’d worked with Kelly in the past and who BuzzFeed asked for comment about his alleged history of sexual manipulation. Unsurprisingly, none obliged. Celebrities are loath to comment on controversial topics that don’t directly concern them, especially when given just a day or two to respond.

Still, some people believe people in positions of power have a responsibility to make public statements against contemporaries who’ve done bad things. “Why are they being silent? What do they have to hide?” Zoe Brock, one of Weinstein’s accusers, asked the Guardian of entertainment-industry men who haven’t tweeted or spoken on the record about the explosive stories. The news outlet name-checks Michael Moore, Quentin Tarantino, and David O. Russell as men who’ve worked with Weinstein and have yet to say that his alleged abuses are wrong. (Russell, for what it’s worth, has admitted to groping his teenage niece.) As the public becomes more attuned to—and likely to believe—allegations of sexual assault against wealthy, powerful men, should other wealthy, powerful men and women be obliged to speak up, and face public condemnation if they don’t?

It’s hard to come up with a universally applicable rule about how industry compatriots should treat accused sexual harassers. On one hand, it’s far easier for a star to whitewash his image if other widely beloved stars lend their names to his creative projects. If a major celebrity like Pharrell, for instance, were to publicly disavow former collaborator Kelly, fans would no longer be able to cast doubt on Kelly’s alleged crimes by virtue of his wholesome-seeming professional connections. On the other hand, asking every famous person to immediately affirm that yes, sexual abuse is wrong, every time a creep is exposed feels rather pointless, especially now that Weinstein has been fired and it seems clear that his star in Hollywood has dimmed. If the goal is to change the culture of Hollywood, forcing celebrities to avoid public censure by shooting off hastily composed tweets is not going to do much good. Letting them process the news and examine their own roles in enabling or ignoring the alleged abuse before responding—especially when the stories are rapidly unfolding, as Weinstein’s is—could yield a far more meaningful engagement with the allegations.

For some celebrities, the New York Times piece and the New Yorker article, which dropped on Tuesday, might have been the first they’d heard of specific allegations against Weinstein. All instances of sexual harassment and abuse are wrong and should constitute fireable offenses, but some people in Hollywood may have remained silent up until this point because there is, of course, a spectrum of misbehavior between “has a reputation for being a lecherous creep” and “is a known sex criminal.” Television writer Angelina Burnett made a good point in a recent Twitter thread in which she noted that some older, more experienced actresses may have been insulated from Weinstein’s abuses by their own power in the industry. As an example, Burnett invoked Meryl Streep, who claimed in a statement that though “not everybody knew” about Weinstein’s alleged actions, “the behavior is inexcusable, but the abuse of power familiar.”

The Daily Beast’s Justin Miller called Streep’s statement “a self-serving exoneration of Hollywood,” criticizing her for releasing her statement only after Weinstein was fired. “Let’s see if the YAS KWEEN army sees through it,” an apparent reference to Streep’s female fans that sounds like it could have been delivered by a Breitbart writer. If this is the first Streep is hearing of the allegations against Weinstein, what else might she have said? And if Streep had heard stories—as Kate Winslet, Jessica Chastain, and many others say they had—what might she have done? When Chastain said stories about Weinstein “were everywhere” in the industry, Twitter users chastised her for neglecting to make those stories public. It took decades for the best-connected news outlets in the business to put together two stories about Weinstein that were tight and well-documented enough to withstand potential legal challenges. How could an actress with her own career to consider possibly gather enough information to launch her own investigation and anti-Weinstein publicity campaign? Should she have shared the stories of survivors of sexual assault and harassment without their consent, or pressured them to go public? Of course not—but a public eager to understand a decadeslong pattern of manipulation needs to blame someone who will listen, and Weinstein is not that person.

There are people other than Weinstein who deserve some share of the blame for this well-secreted scourge on Hollywood, and they aren’t random actresses who have heard rumors about Weinstein or been victimized by his harassment. Matt Damon and Russell Crowe allegedly pressured a former New York Times reporter to kill a 2004 story about one of the men reportedly charged with procuring vulnerable young women for Weinstein. Agents and managers arranged meetings between Weinstein and their young clients when some likely knew that the women would be pressured into sex in exchange for career advancement. Miramax and Weinstein Company executives—many of them women—allegedly went along with Weinstein’s favorite scheme, wherein he lured a mark to a meeting with the assurance that a woman would be there, only to have that woman leave Weinstein and his potential victim alone. Bloom used her reputation as a feminist lawyer to help launder Weinstein’s stained reputation. The Weinstein Company’s board of directors knew about the repeated allegations against the guy and did nothing to keep their employees safe.

These are the people who should be made to answer for their complicity in Weinstein’s alleged crimes. They should bear the responsibility of funding a system through which people in the entertainment industry can anonymously report harassment and find others who’ve been abused by the same perpetrator. They traded their silence for money at the expense of women Weinstein targeted for their youth and relative lack of power. Their response to Weinstein’s long-deserved comeuppance matters far more than Meryl Streep’s.