The long expected New York Times exposé on Weinstein Company co-chairman Harvey Weinstein has dropped devastating charges that the Oscar-winning movie mogul and key fundraiser for Democratic candidates like Hillary Clinton has been a serial sexual harasser of women. The article is exhaustively researched and shattering, and already there is word that Weinstein will take a leave of absence. Sources tell Deadline that TWC’s board of directors is trying to figure out how to handle this mess, and the question is whether a simple sabbatical is going to be sufficient. His potential ouster is one option on the table, Deadline hears.
The article is detailed and the pattern of behavior painted here is damning. It depicts victim testimonials from actress Ashley Judd, who as a young actress recounted being summoned to his room. Wearing a bathrobe, Weinstein allegedly asked her for a massage and then asked if she would watch him shower, she told the newspaper. She recalled trying to figure out how to get out of there without alienating a powerful movie executive. The article alleges that eight settlements were paid to others who found themselves badgered for sex by the executive, including the actress Rose McGowan. Fueled by direct comments from former Miramax executive Mark Gill (who later ran Warner Independent and Millennium Films), the article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey paints as devastating a picture as when similar allegations were made against former Fox News honcho Roger Ailes, and later against Fox News star Bill O’Reilly. Ailes denied everything and so did O’Reilly, and they lost their vaunted jobs anyway. Weinstein didn’t exactly deny these allegations. He sort of fell on his sword to NYT. Lisa Bloom, one of the lawyers counseling Weinstein said that some of the allegations were false. But not all. “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it,” Weinstein told the newspaper. “Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go.”
The big question now is whether the board of directors at TWC will agree that a rehabilitation is the best course of action and if it is possible for one of Hollywood’s most storied film executives to continue in this capacity. The company has a library, and bustling movie and television divisions, with around 190 employees working for it. This is about more than the welfare of a bad boy executive and producer. The future of a storied company, and all those employees, is at stake here.
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The sale of its television division, or at least a half share, is one of those variables. There are series in the works with Oliver Stone, Kevin Costner, Julian Fellowes, Matt Weiner and Jay-Z. The movie division has one film so far lined up for the Oscar race. That is the Taylor Sheridan-directed Wind River, which is squarely about the rape and victimization of Native American women. Sheridan has made it clear how ferociously passionate he is about the largely unreported rapes of Native American women in frontier lands like the one depicted in his movie. How in the world is he supposed to react when asked about Weinstein? Emails to his reps haven’t yet been returned.
E-mails to Weinstein haven’t garnered a response yet, either, but sources told Deadline that the board of directors has been bracing for this article for weeks (there are rumors that another is coming from The New Yorker, a piece that has also been months in the works), and are right now trying to figure out the best course of action. The board has the right to suspend or permanently banish Weinstein, who holds about a 23% equity stake in the company, with his brother and co-chief Bob Weinstein holding the same amount. The board controls the majority, and things haven’t exactly been smooth between them. Weinstein’s good friend, James Dolan, was a board member but left that post in 2016.
An ongoing expansion of the television series portfolio coincides with a concerted effort by the company and its board to sell a stake of 50% to 75% of its television division, an attractive prospect since the company holds no debt. The prospectus was circulated by Moelis & Co earlier this year. How the shattering charges against Weinstein impact this effort remains to be seen. The TV company was once in talks to be acquired by ITV for a potential fortune to Weinstein and TWC’s backers, but that sale derailed after the revelations that Weinstein had been accused by an Italian model of attempted sexual assault. This even though law enforcement decided not to prosecute. She is among the eight women listed as having been paid settlements to make these problems go away.
The unsubstantiated rumors of Weinstein pawing women have swirled for decades. What will be worth watching now is whether this story starts an avalanche of other women telling similar stories after long swallowing shameful approaches. That is what happened in the cases of Ailes, Bill Cosby, O’Reilly and most recently the geek film blogger Harry Knowles. All were banished. Since the sexual harassment allegations listed by The New York Times go back decades, that covers the period when Miramax was owned by Disney under Michael Eisner. There might also be scrutiny of what that corporation did, whether Disney was aware of this pattern of behavior and how it was handled.
Given the current zero tolerance climate for sexual harassment, and a report this detailed, it would not be surprising if Weinstein finds himself too toxic to continue as the head of The Weinstein Company, after all of the fallout is weighed. Weinstein is saying he came of age in a different era, in the 60s and 70s when rules about behavior in the work place were different. He has commented in similarly flip fashion when trades reported he lawyered up in anticipation of this article.
I have always liked Weinstein and respected his movie acumen and taste. He probably has more Oscars, and more socially relevant and important issue-oriented films on his resume than any producer/executive alive. He has often shared his film wisdom in columns on Deadline. But as a father of daughters, I would say that this kind of behavior he describes as being acceptable became unacceptable in the Neanderthal Age. Weinstein is quickly going to find there is no way to explain it away. There is also no statute of limitations on women who will now come forward with their own stories. I would be very surprised if he survives this.
But he is also welcome to use his column byline to explain himself if he cares to.
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