Hollywood has been divided into three camps. There are the lost souls who stand by Harvey Weinstein in the midst of his sexual misconduct scandal, the actors and industry insiders who have spoken out against him, and the group of people who have said nothing. There is something particularly notable about the first two groups: most of the people who have spoken out in an official capacity, regardless of whose side they’re on, have been white. With the exceptions of the Obamas, who are celebrities in their own right, no people of colour have released formal statements condemning the film mogul. Black celebs like Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield have thrown shots on Twitter but other than that, the conversation has been dominated by whiteness.
It’s very possible that many of the celebrities who have been silent on this issue, regardless of race, have chosen to do so because they don’t want to involve themselves in this mess. But for people of colour, black people specifically, I think there is something deeper at play than celebrities exercising their human right to mind their own business. Black communities have a complicated relationship with sexual assault. They have also been engaged in their own uphill battle in showbusiness. That combination has created less than ideal circumstances for black folks to insert themselves into the conversation about Weinstein.
Buzzfeed’s Senior Culture Writer, Bim Adewunmi published an amazing opinion piece on Wednesday, diving into the racial politics of “fuckability” in Hollywood. She argues that this standard for casting created a double-edged sword for women in the industry: Black women are excluded from acting opportunities for not meeting executives’ standards of desirability, while the white women who make it to those meetings find themselves at the mercy of men like Weinstein. In an industry with its own racism that has already limited the chances for black women to succeed, keeping their heads down and mouths shut about the experiences of those who have made it feels like a requirement.
And it’s not just women. For days I waited to hear from Jay-Z, whose relationship with Weinstein has been public knowledge. Last autumn, the rapper and businessman signed a two-year deal with the Weinstein Company to produce projects for both television and film. One outcome of that deal was the six-part docuseries, Time: The Kalief Browder Story, which aired on Spike TV earlier this year. While it’s possible that the terms of his agreement with the company named after Weinstein prevent him from speaking on the issue, the magnitude of Beyoncé’s husband saying nothing at all felt overwhelming.
Even still, I understand it. For all the power that Jay-Z wields in the music industry with his decades-long rap career, Tidal streaming platform, and marriage to the greatest living entertainer, the gates of Hollywood are still kept by white dudes like Weinstein. Jay’s spot on the Forbes list be damned; his connection with the producer is going to play a vital role in these crossover efforts. And I’m not sure that the man whose last album expressed his commitment to multigenerational wealth is willing to give up on those endeavours.
It’s difficult enough for black folks to talk about sexual assault. Despite the overwhelming evidence against people like Bill Cosby and R. Kelly, I can still count on some members of my community to emphasise “allegedly” or flat out declare “he ain’t do that shit” when the accusations brought against either of the men come up. Speaking out against these powerful men when they hold the keys to the castle is even harder.