This year's Academy Awards was the first since a cascade of sexual misconduct allegations against top entertainment moguls. In spite of promises to stick to the movies, the Oscars offered the usual sequel: brave stands that seemed as scripted as the films. It's an industry that has long aligned publicly with causes that advance and protect women. So for this week's cover story, we decided to go to LA and dig into Hollywood hypocrisy.
It’s Hollywood, where everybody wants to be a star. Once in a blue moon, a star is born. Sometimes, it turns out, with help from the casting couch.
The casting couch has been a persistent image in entertainment since the early 20th century.
Dancer Agnes de Mille once spoke of the casting couch supposedly operated by Broadway theater pioneers. They ran a brothel, she said. If you didn’t sleep with them you didn’t get the part.
Over the last hundred years, it turns out Hollywood hasn’t really come such a long way. For all of its public posturing with the “#MeToo” movement, critics say the entertainment industry is surprisingly backward in striking respects.
Meg James: How women are portrayed in films. How many women have speaking roles? Women that are in sexualized positions and wearing scanty attire. Hollywood is not innocent in how society treats women.
Meg James covers the business of entertainment for the LA Times.
Sharyl Attkisson: Does the entertainment industry have a double standard when it comes to sexual misconduct?
Meg James: When the Access Hollywood tapes came out, everyone in Hollywood went nuts. They took to Twitter. Everyone was condemning the behavior that Trump, you know, was captured on audio tape talking about. And then Harvey Weinstein happens, and there was, for three or four days, there was just silence. And to me, that struck me as being a double standard.
Watch iconic films today and some find the most memorable scenes cringe-worthy in terms of message.
Sharyl Attkisson: A friend said to me the other day, "I watched an old James Bond movie, and there was a sexual assault in every scene.” It wasn’t presented as a sexual assault. It was presented as some sort of romantic plot in the film.
Caroline Heldman: I think we live in a rape culture, and I define that as a culture that both doesn't take rape seriously as a crime, but also eroticizes and celebrates sexual violence.
Caroline Heldman is a professor of politics and survivor advocate. She says she was let go as a TV commentator for rebuffing the advances of a senior executive.
Sharyl Attkisson: When I say Hollywood hypocrisy when it applies to this topic, what does that make you think of?
Caroline Heldman: Hollywood hypocrisy, pertaining to sexual violence I think, refers to the fact that we have known that casting couch culture promotes sexual violence, for a century and we've done nothing about it. For many people, it's just a PR stunt. Because if you knew about this issue 20, 30 years ago and you had the power to do something about it, why didn't you do something about it?
Sharyl Attkisson: When we talked about the double standard, one thing that I was thinking back to was Ashley Judd speaking so judgmentally, perhaps rightfully so, of her thoughts on President Trump and his behavior, yet not, at the time, revealing what had allegedly happened to her.
Ashley Judd: I am a nasty woman. I’m not as nasty as a man who looks like he bathes in Cheeto dust.
Sharyl Attkisson: So projecting against somebody else, not related to her situation, while in her own backyard, all of this was going on?
Meg James: I think that's a fascinating observation. When Ashley talked to Variety a couple years before, she talked about being assaulted by a studio head. And at the time, people thought that it was Harvey Weinstein but she wouldn't utter his name. I think that was the power of the reporting by the New York Times, Ronan Farrow with the New Yorker and others, was finally women came together and said, ‘We can protect each other. We can speak out.’ So I think that for Ashley, there probably was a few years of trying to figure out, come to grips with this behavior.
Sharyl Attkisson: You had said the sort of allegations against Weinstein put Hollywood and Democrats in an awkward spot. What was the awkward spot, in a nutshell?
Meg James: That Harvey Weinstein had been a major fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, had been close to the Clintons for years. He was a power broker, not only in Hollywood circles and Oscar voting but also in Democratic politics. I think for the Democrats, and I think they're continuing to wrestle with this. I think that's one of the reasons why Al Franken was tossed so quickly, was how do they become the party of zero tolerance when such behavior is so widespread? And, also and when they've also benefited from people who have alleged to have perpetrated the behavior.
Sharyl Attkisson: Do you think some of the big Hollywood power brokers may have gotten a pass over the years because they contribute so much to the Democratic party, and to liberal interests?
Caroline Heldman: I think the reason that Hollywood power brokers have been protected has a lot more to do with the fact that they have fiefdoms and that Hollywood runs on these informal fiefdoms where you develop a lot of power and then you dole out favors, jobs, you get contracts. And so we place a lot of power in the hands of a very small number of people. And that's what protects them, not their association with the democratic party.
Christine Porath teaches at Georgetown University and studies uncivil behavior in the workplace.
Christine Porath: When I've talked to people that work in Hollywood, production firms and things like that, one of the things that they've said is many people get treated like props — that eat. That they just, that's how people roll, unless you have high status you just don't get the respect.
Sharyl Attkisson: Do you think Hollywood is going to see some sort of big, sea change now because of this?
Christine Porath: I do. I think I've been very impressed with the way that women have spoken up about it and how they've banded together to try to set new norms for the industry.
Heldman isn’t optimistic in the long term.
Sharyl Attkisson: Do you think some of these women speaking out now in Hollywood may suffer repercussions if we look in three years, five years down the road?
Caroline Heldman: The problem with coming forward in order to raise awareness is that it still comes with retaliation. I would like to see three to five years out, what sort of retaliation the women who have spoken up in Hollywood are facing. My guess is that they will experience very high rates of retaliation. Mostly in subtle forms, right? Where they're labeled a troublemaker and they don't get hired at other places.
The closing lines of this particular Hollywood story are still being written. Will scandal retire the casting couch once and for all? What will happen to the fated heroines who are bringing the problems to light?