Harvey Weinstein’s career in Hollywood is likely over.
A bombshell report in the New York Times on Thursday, filled with detailed allegations of sexual harassment and abuse involving famous actresses such as Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan, as well as a half dozen former employees, have forced Weinstein to temporarily step down from the company he runs. If previous scandals involving Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes are any indication, this will be the first of many damaging articles about Weinstein’s misbehavior. Such stories tend to have a dam-bursting impact, jarring loose stories of misbehavior and emboldening women to come forward publicly with fresh allegations.
There’s something different about the Weinstein case. Unlike Ailes or O’Reilly, he is not part of a public company, thus he is not subject to the same pressure points. He reports to a (largely hand-picked) board and is his own boss. It’s possible that these board members or his brother and company co-founder Bob Weinstein may pressure him to part ways. But Weinstein stopped short of saying he would step down in a bizarre and rambling statement to the Times, in which he quoted Jay-Z and hit out at Donald Trump and the NRA. He did not mount much of a defense, though his lawyer Charles Harder says he is preparing a lawsuit against the paper.
Rather, his ostracization will likely come from the creative community. Will Netflix want to buy shows from the Weinstein Co. if Harvey Weinstein is still at the helm? Will Michael Moore and other liberal filmmakers want their projects appearing under the Weinstein Co. banner? Will the CAAs and WMEs of the world remain willing to let their clients place projects with the indie company?
His other problems will involve financing. It seems unlikely that a major investment firm will feel comfortable signing up for another round of backing with Weinstein. There’s not much of a company without him, and right now his brand is toxic.
Hollywood is a relationship business and the movie business’ tendrils spread out in thousands of different directions. Many prominent names will have trouble distancing themselves from a worsening Weinstein story. As the Times story makes clear, Weinstein’s alleged history of abuse dates back 30 years, extending to his days running Miramax, the Oscar-winning studio behind “Shakespeare in Love” and “Pulp Fiction.” At the time, Miramax was owned by Disney.
How much did executives at the company know about Weinstein’s behavior? Did they do enough to safeguard their employees or are they complicit in creating a toxic workplace environment? Was Disney’s money used to pay off Weinstein’s accusers? Spokespeople for the studio did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But these stories have a way of leaving everyone dirty.
In truth, the noose has been tightening for years around Harvey Weinstein. There’s been a bunker-like mentality at the Weinstein Co. for years, as the indie studio’s money troubles have worsened and as it tried to migrate away from prestige fare and into television. There were too many film flops such as “Tulip Fever,” “Burnt,” and “Gold,” and persistent mutterings that the company could no longer pay its bills. High profile executives would leave, with positions remaining vacant or filled by junior staffers. It’s been a while since the studio was a major force at film festivals, swinging its checkbook around to nab the hottest Sundance titles. In the meantime, new players like A24 and Bleecker Street have emerged, establishing themselves as more auteur-friendly (Weinstein had a reputation for battling directors), while Amazon and Netflix have been able to outspend all comers.
Even before the reports broke, agents were already wary about working with Weinstein because of reports that its money was running out. One agent told Variety that the Times’ report will give them an even bigger reason to stay away from the studio.
In some respects, Thursday’s piece was the confirmation of decades of rumors and shop talk that have clung to Weinstein. At various times, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the New Yorker (which has its own competing piece still set to launch) have tried to break this story. They’ve aggressively pursued the angle of whether or not Weinstein used corporate funds at Miramax to pay for legal settlements with women. In most cases, Weinstein was able to successfully hit back at those claims. Another stumbling block was that many women did not want to go on the record with their allegations. That will likely change with the Times piece.
Weinstein is a fighter, a screamer, and a bully. He’s paying big money to top lawyers and is on the hunt for public relations firms in search of advocates. He’s probably not going to go quietly and his attorneys will be pitbulls. But in the court of public opinion, the jury may already be out. Threats may not be enough this time.