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Book review of Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence by Ken Auletta



In horror movies, monsters are (almost) always raised from the dead for their final fear. People can be forgiven for feeling the same way about books and articles about Harvey Weinstein.Read another thousand or one hundred thousand words of stories about studio executives – slashes – raped or otherwise beaten by sexual predators and what you’ll get more than 100 women between the 1970s and 2010s? His crimes have been well-reported in newspaper and magazine stories and the books of the journalists behind these exposures, not to mention multiple podcasts and documentaries. Since each new comment extends Weinstein’s notoriety and delays his obsolescence, it can be argued that it serves his core desires: fame and influence. Similar points have been made many times about true crime and serial killers. As Teen Vogue’s Sandra Song put it, “When we focus so much on murderers—their neuroses, their painful pasts—we lose sight of the fact that the victims of these crimes are human too.” Ken Aureta certainly doesn’t Will Ignore the Victims in “Hollywood Endings: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence,” his new biography of the former filmmaker, now serving 23 years in prison. But in search of Weinstein’s “Rosebud,” Oletta both exaggerates the fearsome tycoon (comparing his hubris to “Citizen Kane”) and extends the cultural conversation to the perpetrators and to letting him Reason for the tick.

As a biography, “Hollywood Finale” focuses more on Weinstein himself than on the issues of sexual misconduct and professional intimidation in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” “She Said: Breaking Down the Sexual Harassment Stories That Helped Spark a Movement” by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey and “Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protest Predators” by Ronan Farrow. In these books, the journalists who broke the story of Weinstein’s serial sexual abuse in 2017 explain how they reported for The New York Times and The New Yorker, respectively, Weinstein was eventually exposed and led to his arrest, conviction and imprisonment. Kantor, Twohey and Farrow focus on attack survivors and their bravery to expose predators. Notably, these authors also contextualized Weinstein’s downfall in the #MeToo movement.

By contrast, Oletta narrowed down the 2017 revelations about Weinstein to identify the producer’s other victims: employees he bullied, business partners he exploited and brothers he demeaned. Auletta also investigated Weinstein’s childhood and early adulthood to discover what might have contributed to the tycoon’s criminal behavior. Is it his angry and domineering mother? Was it always outsiders and underdogs growing up “poor, ugly, Jewish,” as Weinstein himself put it (and, it should be clear, Weinstein embraced these positions too)? who cares? As anyone who’s ever seen a horror movie knows, the afterthought of the monster’s pathology is irrelevant. At the end of “Psycho”, the revelations about Norman Bates’ horrific childhood did nothing to help Marion Crane, the victim of Bates’ murderous “shower scene” attack. Nor would these revelations prevent future Normans from attacking future Mariones or teach women how to avoid Normans entirely.

Like all of Oletta’s work, “Hollywood Ending” Thoroughly researched and excellent readability. Auletta is a highly skilled journalist whose ability to gather compelling narratives from a multitude of sources helps him create well-rounded characters and juicy prose. A prime example is his description of Weinstein’s “unhinged, Shakespearean relationship with his brother Bob Weinstein, which transformed from unbreakable partnership to screaming competition, rigid estrangement, and At least one bloody blow.” Bob co-founded the Miramax and Weinstein companies with Harvey, and initially shared Harvey’s erratic temper and propensity for verbal abuse. However, over the course of the “Hollywood Finale,” Bob Weinstein became a symbol of redemption.Although Bob has also scolded employees and even paid settlements to some of Harvey’s victims (ostensibly unaware that their claims involved assault), he 2004 and beyond trying to guide his brother back into addiction. What Bob knows and how much he has helped Harvey remains unclear, but in Oletta’s hands, his role is proof that recovery is possible and that Harvey could have changed but didn’t.

By exploring Harvey’s relationships with his brother and other men, Oletta humanizes the monster, which makes his approach feel fundamentally misguided. Because Oletta himself was the first to admit it, he failed to expose Weinstein’s sexual predatory behavior in a 2002 New Yorker profile. Auletta addresses this shortcoming well in his book, and credits Kantor, Twohey, and Farrow for finally breaking the story he couldn’t. However, “Hollywood Finale” insists on emphasizing the same bullying behavior that Auletta found in 2002: tantrums, abusive employees and co-workers, and reckless eating, smoking and spending. Maybe it’s Harvey that Auletta knows best, or maybe Auletta is quietly reaffirming the importance of his 2002 profile and the revelations it contains.

Either way, I found myself wondering why I should care about Weinstein’s corporate power struggles, such as whether he disobeyed Michael Eisner after Disney bought Miramax in 1993. Maybe Miramax didn’t make as much money for Disney as the Weinstein brothers claimed, and maybe Harvey did refuse to admit that Eisner was his boss. But underbudgeting and tyrannical hubris are not as serious as rape and sexual assault, and “Hollywood Ending” implicitly lumps them together. For example, in the 28-page “Culture of Silence” chapter that defended Weinstein in the mid-1990s, Oletta devoted only eight pages to describing criminal sex. The other 20 recorded Miramax’s success in Pulp Fiction, Sling Knife, The Piano and The Scream. Auletta argues that these successes were the reason Weinstein’s contemporaries protected him, but the author devoted more space to Weinstein’s business dealings than his victims, perpetuating a value system that valued art over those harmed by their creators. Of course, Weinstein shouldn’t be yelling at colleagues, launching a whisper campaign to reduce “Save Private Ryan”‘s Oscar chances, or forcibly kissing, stripping, and harassing the actress and his staff. The crimes, however, were disproportionate, and in his rush to document all of Weinstein’s misdeeds, Aureta inadvertently implied that they were.

“Hollywood Ending” is a well-crafted biography of a disgraceful predator. It’s not an obscene book, but I can never stop questioning its approach to the subject. Like most true crime reporting, it exists because women suffer. Its main subject, however, is neither the survivors nor the noble journalists and prosecutors who ended the monster’s reign of terror. It’s still the monster himself. I don’t believe a better understanding of Weinstein will help women “gain some kind of power to overcome the culturally endemic narrative of girls and women being brutalized” – this is Tanya Hoeck in her book Justice on Demand: True Crime The common rationale for this genre mentioned in the age of digital streaming. So if you’re interested in how the American film industry accumulates and uses power, read “The Hollywood Ending,” but don’t expect answers to sexual violence or how to stop it. Monsters have nothing to teach you.

Caetlin Benson-Allott is Professor of English, Film, and Media Studies at Georgetown University and author ofWhat to watch: The material culture of film and television. “

Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence

Penguin Press. 466 pages $30

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