Weinstein Co., the Oscar-winning movie studio, fired co-founder and guiding creative force Harvey Weinstein, just days after he stepped away from the company over allegations of sexual harassment stretching back decades.
Weinstein, 65, had taken a leave of absence from the company he started with his brother Robert after the New York Times said he had reached settlements with at least eight women claiming to have been harassed by him. Among those were at least three employees and an unidentified actress, the Times said.
“In light of new information about misconduct by Harvey Weinstein that has emerged in the past few days” the board informed “Weinstein that his employment is terminated, effective immediately,” the company said in an email Sunday.
The one-sentence statement culminated a swift fall for the longtime movie mogul and marked a new period of uncertainty for the company, which has struggled financially despite its artistic accolades. The independent studio is being led by co-Chairman Robert Weinstein and Chief Operating Officer David Glasser.
Weinstein, known for aggressive awards campaigns that led to Oscars for movies like “Shakespeare in Love,” denied many of the allegations and told the New York Post the report was unfair. Three board members at New York-based Weinstein resigned Friday, according to Deadline. The remaining directors – Robert Weinstein, Lance Maerov, Richard Koenigsberg and Tarak Ben Ammar– hired outside lawyers to investigate the allegations.
Those include some fresh claims. Lauren Sivan, a former Fox News reporter and a reporter at KTTV television in Los Angeles, told the Huffington Post on Friday that Weinstein once masturbated in front of her after cornering her in a restaurant. Artist Liza Campbell wrote in the Sunday Times over the weekend that Weinstein once interrupted a meeting in his room at the Savoy hotel, disappeared into the bathroom and asked her to join him in the tub.
“In any area where there is enormous competition to get in, some of those in power will be corrupt,” said Howard Suber, professor emeritus at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.
Meanwhile the movie executive’s defense team unraveled over the weekend. Attorney Lisa Bloom said on Saturday on Twitter that she had resigned as an adviser to Weinstein. Attorney and Washington political insider Lanny Davis also quit, the Times reported.
“My understanding is that Mr. Weinstein and his board are moving toward an agreement,” Bloom said in the tweet.
A number of prominent men in media have been brought down by allegations of sexual misconduct in the past year, including Fox News founder Roger Ailes, Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly and comedian Bill Cosby, who was accused of rape in a case that ended in mistrial. He’s expected to be retried in April.
The allegations by women including actresses Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan against a prominent and successful industry leader like Weinstein have the potential to be a watershed for Hollywood, according to civil rights advocates, by encouraging more victims of harassment to step forward and by pressuring studios to give women more leadership roles.
“One positive effect is that lots of women have spoken out,” the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said Friday in a statement. “The industry will change only when women feel it’s safe to speak out against the sexism that manifests not only in rampant sexual harassment but also in the failure to hire women or pay them equally.”
The industry has largely excluded women from prominent roles behind the camera and equal representation in front of the camera. Research by the University of Southern California found that the percentage of female speaking characters in movies hasn’t budged much above 30 percent over the past decade. And behind the camera, only 4.2 percent of directors were women, 13.2 percent writers and 20.7 percent were producers in 2016, despite women making up about half the population.
Part of the challenge for women is the fear of career repercussions for speaking out. Megan Ellison, the daughter of Oracle Corp. founder Larry Ellison who created producer Annapurna Pictures, tweeted sympathetically of the New York Times story. “Women face serious repercussions for sharing their experiences and deserve our full support,” she said. “I admire the courage of these women.”
The Directors Guild of America is overwhelmingly white and male, with a membership, including all directorial team members, that’s 23.4 percent female and 4.5 percent African-American, according to its website. The percentage of female directors in the group is even smaller, at 15.1 percent, with African-Americans at 3.8 percent.
Late last month, the guild released data that showed a sharp rise in the number of women and minorities as first-time directors in television — a result, the guild said, of its efforts to educate the industry. The percentage of minority first-time TV directors more than doubled since 2009 and the percentage of women nearly tripled, the guild said.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars, is also heavily white and male, and changed its voting rules last year to encourage more diversity.
Weinstein is best known as the founder of Miramax, the film company named after the mogul’s parents. The brothers sold that business to Walt Disney Co. and ran it for several years, clashing at times with management over the release of films such as Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.”
Through Oct. 1 Weinstein Co. grossed $122.6 million in North America from seven films, led by last year’s release “Lion,” an Oscar nominee. That compares with the peak in 2013, when it released 18 movies grossing $463 million, including Lee Daniels’ “The Butler,” according to Box Office Mojo. The Weinstein brothers own 42 percent of the company, the Times reported.
While Hollywood is known for its “casting couch” tales of sexual favors exchanged for advancement, Suber said harassment isn’t unique to the movie business. Weinstein’s lack of success at the box office recently may have contributed to the timing of his downfall, meaning victims were more willing speak out without fear of retribution.
“If he was still in his prime who knows,” Suber said.
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