Behind Hollywood: Why Prominent Hollywood Figures "Get Away With It"
Sexual assault accusations have been breaking out of Hollywood in astonishing numbers, suggesting a greater, systemic issue at play in the industry. As a college newspaper board, we have historically covered sexual assault — from Title IX updates to safety on campus. We know our morals, and act accordingly. Hollywood is a company dependent on viewers, their money, and their ratings. There is so much we can do as students and, most importantly, consumers to reject the sexism and horror that seems to run rampant in the film industry.
As of right now, 80 actresses have accused Harvey Weinstein, a prominent film producer, of sexually assaulting them at some point during their careers. To the shock of many, on Oct. 29, Broadway actor Anthony Rapp told BuzzFeed that he had been sexually assaulted at the age of 14 by Kevin Spacey. Rapp’s case reminds us that while a majority of victims are women, we must not forget men and non-binary actors. Now, there is a list totaling 14 accusers against Spacey. There continues to be a stream of accusations coming out of Hollywood -- including stars like Louis C.K. and Brett Ratner. These astonishing numbers continue to crowd the news. How are these numbers possible? Why does it seem like Hollywood has never fixed, nor attempted to fix, this problem?
Sexual assault, particularly in Hollywood, is evolving into an increasingly politicized issue. With big names, including Weinstein, donating to the democratic agenda, Hollywood has become a sort of beacon for creative liberty and freedom. Award ceremonies have become the platform for speeches saturated with social justice -- transforming activism into a popularity contest. Despite this wave of awareness, the industry is inherently sexist and racist. The questions women are asked on red carpets -- from are you losing weight, what designer are you wearing, or what is your skincare regime -- reveal outdated attitudes towards the entire female population.
With that said, the recent sexual assault and abuse claims reveal systemic power dynamics at play in the 39 billion dollar film industry nestled in the California hills. The lack of female representation in Hollywood and the disproportionately powerful men who are taking advantage of their positions. The level of power these men have in Hollywood can make or break careers; and in an industry built on public perception and fame, actresses and actors find themselves battling for the spotlight. The “Lecherous Old Man of Hollywood” has not died amidst the progression of film making.
Weinstein held actress’ careers in his hand; even if these women were not directly controlled by him, his power was all encompassing. This is especially dangerous for young women entering the scene. For a 21 year old actress who has no experience, no agency, and does not know better, advances made by Weinstein are isolating and confusing. When this manipulation seems normal, leading a revolution and sharing stories becomes even more difficult. A culture of silencing victims was perpetuated by those who knew of the assaults, but behaved as if nothing was wrong. The secretaries and assistants who knew what the Weinsteins, Spaceys, Afflecks, and all other power players were up to are complicit and should face charges as well.
The film industry works against young women, and continues to get away with sexual assault, misrepresentation, and abuse until one actress is strong enough to speak up. But, because the film industry never addresses or demeans its issue with sexual assault on the basis of advantage until information reaches the public. The way Hollywood handles sexual assault almost creates an atmosphere of don’t ask, don’t tell, which is extremely harmful for victims who find themselves and their claims to be invalidated by people of more “importance.”
Once the floodgates open and women tell their story, news coverage is dominated by accusations for a few weeks -- stopping until it all happens again. The systemic culture of power-play in Hollywood should have no place to begin with. Victims need more than sympathy upon speaking out; these men and women deserve recognition and action.
Sexual assault and power manipulation is not happening in Hollywood alone, and until the power structure changes, workers of higher status will continue to take advantage of their position over other human beings. Until systems change and advance, there needs to be advanced methods in place to litigate these issues. Currently, sexual assault cases are treated individually, even if multiple accusations are made against the same person. Treating these cases collectively could provide greater bearings to the victims in the face of sexism inherent in most systems.
Ultimately, consumers must understand their power in going to movies that are created and mirror their morals. Hidden Figures made over 20 million dollars in its opening week; Wonder Woman made over 100 million dollars; Moonlight beat out the predominately white La La Land at the Oscars. Hollywood films lack female directors, producers, and women-run production companies; but the numbers, and our feelings as a board, show consumers are tired of the sexism, racism, and homophobia plaguing our films.
Websites that grade movies depending on gender and race inclusivity are becoming increasingly popular among mindful consumers. The website Grade My Movie rates popular and independent films from A to F based on the films’ parity in top cast and crew positions. The “normal” movie review is gone. TeenVogue and other entertainment focused publications have published articles from how Disney movies can perpetuate rape culture, to bringing light to LGBTQ+ projects that go uncovered in Hollywood.
Consumers are tired of sexist, racist films made by outdated production companies. Hollywood is an industry reliant on their viewership and people paying to watch their films. If viewership of the same middle-aged white man movies decreases, Hollywood will stop making them. Our editorial board urges all of our readers to only pay for and support movies that share your same morals — from their conception, to the big screen. Do research, follow up with reviews, and cheer loudly for the good ones.
(Image designed by Emily Egan '20)