How Hollywood's real movie monsters hid behind the camera

What seemed, at first, to be a sex scandal engulfing one of the the movie industry's most powerful players, producer Harvey Weinstein, is expanding like the Big Bang.

This week Hollywood was rocked as allegations were made against actors Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman along with director Brett Ratner but fresh accusations against Spacey yesterday pointed to a more sinister problem inside House of Cards.

The first damaging claims came from actor Anthony Rapp that Spacey had made a pass at him when Rapp was just 14 years old, now several current or former workers on House of Cards have made fresh allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault against him.

Spacey is both executive producer and star of House of Cards, production of which has now been suspended indefinitely, and the accusations levelled against him point to an endemic problem at the hands of men in power in Hollywood.

"You are seeing a systemic pattern of marauding behaviour that is recently, because of technology in part, having the sunshine pierce it," Eric Schiffer, a leading US consultant on reputation and brand strategy, told Fairfax Media. "And with that comes a hail of fire, of disapproval from the public and the media."

The scale of the issue is the most difficult part of the scandal to grasp.

Initially it was a story about Weinstein, a seemingly notorious serial harasser, built on a smouldering pyre of earlier accusations against Fox News boss Roger Ailes and presenter Bill O'Reilly, actor Bill Cosby and US president Donald Trump.

But the Weinstein scandal has triggered an even bigger inferno, as though the smaller fires have combined into a larger front, and more victims have come forward to accuse Amazon Studios boss Roy Price, director James Toback, producer Chris Savino, Hoffman, producer-director Ratner, Spacey and others.

The centrepiece of this story is Hollywood and the business of making entertainment. The city's cliched casting couch, thought a metaphor for the longest time but plainly an actual couch in the experience of many, has roared out of the shadows.

And men like Weinstein, actress Kate Beckinsale said in the wake of the first scandal, are "an emblem of a system that is sick".

"This isn't anything new," New York-based crisis public relations expert Mark Macias tells Fairfax Media. "If you go back to 1950s Marilyn Monroe talked about the casting couch and just a few weeks ago Joan Collins talked about how she lost out on Cleopatra because she wouldn't sleep with a Hollywood executive."

"What's different now is social media is bringing this to light," adds Macias. "It's the conversation that we are all having that maybe in the 1950s no one discussed. And, as a result of the social media, the talking and the conversation, the [broader] media is paying attention."

In the pre-digital age such scandals were easily buried because information distribution was slow and encumbered by a series of human gateways which gave star handlers - publicists, managers and the like - leverage in an access-for-positive coverage transaction which was sometimes employed to control the message.

Social media, like most disruptive modern technologies, undermines those "middle man" gateways.

"Social media is the seismic shift for all of this," Schiffer says. "It creates a platform for truth [and] it is dangerously problematic for people, especially men that have been exposed, because its power is instant and global."

In the case of the Hollywood sexual harassment scandal, social media has given voice to the voiceless: victims have been able to speak openly, and through tools such as the #metoo hashtag, consolidate their voices into a chorus.

It has also created a risky dynamic that is not unlike a lynch mob. And significantly, so far, none of the accusations have been tested by the legal process, though in some cases the sheer volume (and similarity) of the allegations makes presumption of innocence difficult or impossible.

"The court system should be the final determinant and what will likely happen when the dust settles on many of these situations, some will need to get their reputation back, whereas the majority of cases, given the sheer number of allegations, should roll out in guilty verdicts of some kind, civil or criminal," Schiffer says.

In each case, reactions have varied. Spacey and Hoffman, for example, offered contrition. Spacey's statement - awkwardly worded and battered in the media for conflating sexual abuse with sexuality - offered Rapp "the sincerest apology"; Hoffman said for anything he did which put [victim Anna Graham Hunter] in an uncomfortable situation he was "sorry".

Ratner, on the other hand, threw down a litigious gauntlet, his lawyer Martin Singer calling the accusations "ridiculous", "absurd" or "secondhand", and via another lawyer, filing a defamation suit against a woman who published a rape allegation on Facebook.

The shrewdest response for an accused celebrity, says Schiffer, "depends upon the truth. If you are innocent, you want maximum transparency, if you aren't, you want to assume accountability and remorse and be apologetic. If you are responsible, then you need to own it."

Weinstein attempted the last of those strategies, Schiffer says, but "then undermined himself with his actions. With Ratner, I don't know what the facts are, but to the extent he's taken that stance, and there's a pattern, then he's playing with thermonuclear war, and he's going to be at ground zero."

For Hollywood, the next step in broad terms depends on whether there is a legitimate shift in the male-skewed culture which dominates the business.

