With the Weinstein scandal/affair/gate/catastrophe still ricocheting through Hollywood and the world, attention has turned to those around him: men whose mea culpas for not speaking up are becoming more specific by the day. George Clooney and Matt Damon have both rushed to say that while they knew he was a jerk and a sexual hustler, they, well here’s Damon:

“I knew he was … a womaniser … I wouldn’t want to be married to the guy. But … the criminal sexual predation is not something that I ever thought … was going on. Absolutely not.”

Others have been even more giving with Quentin Tarantino saying he “didn’t do enough” knowing what he knew — which he also limited to harassment and “shakedowns”, not the rapes of which Weinstein is now accused.

To judge from all this, you’d think Hollywood was as it was in 1955, powerful men and would-be starlets. But that is one of the curious things about this ever-widening cultural chasm, separating past and future. Hollywood, far from being a male bastion, is an industry where women have reached executive status in great numbers.

Thus, the Elle magazine 2015 power list of women in Hollywood has the following studio heads:

  • Stacey Snider, co-chair, 20th Century Fox
  • Kathleen Kennedy, president, Lucasfilm
  • Nancy Utley, co-president, Fox Searchlight
  • Elizabeth Gabler, president, Fox 2000
  • Terry Press, president, CBS Films
  • Hannah Minghella, president, Tristar
  • Diane Nelson, president, DC Entertainment
  • Sue Kroll, president, marketing and distribution, Warner Brothers
  • Megan Colligan, president, marketing and distribution, Paramount
  • Donna Langley, chair, Universal

This is not merely one or two inclusions in a male field, nor is it a recent thing. Many of the major studios are led by women, and have been for a decade or so. These are all women whose power would have been equal to, or greater than, Weinstein’s. They, like the many male power figures who gave Weinstein a free pass, are plugged into gossip through agents, casting directors, etc. Many of these studios co-produced with Miramax. Snider, ex-CEO of Dreamworks, worked directly with Weinstein. Minghella was a former PA of his. Terry Press, who led the charge to have him expelled from the Academy, told The New Yorker that the toxic, bullying work culture of Miramax (Weinstein’s earlier company) was known to all.

Perhaps we can assume that none of them knew anything about Weinstein’s activities. But talking in more general terms, how would it come about that an industry with many female power figures might be as remiss in dealing with predation as a male-dominated one?

The answer is about class, scarcity and power, not gender. The supply of young actors, male and female, vastly exceeds demand. In screen media, expressive talent — beyond a certain competence — is not an essential. Those who can do that, come from far and wide. It can be reasonably supposed that many of them will do a lot more. Those that won’t, will talk, but not report. It’s absurd to blame female actors for not stopping Weinstein; he had great power over their careers — all the more so, because it was clear to hopefuls that no one was stopping him. But he ran a small studio, comparatively; he would have been powerless against collective action by the majors.

But if there is no scarcity of actors, there is of hit-makers, and for many years, Weinstein’s hit ratio was too good for other studios to ignore him. In an industry where “nobody knows anything”, and assessing how a movie has to be made or reshaped is an art that can’t be formalised, someone with the gift of it can write their own ticket. Weinstein didn’t make much money, relative to his peers, but he got Oscars and prestige — for himself and co-producers and people around him.

Major studio heads — male or female — rely on such figures for the difference between success and failure. It’s very interesting indeed that Weinstein has come crashing down, after his golden touch appears to have evaporated, with a string of underperforming movies. Was he safe as long as he was successful? He may be the most monstrous figure in all of this. He may not be the most ruthless, or the most dissembling.

Of little importance in the scheme of human affairs, the Weinstein issue at least alerts us to this. The division of power and class is the real one. Gender solidarity against oppression is something of a hopeful construct. Appeals to broad and simplistic notions of patriarchy, often mask other power divisions, in an often self-interested way. The suggestion that Weinstein couldn’t have got away with it if women were in charge of Hollywood is obviously false. Women are in charge of a great deal of Hollywood, and he and others did, and do, and will. Is that due to the nature of that industry — or a wider truth about where real power lies?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey