The Casting Couch

Image via Urban One

It’s easy to get lost in the facade of Hollywood, every award season we see countless men and women sashay down a red carpet, all of them beautiful and handsomely rich. We see the gown and the tuxes and the jewels and the beautifully groomed hair. We love them and we envy them. How could we not? To us, their lives are perfect.

And yet, this world filled with glittering jewels has a dark unseen side. During the recent weeks, the facade of Hollywood seems to have come crashing down as numerous allegations of sexual harassment and assault committed by Hollywood heavyweight, Harvey Weinstein, have crept out of the wings and onto center stage. While what has been happening in Tinseltown’s shadows may seem shocking to us, it seems that the practice of the “casting couch” – in which demanded the trade of sexual favors for professional opportunities– is as synonymous to Hollywood as its famous red carpet.  

If you were to dig into Hollywood’s dark past you’d see how deep the roots of this disgusting practice goes. Harry Cohn, the founder of Columbia Pictures and head of the motion picture company from 1919 to 1958, was one of the first to exploit the wide-eyed woman that would come to Hollywood in hopes of stardom. It was in a private room right next to his office that most of the exploitations were committed. Cohn was in no way the only Hollywood mogul that practiced the casting couch. There were others, so many of them unconfirmed, at the time that would snare actresses into their web that it would be impossible to mention each and every one of them. And why should we? These men of the past were horrible people that don’t deserve another mention.

What we can do is talk about the victims: the people that would grace the screen and heartbreakingly endured it all for the sake of their dreams. It is claimed that when she was 12 years old a producer exposed himself to Shirley Temple during a meeting. Joan Collins claimed that the role of Cleopatra in 1963’s Cleopatra, a role that would later be played by Elizabeth Taylor, was supposed to be hers if it wasn’t for the fact that the exchange sexual favors was a condition in her hiring. Marilyn Monroe is known to have been approached with sexual advances by numerous producers and directors. Recently a long list of actresses including Rose McGowan, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Beckinsale, Lupita Nyong’o and Cara Delevigne have come out to say that they were in some way sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein. In the last week, “Scandal” actor Tony Goldwyn has also shared that he was also a victim of the casting couch, showing that the pandemic of harassment in Hollywood is affecting all genders, not just women.

             Image via Vanity Fair

The alleged sexual harassment and assault charges that have come to light against some of the powerful people in Hollywood have shown us that the horrible practice of the “casting couch” is not something of the past, and that the classic trope of the powerful taking advantage of the vulnerable is still strong. The fact that women are being harassed in their workplace is sadly no new topic, yet what seems to be even more shocking to the public is how these horrible acts have been tolerated for years. As the allegations of sexual assault continue to pour in from all areas of the entertainment industry, the same industry is no longer allowing these predators to continue to live their lives without consequence. Figures such as Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein who used to hold much clout in the entertainment industry are being pushed aside without much sympathy from the public.

It seems that the time of “boys will be boys” has finally come to an end. Finally, the victims of these horrible crimes won’t have to keep silent and be able to see their harassers get the punishment they deserve.