By Morak Babajide-Alabi
When the story about Harvey Weinstein broke recently, it was like one that has been told over and over again in the past. It sounded too repetitive and got some people yawning and saying to themselves – “this is familiar”. They are right because we hear these stories in the grapevine on a daily basis. The only difference this time around is that some brave victims have decided to go public.
Please raise your hand if you have not read or heard about the prevalence of sexual harassments and assaults in the movie industries – Hollywood, Nollywood or Zollywood. Or if you are too young to know that they are prevalent also in the academics, business or sports arenas. No matter where the stories come from, they surely are not the best-kept secrets in the world.
Weinstein is the unfortunate rabbit that is caught in the headlight this time around. He is no small fish in Hollywood. In fact, he is an American film producer, who was good at producing hit films. The Hollywood actress, Lupita Nyong’o, in an article in The New York Times last week said Weinstein was introduced to her as “the most powerful producer in Hollywood.” Yes, now we know how powerful Weinstein was in Hollywood.
For me it was ironic that the day I watched one of the most iconic documentaries in recent times, Time: The Kalief Browder Story, that Weinstein got the “sack” from his own founded film company. The story of the 16-year old African-American Browder was gripping. He was arrested in 2010, accused of stealing a backpack and kept in prison for three years, most of which were in solitary confinement, and without trial. The documentary was a dark commentary that got me shedding one or two tears in between the 6-part series.
For almost one hour after watching this documentary, I sat in the same spot ruminating on the failed judicial system of the supposedly most powerful country in the world. I could not get the fact that the young Browder and his mum had to die, directly or indirectly from the actions or inactions of America’s judicial systems and the operators. As I sat numbly staring at the remote control in my hand, the words of Browder’s defence lawyer, Paul Prestia kept coming back to me, that he could not believe what Browder went through happened in the USA and not in a third world country. But in recent times we have seen and heard about worse things happening in the US than in countries such as Mali or Sudan.
Works such as the Browder documentary had helped define Weinstein’s career in the movie industry. If you have watched films such as The King’s Speech, Django Unchained and Silver Linings Playbook, produced by his company, you would not but agree that he does have a golden touch. These are movies that catapulted the careers of many actors and actresses.
At the back of these revelations, I could not but wonder if there were qualified individuals that were denied roles in these movies because they did not succumb to Weinstein’s overtures.
I had just finished processing the documentary in my conscious mind when I flipped the television channel to Sky News. The Breaking News was what would define the path of the downfall of the executive producer of a documentary that had moved me to tears. I was not shocked but I was seriously disturbed that a creative mind such as Weinstein could be possessed by as many demons as he was identified with on the news.
He did not wait for a long time before he raised his hand up, and owned up to these “demons”. And what best way to get out of this for him? Blame them on practices he grew up with in the 60s and 70s. This, no doubt was very lame and under no circumstance should he have used this as a defence for his actions. It was a classic excuse from an individual who has been caught pants down and needed to blame the action on something, no matter how feeble it may be. More details coming out from the US and the United Kingdom over time have all revealed how recklessly and irresponsibly Weinstein has behaved over the years.
Weinstein is in the public court right now, and the daggers are drawn on him. While the public can be said “to be shocked” by these gargantuan revelations, the movie industry “players” are shrugging their shoulders and wondering who will be outed next. They know what goes on in their industry. Some of them have been victims of these sexual harassments but been quiet for so long that they have got used to it. Majority of these “players” are unwilling participants of the sexual games to either save or kick-start their careers. It is always a no-win situation for some of them.
Weinstein did get his fingers in many cookie jars. As at press time, over forty women had come out to talk about their unpleasant encounters with the producer. There is no doubt that he does have very fast hands, as many women have alleged the speed at which he “grabbed” or “touched” them inappropriately. These victims have told stories of the same pattern of abuse and subtle threats to their careers.
The worrying trend is that they had all kept quiet for years as they endure these abuses. Let’s be honest with ourselves, there are so much more victims that will never come out to tell their stories because they fear they may not be able to handle the shame. Some of them had kept quiet for this long because they believe no one would believe their stories. Unfortunately, these set of silent victims would be in the majority. They will never come forward, therefore denying the world the opportunity to know how really bad the situation is in the industry.
We are not going to deceive ourselves and pretend that Weinstein is the only sex monster parading the streets of Hollywood or Nollywood. Let us not mistake the fact that sexual harassment happens in all spheres of life and people such as Weinstein are always roaming the corridors exerting their powers and influences and subjecting innocent people to unnecessary emotional and physical torture. I agree that the movie industry is more vulnerable because of the glamour and most times the desperation of the players to up their games. No matter where, Hollywood, Bollywood, Nollywood etc, there are unbelievable stories of sex being the currency for promotion or a shot at stardom. This is the stark reality of the world we live in.
Sex is a commodity that sells. Even in situations where predators such as Weinstein are not on the prowl, there are some individuals who will deliberately seek them out and offer to them freely to achieve their ambitions. It is not only in Hollywood nor Nollywood that sex is a bargaining chip to success.
People such as Weinstein should be disgraced for what they are. The long arm of the law should go after them, convictions should be sought and long custodial sentences imposed on them. These individuals should not be allowed any room in decent societies because they are worse than animals. There are many Weinsteins in boardrooms, academics, sports etc using their positions for undue gratifications. They should all be rounded up and castrated.
As published in Sunday Vanguard of October 22, 2017.