Accepting the Golden Globe best actress award in 2012 for “The Iron Lady,” Meryl Streep took a moment to thank the almighty – “God, Harvey Weinstein.”
For decades, Weinstein has held a lofty position in Hollywood as one of the industry’s most powerful figures – an old-school, larger-than-life movie mogul who was never shy about throwing his weight around. “The Punisher. Old Testament, I guess,” Streep added that night to laughter and applause.
But Weinstein’s name – such a regular refrain on countless Oscar nights – on Thursday rang out in a different way. In a bombshell expose, The New York Times reported that Weinstein had reached at least eight legal settlements with women over alleged harassment. With allegations levied by actresses including Ashley Judd and former employees at both the Weinstein Co. and Weinstein’s former company, Miramax, the report detailed decades of abuse.
The 65-year-old Weinstein, in a lengthy written statement, said he would take a leave of absence from his company. But many in Hollywood are wondering if Weinstein’s leave might be permanent. Is this, like the accusations that felled Bill Cosby and Roger Ailes, the end for the sharp-elbowed independent film pioneer whose editing-room meddling earned him the nickname “Harvey Scissorhands” and whose unprecedented run of Oscar glory made him a Hollywood deity?
“Harvey Weinstein’s career in Hollywood is likely over,” declared industry trade Variety.
Others were less sure if this was indeed the downfall of Weinstein, who has weathered downturns and bankruptcy before. Weinstein was contrite in his statement, acknowledging “the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain.” He added: “I want a second chance in the community but I know I’ve got work to do to earn it.”
Representatives for The Weinstein Co. didn’t respond to questions about the mogul’s status on Thursday. The company’s Board of Directors was to meet to discuss Weinstein’s future. If Weinstein were to be ousted or step down, leadership could potentially be transferred to Weinstein’s brother Bob, who serves as co-chairman, and David Glasser, the president and chief operating officer.
“I don’t know if he’s done because Harvey is the kind of person who has the ability to rise again, which he has done so many times from a business perspective,” said Sharon Waxman, CEO and founder of trade website The Wrap, and author of “Rebels on the Backlot.”
“If he can make amends, if he can apologize then I think a lot of things are possible,” said Waxman. “Hollywood is not public office, you are not required to have a morality clause necessarily. It’s business. And ultimately he has to run his business which has also survived near death experiences many, many times, and has also been sold for $600 million. I would say it’s up to him as to whether he survives in Hollywood.”
Weinstein’s attorneys signaled a fight is still to come. Weinstein’s attorney Charles J. Harder, who recently waged a successful suit for Hulk Hogan against Gawker, said in a statement that the Times story is “saturated with false and defamatory statements about Harvey Weinstein.” In an interview with the New York Post, Weinstein alleged the Times has “a vendetta” against him, and said “the next time I see (New York Times Executive Editor) Dean Baquet it will be across a courtroom.”
A spokesperson for The New York Times responded: “We are confident in the accuracy of our reporting.”
But while the misdeeds and manipulations of Hollywood producers have long been considered a constant of the movie business, the passionate reactions on Thursday suggested a dearth of forgiveness for Weinstein.
“Anyone who does business with (blank space) is complicit,” actress Rose McGowan tweeted. The New York Times reported that a settlement of $100,000 was paid to McGowan by Weinstein after an incident in 1997 when she was 23.
Ashley Judd recounted an incident from two decades ago in which she said she was asked to meet Weinstein in his hotel room. Weinstein greeted her wearing a bathrobe and asked her if he could give her a massage or if she would watch him shower, the paper reported. “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly,” Judd told the Times.
Richard Rushfield, founder and editor of industry newsletter The Ankler, sensed a shift in the response to the allegations against Weinstein.
“In the past, this many people in Hollywood would never have come forward against a big Hollywood Poobah like this,” said Rushfield. “If they had, the story would have gone nowhere. And if it had, the subject could have been changed, laughed off, done six months in a penalty box and come back.”
“The problem is there’s going to be a cost to association with him. Anybody who makes a movie with him now is going to be subjected to questions about it,” said Rushfield. He added: “He’s going to be untouchable and I don’t think in the internet age that goes away. Those stories are there.”
Weinstein’s stature was also already diminished. He has had a powerful perch in Hollywood for three decades, producing films like “Pulp Fiction” and “Shakespeare in Love,” for which he won an Oscar. He masterminded extremely successful Oscar campaigns with his company Miramax, which he ran with his brother. The brothers sold Miramax to Walt Disney Co. in 1993. Twelve years later, they left Miramax to found their namesake company. More Oscar wins followed, including back-to-back best-picture winners in 2011 and 2012 with “The King’s Speech” and “The Artist.”
But in recent years, The Weinstein Company has suffered from a string of executive exits, mounting lawsuits and increasingly hectic distribution decisions. In 2016, the company didn’t receive a best-picture nomination for the first time since 2008. Weinstein returned to the category with “Lion” at this year’s Oscars, but his pre-eminence as an Academy Awards heavyweight has waned.
Money problems have plagued the company intermittently since 2009, when it entered bankruptcy. Last year, The Weinstein Co. continually shuffled release dates and delayed films amid reports that it was too cash-strapped to put a full slate of films into theaters. Some 50 staffers were let go.
Movies like “The Founder” and “Tulip Fever” were juggled over numerous release date shifts. After “The Founder,” with Michael Keaton, was released in January along with the Matthew McConaughey-led “Gold,” the co-financier of “The Founder,” FilmNation, sued The Weinstein Company for $15 million, alleging Weinstein violated the non-compete clause of their agreement.
The Weinstein Co. had a modest hit this summer with the acclaimed thriller “Wind River.” The $11 million film has made $33 million. But the company’s fall season awards hopeful “The Current War,” with Benedict Cumberbatch, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to withering reviews.
Instead, other leaders in independent film have stepped forward, including “Moonlight” distributor A24 and Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures.
“Women face serious repercussions for sharing their experiences and deserve our full support,” Ellison said on Twitter. “I admire the courage of these women.”