As film producer Harvey Weinstein entered a New York police station Friday morning, the photographers called out his name – “Harvey, Harvey” – as though they might trick him into turning his head their way. Weinstein, appearing older and paler but no thinner than he did when he disappeared from public view last fall, walked heavily into the building where he was charged with raping one woman and forcing another to perform a sex act. He carried with him several biographies of Broadway greats, including one of film and theatre director Elia Kazan and another about the artistic impact of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, as though he were expecting to be cooling his heels for some time. Of course, there was no posing for the cameras; this was not the Hollywood red carpet but a perp walk. Weinstein left the building in handcuffs.
And with that walk begins the next, difficult chapter for #MeToo, the movement to out harassers, abusers and sexual predators that not only destroyed Weinstein’s career, but has also forced dozens of powerful men in the North American media industries, including actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis C.K., and television host Bill O’Reilly, to resign from their jobs or abandon their shows. According to police sources who spoke to the Associated Press and CNN, Weinstein has been charged with forcing actress Lucia Evans to perform oral sex on him in 2004 and with raping, in 2013, another woman not among those who have spoken publicly against him. (He has plead not guilty and was released after posting US$1-million in cash as bail.)
More charges may be pending – a grand jury in New York is still interviewing witnesses while police in Los Angeles and London are also investigating allegations against the disgraced movie producer – and several of Weinstein’s accusers happily applauded his arrest. But the initial numbers are a reminder of the dispiriting situation Weinstein’s accusers now face: since the New York Times and New Yorker broke the story last fall, 85 women have accused Weinstein publicly, with 79 attaching their names to their allegations; so far only one of those cases, that of Evans, has led to charges. As Bill Cosby’s eventual conviction and Jian Ghomeshi’s eventual acquittal have shown, getting a court decision against powerful men accused of serially abusing women can be extremely difficult.
It is clear, from comments Weinsten’s lawyer made outside the police station, that the accused is going to fight hard. Lawyer Benjamin Brafman has successfully defended rapper Sean “P. Diddy” Combs against weapons charges and got authorities to drop sex assault charges against International Monetary Fund boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn; he said the Weinstein charges are “not factually supported “and “constitutionally flawed.” He repeated Weinstein’s position that he never had non-consensual sex with anyone and said his client will be exonerated.
To date the #MeToo movement, however painful it was for victims of sexual abuse to come forward with their stories, has had a kind of triumphal quality to it, a crowd-sourced sense of almost joyful turning of tables and righting of wrongs. “We got you Harvey Weinstein,” actress Rose McGowan, one of his most vocal accusers, tweeted Friday. But she also said in an interview with the Associated Press that her expectations of the justice system are low. As a guy with a fancy lawyer heads to court on a handful of charges dating back years, the atmosphere is going to get a lot of uglier because, at the end of the day, it is entirely possible Weinstein will escape conviction.
He will never escape, however, the public shaming, any more than Hollywood can escape the changes that has brought to the entertainment industry. The allegations against Weinstein – and mounting accusations against all sorts of his peers – have ripped the curtain off the dream factory and exposed many of its wizards as predators and opportunists. McGowan also reacted to his arrest by saying that you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. She’s right.
Back in 1991, Anita Hill’s testimony alleging abusive conduct didn’t stop Clarence Thomas from getting appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but in an era where employers were just starting to enact sexual harassment policies, it did introduce society to the idea that this was not just some joke about the boss chasing the secretary around the desk. The Weinstein case may yet provide that same disconnection between a man supposedly exonerated and a public that knows different: The rapid resignations of other men already suggest his industry’s tolerance for sexual harassment has finally evaporated.
In the end, it may not matter what happens when Weinstein gets his day in court. #MeToo has won the war.