Disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein has been sentenced to 23 in years in prison for rape and assault . But will his conviction truly change abuse culture in the entertainment industry?
The trial of Harvey Weinstein produced two evocative but seemingly contradictory images. The first was Weinstein and the walker: Television visuals showed the 67-year-old producer shuffling to court with a walking aid, the once all-powerful film mogul, who produced Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare in Love, looking broken and hopeless.
The second was of Weinstein on February 24, 2020, when a Manhattan jury found him guilty of a criminal sexual act in the first degree and rape in the third degree, two crimes for which he was sentenced on Wednesday to 23 years in prison. But when the jury read out the verdict, Weinstein turned, in disbelief and shock, to his highly paid lawyers. "But I'm innocent, I'm innocent," he said.
The first image is of a monster brought low. The stories of Weinstein's sexual assaults — with some 80 women coming forward with allegations against the producer, including celebrities such as Salma Hayek, Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd — sparking the global #MeToo movement. Weinstein's conviction, and the visual of a man who had terrorized so many now beaten and weak, seemed a watershed moment. If a man as powerful as Weinstein could be brought to justice, no man could escape it.
The second image tells a different story. After all the evidence against him, all the testimony by women who outlined shockingly similar patterns of behavior — including luring personal assistants and aspiring actresses to hotel rooms for "meetings” that turned into assaults, promising film roles in exchange for sexual favors, threatening personal or professional ruin if the women reported him — Weinstein still assumed he would get off. More than that, he was convinced — "I'm innocent!" — that he'd done nothing wrong.
The bigger question now is which image, and which version of the Weinstein story, wins. Will the Weinstein case force structural change in the entertainment industry, making the "casting couch" a thing of the past? Or will men like Weinstein, the kind of men who have always run things in Hollywood, continue to protest their innocence and, after the furor around the case has died down, return to business as usual?
For Weinstein, there is no way back. Even if he appeals (which is almost certain), his name has forever become synonymous with rape and sexual abuse. And his legal trials have only begun.
Prosecutors in Los Angeles have already filed separate charges against Weinstein for two alleged sexual assaults within a two-day period in 2013. The charges carry a potential 28-year prison sentence. Weinstein is also facing a separate series of criminal cases and a major civil suit involving close to 100 women. All signs point to the 67-year-old producer spending the rest of his life in court or in prison.
But it is an open question whether the Weinstein case will have broader repercussions in the entertainment industry and beyond.
The initial signs point to a reckoning. Weinstein isn't the only Hollywood power player to fall in the #MeToo revolution. From casting couch stories to accusations of sexual harassment and abuse, once untouchable men have seen their careers derailed, including former Warner Bros CEO Kevin Tsujihara, former Amazon Studios head Roy Price, ex-Pixar boss John Lasseter, one-time CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves and former mega-producer Brett Ratner (X-Men, The Revenant).
But of the seven top film studios, only two — Universal and Amazon — are run by women (and Amazon Studio boss Jennifer Salke answers to a man, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos). There's been much lip service paid towards "changing the culture" and "ending systematic abuse." But the underlying assumption in Hollywood that men with money and power can use it to do what they will with women, while shaken, remains intact.
The Weinstein verdict on its own won't change that. Change will only come as ordinary women, following the example of the two accusers at Weinstein's trial, continue to stand up, continue to speak out and continue to say #MeToo.