Academy Award-nominated actress and nerd boy icon Uma Thurman this weekend revealed a series of horrific sexual and psychological abuses she endured while working with Harvey Weinstein in the eighties and nineties. She also related a particularly graphic account of the life-threatening stunt and requisite physical abuse she endured under the unsympathetic and sometimes abusively watchful eye of director Quentin Tarantino when they were making Kill Bill Vols I & II for Weinstein’s Miramax Films in the early 2000s.
It’s sickening to read Ms. Thurman’s account of being forced to pretty much risk her life for an unnecessary dumb stunt of driving a souped-up Karman Ghia in Bill that to this day causes her severe and chronic neck and knee pain.
And downright felonious, not to mention, gag-inducing, enduring an eye-witness retell of “Harvey” luring an unknowing younger Thurman through the inner bowels of his lair where, in his secret steam room, he exposed his bathrobe and himself to her as she sweated profusely – in black leather shirt, pants and boots – frozen and momentarily silent before him in both disbelief and panic.
Weinstein has admitted some but not all of the exchanges but vehemently denies all fashion of physical abuse. In fact, in a statement he and his lawyers chalk it up to phrases like misread signals and awkward pass(es) – all part of some ongoing flirtation gone terribly wrong between them – though only from her point of view.
It’s enough to make you want to get sick once again – and again and again – until you can’t bear it any longer because now you’re remembering similar and eerily familiar accounts from Mira Sorvino, Ashley Judd, Asia Argento, Rose McGowan, among many others.
Yeah, and those are only the ones we know about.
There are moments I feel at a severe disadvantage speaking and/or writing about this as a gay man.
Is there something I just don’t get about the male/female sexual power dynamic? What in the world would possess any man to act this way – or in any fashion even resembling this way?
Yeah, yeah. It’s then I have to remind myself – it’s not about sex, it’s about power. There is a wide continuum of assaults and not all are ____________, not every is in the same ___________________, though each are certainly _______________ and inex______________.
(Note: And yes, I know it happens male on male but for now let’s try to keep our focus here).
This is so inadequate and just plain wrong. As am I and most of us on this entire issue. And to my mind, the piece of social commentary that captured it best was this sketch from a recent episode of Saturday Night Live:
That said, there is a pattern of behavior in the human world, particularly when it has to do with business and a particular brand of sexual and/or power dynamics in that marketplace. I can speak most authoritatively about the entertainment business and I find these examples are usually most effective since:
- It’s where I’ve spent most, if not all, of my professional life, and
- No one ever gets tired of listening and/or reading about any vaguely salacious and/or immoral tale about the business of show.
That given, here’s a partial list of what would be considered only minor offenses I’ve witnessed firsthand on a handful of movie sets of the years. In light of Ms. Thurman’s, et al, revelations they may seem petty, but let’s take a shot:
— An Oscar winning director leaning into the large breasts of his lead actress, often leering directly at them, only inches away in a strange kind of power struggle, all during shooting.
— A prestige producer and another Oscar nominated director remarking how much they’d both like to ram (nee f-ck) their sometimes difficult female star with their – well, let’s assume we all understand what the with their means (Note: Their hand motions and giggles made it crystal clear to me) in order to put her in her place.
— A very young 24 year old heroin-addicted movie star shooting an entire film for three months with his manager, agents and the film’s producers in full knowledge of his drug use but allowing it because the movie couldn’t be done without him.
— A 10 year-old rising actor turning to me one day on the set of a Disney movie with sad eyes and pleading, I just wanna play. I don’t want to do this. Please?
What does exactly one DO – especially if one is not in any sort of power position and its in the eighties and nineties?
Well, what I did was try to be of comfort, or at least more understanding, of the people (nee victims) involved. That would be the female stars, the little kid and the drug addict.
I also tried to directly or subtly plead their case to some of the powers-that-be in a way that I thought could do the most good.
In the case of the buxom lead actress, when I tried to apologize to her about the way she’d been treated, to which she replied, Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ve dealt with this before.
In the case of the difficult female star: I decided – Okay, no more complaining about her attitude to anyone else. In addition to some other uncomfortable moments where I go out of my way to be extra understanding directly to her – which in turn led to a sort of détente between us on the set and her being a bit less chilly towards me.
In the case of the young substance abuser: Keeping my requests of him to a minimum, try whenever possible to focus him when he was fuzzy-eyed and one time patiently and slowly helping him with the simple task of… signing his name.
In the case of the little boy: Pleading his case to a bunch of head nods and nervous silences from the producers. Then a roll of the eyes from his guardian. As well as a lot of curse words from fellow crew members about either what a cruel place Hollywood was or how it was really hard to feel sorry for a spoiled child making more money than their entire family because of a cute smile and floppy hair.
Needless to say, what I did wasn’t barely enough. And what I barely saw was barely enough of the very small tip of a ginormously overpowering iceberg of abuse, resentment, power and betrayal that just now has only begun to melt
Which only brings to my mind only this new hashtag: #WeAreAllComplicit
Though if you ever doubt it, peruse some of the reader’s comments after Ms. Thurman’s story in Deadline Hollywood, the NY Times or other outlets. Then sit with them for a while and think back on some of your own experiences in whatever industry you are or were ever were in and ask yourself – just what should this new hashtag be?