Rory Carroll in Los Angeles — The Guardian Nov 10, 2017
Week five of the great reckoning and Hollywood is frightened and lost, drifting deeper into uncharted waters with no script, no direction and no sense how it will end.
Scandal was always part of the entertainment industry, a ritualised process of rumours, denials and hush money, publicists and fixers, banishment and redemption.
But the vortex of sexual abuse allegations which started with Harvey Weinstein spins ever faster, whirling beyond control of the studios.
How do you contain a phenomenon which ricochets around the world – toppling a British cabinet minister and threatening a Republican Senate nominee, among others – and keeps returning to the entertainment industry, with the latest accusations against the comedian Louis CK?
How do you, or should you, separate art from the artist when Ridley Scott cuts Kevin Spacey’s scenes from his new film about the oil tycoon J Paul Getty and reshoots them with Christopher Plummer?
How do you campaign for awards when Weinstein’s fingerprints are everywhere and questions on the red carpet will not be who you’re wearing but what you knew and when?
And how do you blow the whistle on an abuser when despite the current catharsis you still fear for your career and reputation?
Anxiety pervades Hollywood, said Sasha Stone, founder of the website Awards Daily. “There’s a lot of nervousness. People don’t know where this is going. Everybody is asking who will be next. Publicists are paid to keep stories down and control the message but now they’re in a situation where the truth comes out faster than they can control the message. It’s like gasoline, as soon as a story breaks, whoosh.”
Immolated, too, is Hollywood’s sense of itself as a progressive beacon. Weinstein, who backed Hillary Clinton and offered to fund women directors, reportedly hired private investigators, including ex-Mossad agents, to spy on and intimidate his accusers. Police in the US and UK are investigating allegations he raped and assaulted multiple women.
Meanwhile many viewed CK, the Emmy-winning comedian, as something of a feminist but on Thursday the New York Times reported that he allegedly masturbated in front of at least two female comics. His production company cancelled the New York premiere of his new film, I Love You, Daddy, about a television writer whose 17-year-old daughter is seduced by an older movie producer who is rumored to be a pedophile.
Off-screen, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) launched an investigation into Corey Feldman’s claims about a pedophile ring while LA prosecutors have formed a special Hollywood sexual assault task force. Los Angeles still had palm trees and balmy November sunshine, but to many in Hollywood, it seemed an unfamiliar land where money, power and big-hitting lawyers now count for little.
Some media outlets and websites have run stories based on social media postings with negligible efforts to verify them. “Convicted by Twitter. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said the lawyer for one accused director. The actors Charlie Sheen and Ed Westwick issued vehement denials in response to separate allegations.
“Everyone is a suspect”, said the tagline on billboards for Murder on the Orient Express, inadvertently capturing a febrile atmosphere in which accusers, accused and witnesses all feel pressure.
“It’s a very strange world we’ve entered,” said Michèle Burke, who has won two Oscars for makeup. She welcomed the outpouring of stories as an overdue response to the casting couch culture but expressed unease at the velocity. “It’s really great that people are speaking up. But it’s like medieval times, dragging people out and throwing rotten fruit. There has to be some due process also.”
Anne Helen Petersen, author Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema, said: “I think there are many people – mostly men – who are very scared of what may or may not come out about them.”
From afar it may seem Hollywood rings with denunciations. In reality, there is a hush.
“It would be the end of my career,” a junior executive told the Guardian after declining to go on the record about a former boss’s harassment. “I’ve discussed this with colleagues. We’re all amazed he hasn’t been outed. But no one wants to be the first to go public.” Half a dozen others – executives, actors, writers and crew members – with allegations against other industry figures echoed the sentiment.
Actors such as Rose McGowan, who came forward to publicly accuse Weinstein, are a small, brave minority, said Sam Asi, a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which runs the Golden Globes.
“It’s fear – fear is everywhere.” It was fear of damaging your career – “if you want to survive in Hollywood you don’t want to be known as a troublemaker” – and fear of offending the internet outrage machine said Asi. “Famous people have to measure every word. You can’t predict how the public or social media may react. Silence is the best protection, your best shield.”
There is fear even of acknowledging the fear. Several industry figures compared the climate to a witch-hunt, another called it Robespierre-style terror, but they declined to be named lest they be seen as insufficiently sympathetic to victims.
It will make for a fraught awards season, said Stone, the blogger. “Publicists are keeping their people quieter than usual, there’s not as much access.”
Hollywood’s newest art form: lying low and saying little in the age of standing up and speaking out.