How Our Movie Habits Have To Change In A Post-Weinstein World

Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock.
On October 5, the New York Times published a bombshell exposé on Harvey Weinstein that hurled a meteor into the Hollywood establishment. Actresses, long silent on the subject of their harassment and abuse at the hands of film industry professionals, began speaking out — and have been speaking out since. So far, over 40 women have come forward with a harrowing story about Weinstein.
In the days that followed the Times article, Simona Kazinets, a senior at Baruch College and a self-professed movie buff, sat around the dinner table with her family and bemoaned the now-tainted Pulp Fiction, a family favorite and a movie that Weinstein produced while running Miramax in 1999.
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“How are we gonna watch this movie now?” they asked each other, now that they'd been made aware of grim circumstances behind the film's production. That Rosanna Arquette, one of the film's stars, was allegedly harassed by Weinstein. That Quentin Tarantino, the film's director, knew of Weinstein's behavior — and didn't do anything. That Weinstein may still be gaining profit from his old Miramax films.
Like Kazinets, I spent the week grappling with the realization that my favorite movies ever — Shakespeare in Love, Chocolat, Amélie, Cinema Paradiso — were all produced or distributed by Weinstein. The "art vs. the artist" – or in this case, the "art vs. the producer" — debate now encompasses so many favorites, not just Annie Hall. The irony that some of the most magical, beautiful films were created from such ugliness is not lost me, or likely, on any of us. When I think of Gwyneth Paltrow's performance in Shakespeare in Love, and her ensuing Oscar, I'll remember that Paltrow was one of the many actresses Weinstein is said to have invited to his hotel room. Is that all tainted now?
For Kazinets and Anna Lueck, a senior majoring in film and religion at Middlebury College, this scandal didn’t come as much of a surprise. Both women implied that while they’d previously sensed the system was rotten, their perception of the film industry is irrevocably different now that they’ve been presented with proof.
“It feels like a nail in a coffin. As a woman trying to enter the film industry, it’s something I feel very conscious of already,” Lueck said. “It drives me to be more active and more intentional about what I’m watching. I would say more guns blazing, ready to do something."
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But what can she do? How can all movie lovers continue to support an industry with this history of systemic abuse, extreme power imbalances, and gender inequality?
Well, the last thing we should do, says Cristina Escobar, communications director for the Representation Project, is wait around for the studios to change. We can't remain complacent, thinking our sentiments are shared all around. “The consumer absolutely has a role in making change. We can’t wait for the studios to make the difference. We have to be active as consumers,” she told Refinery29.
Industry experts like Escobar have many suggestions for how we can be responsible consumers in the post-Weinstein era, and the ways in which you can show your support for projects with women working both in front of and behind the camera. Sure, the industry has to change – but we have the power to make them speed up the process through our choices and where we choose to spend our money. As a first step, Escobar offered up a simple avenue for communicating to movie studios through your actions.
“The number-one thing I would say to do is to support projects that you hear of that are women-focused. Particularly women directors. That’s a lynchpin in terms of other decision makers. Go out and see movies directed by women, particularly on opening night of opening weekend, because that’s the one that matters in terms of how they count how successful a project is,” Escobar says. Simply put: See movies directed by women, in theaters, on opening weekend.
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When women show up to projects they're excited about, the box office statistics can speak for themselves. In June of 2017, Wonder Woman broke the record for the biggest box office opening for a film directed by a woman — and 52% of the audience was comprised of women, in a genre that typically sees audiences comprised of 60% men. June held another success for women in film. The first live-action comedy to break $100 million in 2017 was Girls Trip, which starred a cast of women. Between Girls Trip and Wonder Woman, women audiences powered the summer's major movie hits.
As Ramaa Mosley, CEO of a media company called Adolescent, told Refinery29 in an email, "We have tremendous power to move the needle within the studio by putting our dollars towards women-directed work."
That said, Escobar’s simple formula of seeing movies directed by women, in theaters, and on opening weekend requires a bit of foresight. Consumers will have to take a more proactive role in seeking out women-led projects, from studio films to indie projects to TV shows.
If you’re not sure where to start, Mosley offered a number of Twitter feeds dedicated to promoting content created or directed by women: @DirectedbyWomen, @WomenInFilm, @ArrayNOW, @TheDirectorList, and @FreeTheBid. In the next month alone, you can find Lady Bird, directed by Greta Gerwig, which is out on November 3. Mr. Roosevelt, directed by Noel Wells, is out November 22. Mudbound, directed by Dee Rees, is out on Netflix on November 17. Mark your calendars. Also, keep tabs on women filmmakers and actresses with pro-women in film initiatives like Refinery29's own ShatterBox Anthology, a series of 12 short films directed by both first-time directors and veterans. Finally, you can hear directly from women involved in all aspects of the film industry, from Reese Witherspoon to a producer of Stranger Things, with our Blockbust-Her coverage.
