Frontline’s ‘Weinstein’ documents mogul’s history on eve of Oscars
A special “Frontline” presentation timed to the Oscars, “Weinstein” is a methodical tick-tock of the sexual-harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein, and most significantly, how and why they were allowed to go unchecked for so long. Yet while essentially recapping the details, the hour falls short in providing further clarity to the key question: What did Hollywood, collectively, know, and when did it know it?
Granted, the documentary is essentially a somewhat hurried primer, which doesn’t add much new but does derive power from its subjects’ on-camera testimony. Moreover, the producer’s fate remains a work in progress, with several active investigations into sexual-assault claims still pending.
In some respects, “Weinstein” — produced in conjunction with the BBC — bites off a bit more than it can chew, going back to Weinstein’s entry into the movie business not long after college, and a pattern of harassment that began almost immediately.
Weinstein wouldn’t sit for an interview, but did provide written denials to a number of the accusations. Yet what “Weinstein” keeps revisiting is the extent to which others in positions of power either chose to ignore the rumblings or, more often, simply not to ask too many questions about a guy who was making money and amassing awards.
“I think we were all enablers,” says Paul Webster, an executive at Weinstein’s Miramax in the mid-1990s, in his first TV interview, adding that even without knowing specifics, it wasn’t much of a reach to surmise that a man “so abusive and bullying … would bring that abuse into the sexual arena.”
“Weinstein” also features several journalists who probed the rumors long before the story finally broke, without being able to get enough people to go on the record in order to prove or publish such explosive allegations.
Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of the documentary delves into the tactics Weinstein employed to silence accusers, from non-disclosure agreements to hiring an Israeli firm, Black Cube, to dig up dirt on those who might be threats to him, including reporters and actresses.
Several of Weinstein’s alleged victims are among those interviewed, discussing their reluctance to speak out, and the pressures faced by those who attempted to do so. Relatively few of his higher-profile accusers are featured, although actress Sean Young discusses an early encounter with him and the downward trajectory of her career after she “upset a few important men.”
For those who have mostly read about the story, seeing it on TV does add an element to the coverage. While the audiotape has been widely circulated, for example, it’s still jarring to hear Weinstein cajoling and pleading with Italian model Ambra Gutierrez — who wore a wire to a second meeting with him — and then see the tabloid headlines that were carefully planted to discredit her.
PBS’ juxtaposition of the special and the Oscars is no accident, thanks to what an outsized figure Weinstein cut during awards season.
The six months since the twin stories in the New York Times and New Yorker have prompted plenty of soul-searching and recriminations, but “Weinstein” is, ultimately, a clear indictment of one individual, and a vaguer one of the entertainment industry in general.
At the very least, those who did business with Weinstein recognized that he could be abusive, and seemed not particularly eager to learn more. As former employee Webster confesses, “The deal I made with the devil was to my advantage.”
“Weinstein” thus leaves plenty of room for other pointed questions — from further details about the level of complicity to where the industry goes from here — that practically cry out for a sequel.
Frontline’s “Weinstein” will air March 2 at 9 p.m. on PBS.