Almost 80 per cent of credited producers and almost 90 per cent of credited writers are male, according to research. And of the top 100 grossing films last year just five were directed by women.

At the top of the administrative totem pole the balance is just as bad: more than 60 per cent of executive positions in the business are held by men, and in the highest income and influence band, that figure rises to around 80 per cent.

There will be a change in the deployment of power, says Schiffer.

"Corporations are not going to want the brand hits so they will inoculate, through the promotion of talented individuals who may never have had the shot to rule until recently, and women will be the absolute beneficiaries in the short term," he says.

And as for the brand of Hollywood itself, there is no danger though Macias says there is a need for the business to find a collective voice and lead on the issue.

"Individual brands, like Harvey Weinstein, like Kevin Spacey, will be definitely impacted. But the broader industry is not going to be hurt," he says.

"But the Academy Awards, the Emmys, all the organisations within the entertainment industry, they need to be a vocal force on this," Macias says.

"Whether they do it purely for PR reasons, or whether they really mean it, that's the first thing. There's gotta be that leader that steps up and says, we have to do more, we have to expect more from ourselves."

THE ACCUSED

KEVIN SPACEY
Actor and star of The Usual Suspects and House of Cards

??? Accused of making sexual advances towards actor Anthony Rapp when Rapp was 14; subsequently accused of sexual harassment or predatory behaviour by a number of men. ??? Spacey said he did "not remember the encounter [but owed Rapp] the sincerest apology." Is now seeking "evaluation and treatment." Netflix has suspended production on House of Cards.

HARVEY WEINSTEIN Producer
??? Multiple women have come forward with various sexual harassment complaints, including rape, dating to the 1970s. ??? Weinstein is in and Arizona rehabilitation facility and has denied any non-consensual sexual encounters.
??? Immediately after reports of the accusations, he said in a statement: "I appreciate the way I've behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologise for it. Though I'm trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go."

CHRIS SAVINO
(Now former) producer of the Nickelodeon series Loud House

??? Accused of sexual harassment by more than a dozen women, including unwanted sexual advances and threats of being blacklisted after ending consensual relationships with co-workers.
??? Posted apology on Facebook: "I am deeply sorry and I am ashamed. I have failed. I should have known better, I should have acted better." Savino was fired by Nickelodeon.

BRETT RATNER
Producer-director of
Rush Hour, X-Men: The Last Stand
??? Accused of sexual harassment or misconduct by six women including actresses Natasha Henstridge and Olivia Munn, accused of rape in a now deleted Facebook post.
??? Ratner's lawyer said he "vehemently denies" the claims; Warner Bros, which co-finances films with Ratner's company, has severed ties; he is suing the author of the Facebook post for defamation.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN
Actor and star of Tootsie, Kramer vs Kramer and Rain Man

??? Accused of sexually harassing writer Anna Graham Hunter when she was a 17-year-old production assistant, speaking openly about sex and inappropriately touching her.
??? Hoffman apologised, saying "I feel terrible that anything I might have done could have put her in an uncomfortable situation. I am sorry. It is not reflective of who I am."

JAMES TOBACK
Director of The Pick-up Artist and
Two Girls and a Guy
??? Accused of sexual harassment by 38 women in a Los Angeles Times report; subsequently more than 200 more women came forward. As of October 26 the total had reached 310.
??? Toback denied the allegations saying he had never met any of the women, had "no recollection" of meeting them and that due to medication some of the claims were "biologically impossible".

JEREMY PIVEN
Actor and star of Entourage

??? Accused by reality TV actress Ariane Bellamar of groping her, and by actress Cassidy Freeman of an unspecified act, saying only "what you did, and attempted to do, when I was far too young."
??? Piven denies the Bellamar claim; he has not responded to the Freeman allegation. CBS, which is making his new series Wisdom of the Crowd, says it is "looking into the matter."

BEN AFFLECK
Actor and star of Batman v Superman, writer-director of Good Will Hunting

??? Accused of groping actress Hilarie Burton's breast in a 2003 television interview, and of groping makeup artist Annamarie Tendler at a party after the 2014 Golden Globes.
??? Tweeted an apology to Burton: "I acted inappropriately ... and I sincerely apologise." Has not yet addressed the Tendler accusation.

ROY PRICE
(Now former) head of Amazon Studios

??? Accused of sexually harassing producer Isa Hackett in 2015, using inappropriate language and persistent inappropriate behaviour.
??? Has not publicly addressed the accusation; Amazon suspended Price after the allegation was first published and Price subsequently resigned from the company.

This story How Hollywood's real movie monsters hid behind the camera first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.