After Harvey Weinstein, is Hollywood really set to change?

The toppling of once-mighty movie mogul Harvey Weinstein in an onslaught of sexual harassment and assault allegations has been swift and unprecedented, but is this truly a watershed moment for Hollywood?

A systemic problem: 'There's kind of a wink and acceptance of that type of behaviour'

The revelations about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein have shone a spotlight on how Hollywood often turns a blind eye to sexual harassment and assault. (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for TNT)

The toppling of once-mighty movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has been swift and unprecedented, but is this truly a watershed moment for Hollywood?

Since the release of explosive investigative reports in The New York Times and The New Yorker, Weinstein has gone underground, reportedly seeking therapy. (He has denied any "allegations of non-consensual sex.") Meanwhile, accusers continue to come forward, forcing the industry to face difficult questions about the "culture of complicity" — meaning the agents, assistants, fellow producers and media partners that aided his abuse of power over decades.

London police announced Sunday they are investigating three new sexual assault allegations against Weinstein — all by the same woman. Those are in addition to another rape claim received earlier this week. The Metropolitan Police has not identified Weinstein by name in either case.

More than three dozen women have come forward with allegations of sexual assault or harassment by Weinstein, including (top row from left) Asia Argento, Rosanna Arquette, Jessica Barth, Cara Delevingne, Romola Garai, Judith Godreche, Heather Graham, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, Lea Seydoux and Mira Sorvino. (Associated Press)

Weinstein is just the tip of the iceberg, comparable to Britain's Jimmy Savile, Emma Thompson declared to the BBC last week.

"[Weinstein's atop] a system of harassment and belittling and bullying and interference and what my mother would have referred to in the olden days as 'pestering' … This has been part of our world, women's world, since time immemorial," said the actress and writer.

"Do they have to all be as bad as him to make it count? Does it only count if you have only done it to loads and loads of women? Or does it count if you have done it to one woman, once? I think the latter."

It's been widely predicted that the infamous producer is done in Hollywood, but will this scandal lead to real change in the industry, which has a track record of leniency for its wayward sons, particularly when the offender is a beloved artist or box-office phenom?

Organizers of the Oscars – the industry's top prize – have been criticized, for instance, for toasting controversial figures regardless of bad behaviour, sexual misconduct allegations or criminal convictions: from Roman Polanski to, more recently, Mel Gibson and Casey Affleck.

Facing the appalling scope of the revelations against Weinstein — and its own rocky process of diversification — the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made the almost unprecedented decision to expel him from its membership on Saturday

"We do so not simply to separate ourselves from someone who does not merit the respect of his colleagues, but also to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harrassment in our industry is over," the academy said in a statement.

And yet, Polanski, as well as Bill Cosby, accused of sexually assaulting dozens over the years, remain members. Top actors have eagerly queued up to work with Woody Allen, whose son Ronan Farrow — the reporter behind the New Yorker's Weinstein story — continues to remind the public of his father's alleged sexual abuse of his sister, Dylan. 

We work in a business that doesn't have the same rules as other businesses… I think that ultimately also allows people to excuse a lot of horribly inappropriate behaviour that shouldn't be acceptable.- Seth Rogen, actor, writer and producer

 "There's kind of a wink and acceptance of [sexual harassment]," Canadian actor, writer and producer Seth Rogen stated during a panel assembled by the Hollywood Reporter days after the Weinstein scandal initially made headlines.

"A lot of Hollywood people also like the fact that we work in a business that doesn't have the same rules as other businesses… I think that ultimately also allows people to excuse a lot of horribly inappropriate behaviour that shouldn't be acceptable."

'Powerful men are running the show'

The movie biz isn't the only industry grappling with systemic sexism and a distressing gender imbalance (not to mention a serious lack of diversity) that many say led to an environment where harassment thrived.

It's disappointing, considering Hollywood's origins. The experimental, scrappy era of silent films at the turn of the 20th century saw women working in a wide array of jobs: writers, actors, camera operators, directors, editors, studio heads and beyond.

The move to bigger budget "talkies" made Hollywood a more desirable workplace, but also required financiers (who didn't often support projects led by women). This coincided with the formalizing of the studio system, where a few powerful entities ruled. Over time, the result was a male-dominated industry that largely relegated women to be performers and regularly treated them like studio chattel. 

Countless actresses of Hollywood's Golden Age shared stories of being propositioned, sexually harassed or worse by authority figures, including, from left, Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, Tippi Hedren and Marilyn Monroe. (Associated Press)

Countless actresses of this period – dubbed Hollywood's Golden Age – told of being propositioned, sexually harassed or worse by male authority figures as a matter of course: Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Joan Collins, Tippi Hedren and many more.

This month's Weinstein revelations are proof today's Hollywood still includes influential figures who prey on more vulnerable people, behaving like the bigwigs of old.

"You do have an industry where a lot of powerful men are running the show and there isn't that much diversity in the boardrooms, in the people who are running the show. And when you don't have diversity, it allows for abuse. It allows for people to take their power and impose it on the people who work for them," veteran journalist Anne Thompson, IndieWire's editor-at-large, told CBC News.

"When we're talking about Hollywood, we're talking about a lot of freelancers, a lot of people looking for work, a lot of actors, auditions and a lot of up-and-coming young people who don't have a lot of protectors. It's just a system that has been abused for a very long time."

Social media a change-maker?

One factor that has set the Weinstein scandal apart, however, and offered hope of true cultural shift, is simply how many (and how quickly) additional women came forward after the New York Times and New Yorker exposés, amid a dramatic groundswell that rang out across social media.

Men, as well as women, are voicing support and, more importantly, sharing personal tales of being harassed through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other apps – suggesting a wider acceptance and recognition of victims.

Within a week, additional men in Hollywood – like Amazon's Roy Price and actor Ben Affleck – were being named online or in publications for past incidents of misconduct.​

"I think that women feel less alone and isolated and vulnerable when there's a group of women speaking out. Rose McGowan deserves a lot of credit for speaking up on Twitter and calling Harvey out and calling out the people at Amazon, too," said IndieWire's Thompson.

Regardless of whether Weinstein faces charges from the allegations, there's a silver lining, according to Robin Parker, a Toronto criminal lawyer with Paradigm Law Group.

We move society much more through social media, dialogue, news reports and current events than we do in the courtroom. The court is meant to follow society, not lead.- Robin Parker, criminal lawyer

"The more women who come forward to say 'I, too, was sexually assaulted,' – the shame associated with that goes away," she said.

"The court process is just one part of civil society and the conversation that we all have. We move society much more through social media, dialogue, news reports and current events than we do in the courtroom. The court is meant to follow society, not lead," Parker said.

While the world has no shortage of powerful men out to press their advantage, she added, "what's happening now is we're not saying 'Oh my, that's shocking' … What we're saying is 'Here we go again. What are we going to do this time, as a society?'"

Harvey Weinstein and Hollywood's power dynamic

5 years ago
Duration 6:55
Weinstein 'is not the only person who has been abusive' towards women, says Hollywood film producer Susan Cartsonis. 'There's a culture of abuse'