By Jake Coyle, The Associated Press
NEW YORK — As the grim scope of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual abuse has continued to expand, attention is turning to the question of who knew about the film’s mogul’s behaviour.
A key and potentially volatile component of Tuesday’s New Yorker expose was the claim that “a culture of complicity” has existed at both The Weinstein Co. and his previous film company, the Walt Disney-owned Miramax. “Numerous people throughout the companies (were) fully aware of his behaviour but either abetting it or looking the other way,” the magazine reported.
Further scrutiny has followed the contention that Weinstein’s conduct was “an open secret” in Hollywood. Focus has turned, in part, to not just the workplace environments Weinstein operated in, but the stars who may have had some knowledge of Weinstein’s alleged behaviour but who failed to raise any alarms.
Ben Affleck was called out Tuesday by alleged victim Rose McGowan. In a tweet, the actress accused Affleck of lying after issuing a statement that he was “saddened and angry” about the Weinstein revelations. “GODDAMNIT! I TOLD HIM TO STOP DOING THAT’ you said that to my face,” McGowan wrote on Tuesday. “The press conf I was made to go to after assault. You lie.”
Actress Hilarie Burton also renewed an earlier allegation that Affleck groped her during a visit to MTV’s TRL, which she was hosting in 2003. A Twitter user recalled the incident, noting “everyone forgot.” Burton replied, “I didn’t forget.”
Affleck tweeted an apology on Wednesday: “I acted inappropriately toward Ms. Burton and I sincerely apologize.”
The ongoing fallout poses potentially severe legal issues for the companies involved. The Weinstein Co., which fired its co-chairman on Sunday, has moved to continue forward with plans to change its name. In a statement Tuesday night, the Weinstein Co. board of directors strongly denied that it knew about Weinstein’s behaviour.
“These alleged actions are antithetical to human decency. These allegations come as an utter surprise to the board. Any suggestion that the board had knowledge of this conduct is false,” the four-member board said in a statement. “We are committed to assisting with our full energies in all criminal or other investigations of these alleged acts, while pursuing justice for the victims and a full and independent investigation of our own.”
The board, however, includes Weinstein’s brother, Bob, the company’s other co-chairman. And several board members earlier resigned in the wake of the initial allegations of sexual harassment. That report, published Thursday by the New York Times, also detailed hundreds of thousands of dollars in alleged settlements. It’s not known if Weinstein made the payments personally or if either The Weinstein Co. or Miramax did.
Legal experts are skeptical The Weinstein Co. could have been unaware given the volume of allegations.
“Given all the information that’s coming out now, I would find it highly implausible that the board was not aware,” said Angela Reddock-Wright, an attorney specializing in employment and labour law who has represented businesses in harassment suits. “There are just too many allegations here. Unless there were settlements paid out by Weinstein from his own personal money, settlements over a certain dollar value would have presumably been approved by the board of directors.”
Representatives for both companies didn’t respond to questions.
On Tuesday, Michael Eisner, who was Disney’s chief executive during Harvey Weinstein’s tenure at Miramax, said he “had no idea he was capable of these horrible actions.” Disney purchased Miramax in 1993; the Weinstein brothers departed in 2005 to create the Weinstein Co.
“Fired (the) Weinsteins because they were irresponsible, and Harvey was an incorrigible bully,” said Eisner on Twitter.
Disney’s current chief, Bob Iger, also responded in a statement: “Harvey Weinstein’s reported behaviour is abhorrent and unacceptable, and it has no place in our society,” said Iger.
Representatives for Weinstein did not return messages.
Three women accused Weinstein of raping them, The New Yorker reported Tuesday, including the Italian actress and filmmaker Asia Argento and a woman, Lucia Evans, who was an aspiring actress in college when he allegedly sexually assaulted her at Miramax’s Manhattan offices in 2004. The magazine also cited a third, unnamed accuser. A growing number of actresses, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Roseanna Arquette, have also made allegations of sexual harassment.
The New Yorker quoted Weinstein representative Sallie Hofmeister responding that “any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein.” Weinstein earlier apologized “for the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past.”