Illustration by Grace Schafer-Perry
On October 5, 2017, the New York Times did an exposé on Harvey Weinstein, the famous movie-producer of Shakespeare in Love and My Week with Marilyn, the article revealing sexual harassment allegations dating back to 1990. Over 40 women have accused Weinstein of harassment or assault, Weinstein using his power for his own pleasure. According to one of his victims, “Harvey discarded his clothes and asked me to give him a massage.” Another victim claimed Harvey “tried to perform oral sex on me.” What was most disturbing was how he used his power to bully and manipulate young women who wanted a way into the movie business.
Women just out of high school or college, looking for their first break, had heard about the “incredible” Harvey Weinstein, and when they were invited to meet with him, it was hard to say “no”. Even if he had harassed or abused them, they needed access to the movie industry. He had the keys to the kingdom. The power balance was indisputable and as one of his victims, Lauren O’Connor, said, “I am a 28-year-old woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64-year-old, world famous man and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.” As we can tell, Weinstein has a huge presence in the movie industry and can take control of situations without much effort, only his ego is needed.
Weinstein took full advantage of his power and a litany of women have paid the price. Yet, despite his despicable behavior, he continued to have unprecedented success. In 1999 Weinstein was presented the Academy Award Best Picture for Shakespeare in Love, and in 2003 awarded the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture for Chicago. While Harvey Weinstein hurt so many women physically and psychologically, he continued to create beautiful masterpieces that thousands continue to enjoy. But should we continue to watch Harvey’s movies?
In other words, should we endorse an artist by viewing, buying, or promoting their art, even though they may have committed misconduct or hurt many? Weinstein is just one of many problematic artists in Hollywood who have used their power to target victims in the most appalling ways, however created incredible art and opportunities for so many other artists.
At first glance, the obvious answer is that we should absolutely stop watching Weinstein’s (and other problematic artists’) movies. Every time a ticket is purchased at the movie theatre, a dollar goes into Weinstein’s pocket. Even when you download a movie from Amazon, Weinstein Productions makes money. Maybe that’s paying for his next hotel room, or his dinner with an incoming actress. By spending money to watch Weinstein’s films, he makes more money and gains further power. He inches closer to having a monopoly on the movie industry, forcing women to come to him to succeed in business.
Moreover, the only power we have, as the recipients of the artists’ art, is to either endorse or protest the work. We can choose to accept and praise the art, and thus the artist, or to boycott and neglect it.
By neglecting the art, we send a message to the artist, like Harvey Weinstein, saying that “we do not accept your actions and destructiveness towards others.” A statement like this is powerful, not only to Weinstein and Hollywood themselves, but also to the victims. It shows the victims of abuse and harassment that we stand in solidarity with them and are fighting for their cause.
Others say we should separate the art from the artist. Even though a human being could have committed a horrible crime, they can still create magnificent art and should therefore be praised for it. Take Bill Cosby. Although over fifty women came forward allegedly accusing him of assaulting them, Cosby did bring laughter and joy to millions of American homes. Yes, we can admit that Bill Cosby did a horrible thing, but that does not negate the fact that he was a prominent comedian who had a big influence on American culture.
Nevertheless, by watching a movie, even if you do not support the artist itself, you are actually endorsing the artist and giving money to them. A cycle begins in which they get richer and more powerful and can create even more problems, completely countering the point in which we want to stop their destructive and cruel actions.
As you can see, in the question of separating the art from the artist, there is an evident answer. We should not excuse a problematic artists’ actions. So, next time you find yourself on the verge of watching a movie, or somehow endorsing an artist, take into account how your actions might lead to another’s own profit.