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Film

Hollywood's open dirty secret: Why Harvey Weinstein isn't an outlier

The entertainment business and the media need to bear responsibility for what happened and continues to happen, says DW's Hollywood insider Scott Roxborough. Sexual abuse is endemic in the film industry.

Like Captain Louis Renault in "Casablanca" I was shocked, shocked! to hear that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has been accused of molesting and assaulting women for decades.

Of course, we all knew.

I've been a correspondent for The Hollywood Reporter for over a decade and everyone I knew had heard the stories: Harvey Weinstein, the producer of Oscar-winning films like "The English Patient" and "Pulp Fiction," is a sexual predator. He gropes women, he pressures them to have sex in exchange for roles in his movies or help with their careers.

In reports released recently in The New York Times and The New Yorker magazine, at least 30 women, including famous actresses Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rose McGowan and Asia Argento, have come forward saying Weinstein assaulted them. At least four women have accused him of rape.

Read more: Weinstein denies latest sexual abuse claims

They won't be the last.

It's tempting to see Weinstein as an aberration, a monster amid Hollywood's politically correct progressives. And he fits the bill. This fat, angry man, who regularly screams invective at his business partners, employees and, yes, hapless film journalists, is almost a caricature of the schoolyard bully.

But when it comes to sexual assault, Weinstein is no outlier. The fact is, harassment is as much a part of Hollywood as the red carpet.

Other famous assault reports

Before the Weinstein story broke, we had Bill Cosby, beloved comedian, TV star and, according to the testimony of dozens of women, a serial rapist who has been drugging and assaulting women for decades.

USA Bill Cosby departs with comedian Joe Torry after the fourth day of Cosby's sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania (Reuters/L. Jackson)

Accusations of sexual assault against Bill Cosby have been brought to court this year

More recently, two of the most powerful men in America's new media — Fox News chairman Roger E. Ailes and star anchor Bill O'Reilly — were forced to resign amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment towards co-workers.

Roy Price, the head of Amazon Studios and one of the rising stars in the independent film world, was just suspended from his job following similar allegations, first published by my colleagues at The Hollywood Reporter.

Read more: Amazon executive suspended after sexual harassment allegations

Watch video 03:48

@dwnews - Harvey Weinstein accusers take to social media to share their stories

The allegations differ. Harassment is not the same as rape. Accusations are not the same as legal proof. But these cases point to a pervasive pattern of powerful men (and they are always men) exploiting mostly young women.

None of this is new. The term "casting couch" — an expression that attempts to play down the seriousness of sexual exploitation — has been around since Hollywood began.

Child star Shirley Temple quit making movies at the age of 21 to escape the near constant sexual advances and attacks she had to endure from producers, studio heads and fellow actors.

The nature of the film business — with power concentrated in a few hands, the small group that can decide if a movie gets made or not and who will star in it — makes it fertile ground for exploitation.

Men dominate the industry, as producers, studio heads and directors, and there is a seemingly endless supply of young, beautiful women competing for roles. Women who speak out have been dismissed or blacklisted, their careers ruined.

Meryl Streep and Harvey Weinstein (Getty Images/A.E. Rodriguez)

Meryl Streep called the alleged harassment "disgraceful" and "inexcusable"

Harassment endemic

Maybe that explains why Weinstein was able to (allegedly) behave so badly for so long. Harassment was just background noise in Hollywood, seen as "how the business works." 

But all of us who heard the rumors and did nothing — and I include myself in that group — bear responsibility for what happened and continues to happen.

The media, and Hollywood's elites, are now tossing Weinstein to the wolves. Rightly so. But to pretend he was an exception, that the problems of sexual abuse aren't endemic to the system, would be dangerous and hypocritical.

Read more: Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and other actors express dismay

It would be just as hypocritical, here in smug old Europe, to pretend the same sort of thing doesn't happen on this side of the pond. England has had its share of sexual assault scandals, the most infamous surrounding BBC personality Jimmy Savile, who abused dozens of young girls and boys over decades. I don't know of similar cases in the German film industry. But I wouldn't be complacent.

There are even fewer women with real power in the media here than in Hollywood. And the macho "bro" culture is just as prevalent.

Heidi Klum, the German fashion model and host of the Weinstein-produced reality show "Project Runway," got it right when she said it would be "naive to think this behavior only happens in Hollywood." 

Heidi Klum at the Emmys (Reuters)

Heidi Klum came out to say that the problem of women's mistreatment is pervasive

In an interview with People magazine, Klum called the Weinstein scandal "one example of the more pervasive problem of the mistreatment of women around the world. I think it would be hard to find a woman — myself included — who has not had an experience where they have felt intimidated or threatened by a man using his power, position or his physical stature."

Sea change in the film industry?

The only measure of hope I can draw from the Weinstein scandal is that maybe, just maybe, things are changing.

In the age of mobile recording devices and social media, it's harder to keep dirty secrets secret. And when things come out, there are consequences.

The Weinstein Company fired the movie mogul within days of the first New York Times piece. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is meeting on Saturday to discuss its continued response to the allegations. Amazon suspended Price hours after his story broke. The case against Cosby ended in a mistrial this summer, but even if he escapes jail, he will never work again.

Slowly, too slowly, Hollywood is paying attention. Slowly, too slowly, victims of assault are speaking out. Slowly, too slowly, women are rising to positions of real power in the film industry, positions from where they will be able to change things.

It won't happen quickly, but it will happen. I'm certain of it.

Scott Roxborough is the European Bureau Chief for The Hollywood Reporter and the host of Kino, DW's weekly movie magazine.

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