Jeff Simon: Harvey Weinstein and the end of the era of silence - The Buffalo News

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Jeff Simon: Harvey Weinstein and the end of the era of silence

Let me offer this as a personal microcosm of why silence had, for decades, surrounded the stories of toxic behavior by Harvey Weinstein that have become a hurricane of shame.

Weinstein made it possible for me to have a one-on-one interview with Madonna in 1991, at the height of her fame and influence. Her self-portrait "Truth or Dare" was coming out from his company Miramax and such tete-a-tetes with pop royalty were considered priceless coups in journalism.

No one I knew was charging the kinds of predatory sexual behavior that have now sickened the world, courtesy of long-gestating stories in the New York Times and the New Yorker magazine.

The first time I had an inkling that Weinstein was something more than an intermittent temperamental bully and openly sexual film producer was when the author of a book about indy film-making contacted me to ask if I knew any sexually abusive stories about him from his days in Buffalo, when he was a University at Buffalo student and then one half of the concert promotion team of Harvey and Corky.

I told him I didn't know any. Nor did I, until the avalanche of horrific tales from women started appearing all over American media.

So I understand Meryl Streep whose statement about Weinstein expressed both shock and disgust. It was news to her, too. The biggest favor Weinstein ever did me was to get me a one-on-one with the world's most famous pop star. In Streep's case, the ante was upped to the stratospheric level: One of his movies -- "The Iron Lady" -- won her an Oscar.

But that's how that protracted epoch of silence happened among those of us who didn't fear him. We merely benefited from him and watched as movies themselves did -- and dodged whatever bumps there were in the road.

Back when his partnership with Corky Burger made his company one of Buffalo's two biggest music promoters (the other was Jerry Nathan's Festival East), a few of us had regular dealings with Weinstein and his people. My worst bump on his road was to be the object of a 10-minute gale of obscenities and denunciations from him as the News' only available representative at whom he could vent for what he perceived as inadequate advance coverage of an upcoming event, a showing of Abel Gance's silent epic "Napoleon" at the Century Theater, where Carmine Coppola would conduct the BPO in his music for the film. At the end of all that nuclear omni-directional denunciation -- which remains singular in my professional life -- he casually announced "all of that was off the record." I replied that he could do something physically impossible to himself and then explained how "off the record" works in journalism.

Life went on. I had glimpsed his singular capacity to abuse and bully others but when Miramax and then The Weinstein Company made him one of the most powerful film producers who ever lived, occasional felicities continued to proceed to those in the town where his professional start began.

Even those of us who felt no fear of him whatsoever never found ourselves on the business end of the horrific allegations that are now all over. Silence was the result. It was, we know now, paid for -- with a lot of money. People were paid to shut up. Or intimidated by Harvey's physical, cultural and financial power.

The women making the charges in the Times and the New Yorker make up an ever-expanding list of the little known and the famous. Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan were the first in the Times, followed by Mira Sorvino, Asia Argento, and Rosanna Arquette in Ronan Farrow's piece in the New Yorker. Then in the Times' continuing coverage came Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie and Katherine Kendall.

Among the charges are some that seem to qualify as rape. The most shocking accuser was Paltrow, who for years told every press outlet imaginable how much warmth, gratitude and affection she felt for the producer who gave her an Oscar-winning role in "Shakespeare in Love."

No more.

To learn that in 2017, the onetime "first lady of Miramax" was "expected to keep the secret" of Weinstein's abuse, even after her then-boyfriend Brad Pitt confronted him about it, is a major shock.

What Paltrow said to the Times' is "we're at a point in time when women need to send a clear message that this is over. This way of treating women ends now."

And so, most likely, does Weinstein. He is probably only the latest waystop in what is becoming a radical and much-needed sea change in American culture.

One kind of sexual predatory behavior ended Bill Cosby's career and reputation. Another kind, including bathrobes and pathetic, infantile entreaties for massages , is set to end Weinstein's.

The late Roger Ailes was removed from the Fox News Network for his sexual malice. So was the network's biggest star, Bill O'Reilly.

We have come a long way from the kinds of sexual subjugation that used to be considered commonplace in Hollywood's "casting couch" era.

In the Internet era, information doesn't just flow widely and freely, it rages all over in torrents of ugliness, of which much is verifiable. What was once gossip is now journalistic testimony from people with good credentials and safety in a crowd. Character assassination is a snap.

History can be rewritten in a flash. It has been rewritten already in the cases of Cosby, Ailes, O'Reilly and now Weinstein.

Any man who hasn't gotten the message yet about changing male female relationships may be beyond receiving messages.

The question now, though, needs to asked on the other side: Where does the necessary work of gender justice end and what could become sexual vigilantism begin?

I hope we don't ever find out but I'd never say it's impossible. In the meantime, we're all waiting to see which big tree falls next.

email: jsimon@buffnews.com

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