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As important as it is to keep a running list of women-led projects you should see, it is also key to keep a list of projects you should avoid. Namely, says Johanna Blakley, Deputy Director of the Norman Lear Center, projects that Harvey Weinstein may profit from. Unfortunately, Blakley concedes, avoiding Weinstein's films may not be the easiest thing for movie-lovers.
"There is probably a lot of stuff in the pipeline that is very appealing to exactly the people who are most disgusted by his behavior. It’s not that you’re telling vegetarians to boycott KFC. You’re telling progressives who love independent films not to see certain independent films that this guy — this monster — has helped to create,” Blakley says.
Even if we don't swear all off all past Weinstein projects, Blakley recommends we add the three Weinstein Company films slated for release in 2018 to a list of movies worth avoiding: The Current War, a period piece about Thomas Edison starring Benedict Cumberbatch, The Upside, an American adaptation of the French film The Intouchables, and Mary Magdalene, a film in which Joaquin Phoenix plays Jesus.
Considering Amazon's recent decision to halt production on a TV show it was co-producing with the Weinstein Company, the fate of future projects linked to Weinstein are uncertain. Amazon is still moving forward with Matthew Weiner's The Romanoffs, though, as its statement read, "without the involvement of the Weinstein Company." Channing Tatum also pulled out of a movie deal he had with the company.
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Even with these projects nixed, Weinstein still will profit as a producer since he remains a shareholder in TWC, and has a producer credit on films. "Short of legal intervention, going forward, he will probably continue to get revenues from one or both of those things," Peter Kaufman, an entertainment lawyer in L.A., told Mashable.
As a next step, Blakley recommends researching sexual allegations for other members of the entertainment industry, and potentially avoiding seeing their work. "It could be very damaging for someone’s career. Which is the goal! We want to change the culture of Hollywood. Usually, the only way you can do that is through carrots and sticks. In the movie industry, there are a lot of carrots. There are a lot of awards shows. But there’s not a lot of sticks for bad behavior," she said.
Choosing not to engage in a film or TV show is one method of communicating your opinion to the studio. Another way is to constructively respond to the projects you do see. After viewing films or TV shows that delight you (or enrage you), the experts are in agreement about the next step: Harness the power of your phone. As Blakley says, social media turned the tables on what the consumer, or the little guy, was capable of communicating. “Activists have been effective at making visible the problems that we have in society which I think were a little more hidden, which is something that frightens people. Social media dredges up the good and the bad, and makes it visible to all,” Blakley commented.
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And that, according to Escobar, is just what we should be doing: Dredging up the good and bad. After all, she says, companies care about their online reputation.
In order to incite a cultural sea change — which, Blakley says, is the goal — tweeting about the film industry is more than something to do for fun. Speaking up is something that she considers a moral responsibility.
“Our media environment is as important to our real lives as our physical environment. In some ways, it’s even more so. If we have a poisonous media environment, in my mind, it’s an environmental problem. It’s a hazard to people’s health. Quite literally. If we have noxious representations of women that come from a sexist culture, we’re going to propagate that culture throughout media,” Blakley says.
We can boycott Weinstein films. We can do research on upcoming projects directed by women, and see them in theaters. We can tweet. Unfortunately, by no means are these all-encompassing ways to work through the emotions brought on by Harvey Weinstein's alleged actions, nor is there a prescriptive method for untangling this thorny web. Still, these are methods that we, the consumer, can use to communicate our power to studios.
The next step is one that Hollywood has to consciously work to take: Changing what's happening behind the camera. In terms of the industry evolving, Escobar stresses that while we’ve seen change in who’s telling our stories (she uses Shonda Rimes as an example), we haven’t seen a shift in the below-the-line individuals and decision-makers.
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“The vast majority of positions behind the camera are filled by men. And generally white men, as well. I’m talking writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, editors. You name it. They make a lot of decisions about what stories get told and how they are told,” says Escobar.
This resonates with Lueck, who’s in her final year of college, and is anticipating a career in the film industry. More specifically, in production — the precise area that Escobar listed as being particularly male-dominated.
On the bright side, Lueck’s entering the entertainment industry at a time when people, especially women, are hyperaware of the industry's next step. Will it evolve, or stagnate? And that attention could be a good thing. The Weinstein scandal has made apparent the vast gender inequity behind the camera. Susanne Preissler, Executive Producer and Founder of Independent Media, pointed out that Hollywood may be held accountable by the consumer in this post-Weinstein world.
“Suddenly, everybody is realizing we have to deal with this. Now the consumer has to say, ‘You guys better stick to what you’re saying. You need to start practicing what you’re preaching.’”
We might not be able to change who gets hired to be a producer — but we can start putting our money where our values are. For now, these experts agree, that's a good start.
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