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Bystander Effect in Hollywood's Weinstein Affair

Harvey Weinstein’s move to the dark side started with actress Ashley Judd back in 1997 during the filming of “Kiss the Girls.” How appropriate given that at least 40 women have now come out and told their truth about sexual harassment, sexual assault, and the abusive way woman have been treated by Hollywood big shots like Weinstein for many years.

 

 

It’s not easy admitting you’ve been taken sexual advantage of to promote your career. I can understand how so many women remained silent for so long. Still, I find it uniquely hypocritical that Hollywood A-list women said nothing and, during the following years up until the present, they have been critical of those who treat women unequally and disrespect them, all the while remaining silent about the very acts they were exposed to years ago.

 

Some of the quotes from women who were taken advantage of boggle the mind that such bad behavior went on for so long and no one who knew about it had the guts to stand up for what they believe. They lacked the courage of their commitment to equality in the movie industry and to end sexual harassment.

 

Ashley Judd claimed in a New York Times interview that she went to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel for a business breakfast meeting with Weinstein but once there, a bathrobe-clad Weinstein asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower. Her account to the Times was confirmed to CNN by her publicist.

 

Judd went on say: "Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it's simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly." I’d say it’s well past time and there is no excuse for waiting so long. Where there’s smoke there’s fire and, perhaps, Judd could have prevented other abuses if she put her own self-interest on the back burner in the interests of honor and integrity in the film industry.

 

Another accuser, actress Asia Argento, claimed unwanted sexual advances by Weinstein to CNN. Then came Italian model Ambra Battilana Guiterrez, actress Mira Sorvino, producer Jessica Barth, French actress Emma de Caune, and former aspiring actress Lucia Evans, all of whom gave their accounts in a New Yorker piece. Weinstein’s reach knew no bounds and it’s alarming that so many women in different fields of the industry were affected.

 

After a follow-up report by the New York Times, A-listers Gwyneth Paltrow, and Angelina Jolie told similar stories of sexual harassment by Weinstein. Paltrow said it happened at a meeting that "ended with Mr. Weinstein placing his hands on her and suggesting they head to the bedroom for massages." Paltrow said she refused Weinstein's alleged advances, immediately left, and told then boyfriend, actor Brad Pitt, about the incident. He later confronted the producer in a "heated" exchange. Still, Pitt didn’t go public either choosing instead to protect his own career.

 

Jennifer Lawrence recalled a producer on one of her films asking her to lose weight. “And, during this time, a female producer had me do a nude lineup with about five women who were much, much thinner than me. And we all stood side-by-side with only paste-ons covering our privates. After that degrading and humiliating lineup, the female producer told me I should use the naked photos of myself as inspiration for my diet.”

 

The bravest admission may have come from Reese Witherspoon who revealed during a speech to introduce honoree Laura Dern at Elle’s Women in Hollywood a couple of weeks ago that she experienced multiple instances of harassment and sexual assault during her career in Hollywood. Her statement crystallizes why it was so difficult for so many actresses to tell the truth. She talked about the disgust she felt at the director who assaulted her when she was 16 years old and anger that she felt at the agents and the producers who made her feel that silence was a condition of her employment.

 

So, at the end of the day it wasn’t just Weinstein who violated ethical norms. It was agents and producers and, no doubt, others in the industry who swayed these actresses to stay silent. Their actions illustrate a “bystander effect” whereby those who can change behavior stand back and do nothing hoping (or rationalizing) that others will step forward. Of course, that never happened and many women in the film industry were harmed over many years. Alas, had the A-lister’s acted early on to report the unwanted advances and sexual abuse, so many others could have been saved from the trauma caused by Weinstein and the deafening silence of agents, producers and others in the industry.

 

The inactions of so many not only illustrate the bystander effect. It also illustrates a kind of “ethical blindness,” that is, not being sensitive to the ethical issues that all of us are called upon to embrace: personal responsibility, integrity, and equal treatment for all. The abusive behavior of Weinstein and inaction by so many also illustrates a ‘do what I say, not what I do’ mentality to business as usual in Hollywood.

 

At the end of the day, the very role models who should have set a positive example about right and wrong behavior in the film industry -- an industry that would have us believe they are always right about all the issues, all the time -- failed in their responsibilities to walk the talk of ethics.

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© 2016 by Steven Mintz and  Do Good PR Group