Harvey Weinstein’s conviction in a New York sexual assault case has many questioning whether this is the beginning of a new era for women in Hollywood. But the main roadblock to a reckoning in Hollywood has traditionally been that there have been few credible accusations of systemic wrongdoing.
Many worked in the industry and had some dealings with Harvey Weinstein, but often found it difficult to prove due to the dynamics of the entertainment industry. Harvey Weinstein, and a few other powerful men in the industry, long had the ability to exert an enormous amount of control over the hiring and firing of talent and the former could have been engaged in widespread abuse of power. And therefore, even if allegations of harassment did not meet the legal burden of “indecent exposure,” they could certainly qualify as harassment for purposes of human resources (HR) rules and for sexual harassment laws, which in New York go even further by making sexual harassment punishable by a very high penalty (a maximum of seven years in prison).
But as “casting couch” remains a cultural figure as a credible and distinguishing feature of Hollywood, allegations can often be very difficult to document and prosecute. This has caused many victims to lie and destroy their credibility by blackballing themselves.
Given that Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assaults were allegedly committed on employees and creative partners over the course of more than a decade, it seems probable that the Weinstein Company, a major Hollywood powerhouse, might have tried to have certain witnesses and clients blackballed. Harvey Weinstein’s power base could certainly have been most potent in suppressing critical testimony of multiple victims, and the case shows why certain aspects of these cases should be carefully investigated, and some victims may have blackballed themselves.
During the trial, it was also widely reported that Harvey Weinstein had a reputation as a womanizer who preyed on young women. Although the Weinstein Company did have a policy that forbade sexual harassment, this policy may have been disjointed, and it would also be hard to prove that Harvey Weinstein had tried to control or control the behavior of the young women he employed. With this in mind, the effect of the convictions is likely to be more symbolic than an actual change in the culture of the industry.
Allegations of sexual misconduct remain too low level in comparison to allegations of fraud or corporate malfeasance. Many charges against powerful figures have fallen short of proving criminal behavior because of a lack of evidence.
The fact that Weinstein was considered in the Hollywood industry as a powerful figure and his studio as a powerful creative label, but that these labels could lose power if he were imprisoned and the charges met the burden of proof, suggested that the film business was partly resistant to change, or was largely immune from change, and that there might be cultural changes or at least legal changes that are needed to make the abuse of power in this industry easier to bring to justice.