Sexual predators in the movie business (and elsewhere) are finally getting the attention they deserve…as opposed to the attention they want.
The Harvey Weinstein scandal has punched a hole in the culture and let some light in. For the moment at least, the entertainment industry isn’t safe for sexual predators. In addition to Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Richard Dreyfuss, Dustin Hoffman, and even George Takei have been accused of sexual assault and may no longer have careers. (I understand that this problem exists outside of the entertainment industry, but I’m concentrating on filmmakers here).
But what obligations do filmgoers have? Should we boycott new movies made by sexual predators? Seems reasonable. But is it still okay to watch the many excellent films that came out of Miramax and The Weinstein Company over the years? What about older movies? Can we still enjoy Jaws and Annie Hall, despite Dreyfuss’s and Woody Allen’s private behavior? If we do so, are we – as Sarah Silverman so delicately put it – ignoring the elephant masturbating in the room?
To be honest, I really don’t have an answer. I know people who refuse to see Woody Allen movies, and while I still watch them, I respect and understand these peoples’ position. But Annie Hall is a masterpiece, and masterpieces should be seen. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be upset if Allen was never allowed to make another movie.
This sort of behavior has been rampant in the film business since before the studios migrated to Hollywood. After all, it’s an industry that trades on sexual fantasy. Exceptionally attractive young people come to town and try to compete for a very few jobs. That’s a honeypot for powerfully-placed sexual predators.
When Darryl F. Zanuck ran 20th-Century Fox, he would take a 4:00 sex break every day, and it wasn’t with his wife. According to Shirley Temple, the great MGM producer Arthur Freed flashed his penis at her (she laughed). Marilyn Monroe described Hollywood as “an overcrowded brothel, a merry-go-round with beds for horses.” Director George Cukor wasn’t sexually interested in women, but he gave more close-ups to male extras who pleased him.
Charlie Chaplin, still one of the most beloved and respected filmmakers of all time, got an underage girl pregnant. He avoided a statutory rape charge by marrying her. They divorced a few years later, and it happened again with another underage girl.
And not all abuse was sexual. On nearly every film he directed, John Ford would pick one relatively inexperienced male actor and make the shoot a living hell for the poor guy. Ford would yell at him, criticize everything he did, and insult him in front of his peers.
Great artists can be horrible people. Calling out their vile behavior is good for the art, the industry, and the human race. But I’m not sure we should stop seeing their works because of it.