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In Light of Harvey Weinstein, What is Our Responsibility?

CW: This piece discusses topics of sexual assault and harassment

When allegations involving celebrities – such as those of rape and sexual violence against Harvey Weinstein – appear in the public sphere, I struggle to find my place amongst the disturbed chaos. After reading initial reports, growing naturally appalled by Weinstein’s actions, I realized I had no idea who he was beyond being a producer. What films has he made? And are those films ones that I have watched and loved, lauded about to others and supported for years, unknowingly of what they might represent? I grew to discover, after reading his Wikipedia page, that he was part of establishing Miramax, which has released some iconic films such as “Pulp Fiction” and “Good Will Hunting,” and has won an Oscar for his work on “Shakespeare in Love.”

The understanding that such a vile person has touched artistry that I genuinely appreciate is jarring, and I instantly wonder what I can do, as a consumer, to separate my moral upset with my affection for film. When it comes to Weinstein, the public has finished turning a blind eye to his actions; celebrities, politicians, journalists and other icons are finally condemning his actions, which may be years too late to prevent the harm many experienced, but is still an essential step forward. However, not all cases of alleged abuse are as widely acknowledged as with Weinstein. Our president has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by over 15 women in the past three decades, yet he is still the leader of our country. Public tolerance of abuse allegations is a problem our society has always faced, but change can only come about if we, as individuals, as the people of this country and the consumers in this world, use our power as a coalition to make an impact.   

Our natural inclination is to separate the artist from the art; I am guilty of this constantly, I listen to Chris Brown songs while pretending to be above it all by recognizing his misogynistic and criminal actions. But this distinction is what leaves us complicit in the wrong, what allows for athletes to maintain successful careers and actors to win Oscars, despite allegations of domestic or sexual abuse. However, sometimes it’s more complicated than boycotting a concert or refusing to buy an album of someone whose actions are despicable; should I stop watching Johnny Depp movies, stop supporting all the others who contributed to the work, because of his wrongdoings? I think the power may start with us as the public, but does not end there. With Harvey Weinstein, angered voices and allegations took away at least part of his career. It’s essential to take the same action, to garner the same public attention, for other supposed role models and icons. And then it is the fellow celebrities who need to continue the effort and stage their own boycotting and make their own statements of disapproval. That means when iconic figures use their influence to support alleged abusers, just like Blake Lively has done for Woody Allen and Lindsay Lohan and others have done for Harvey Weinstein, the impact on public perception can be drastic. When you see your favorite actress and musician, and self-proclaimed defender of feminism, Selena Gomez is known to be acting in a Woody Allen film, it normalizes his actions, causes his alleged crimes to be forgettable and unrelated. It is everyone’s burden to stand up against abusers, whether you are a celebrity who can influence millions or an average person who can reach just a few.

There is strength in numbers; we may not be able to fire a football player or take a screenplay out of a director’s hands, but we can collectively use our voices to demand more from those who have the power to do so.  We cannot just be bystanders because it’s convenient; we must speak up because informal justice and the tarnishing of reparations is the first step on the path to greater change.

Cover Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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Elissa Gray

Northwestern '20

Elissa is a Northwestern junior in Medill studying journalism and political science. She was born and raised in Las Vegas, where her love for sushi, avocados, and hot cheetos all began. When she isn't wasting away in the library, she can be found binge-watching romantic comedies on Netflix, and dreaming about her favorite place in the world, Disneyland. 
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