It struck me when I saw Harvey Weinstein’s grizzly mug on the cover of Time Magazine, that we’ve had two "Hurricane Harveys" this year.
One obviously came with only a few days notice before it wreaked havoc on the city of Houston and its outer lying suburbs. It left incredible devastation in its wake.
The other one was 30 years in the making and the trail of his wake has barely begun to surface. The damage that was done to his victims is slowly revealing itself. But the damage it has done to “Hollywood” is pretty ugly too and will continue for many years to come.
Sexual harassment has been a dirty little secret in Hollywood (and many other industries) for decades. Now the veil has been lifted and people are talking about it openly. Harvey Weinstein is not the first person to take advantage of his unyielding power and use it for ill-gotten gain. But alongside Bill Cosby, he is the latest to be revealed... and now there is a movement to stop it in its tracks.
Truth be told, I didn’t know Harvey Weinstein very well. I met him once or twice. I knew people who worked for him for a very long time. The rumors I had always heard were not about sexual harassment, but that he was a classic Hollywood 500-pound gorilla. A guy who yelled and screamed. A guy who hired and fired people on a whim. A guy who could make your life very miserable, if you got on his bad side. A guy who could make or break your career. A classic bully. A big scary bully.
So that is another dirty secret in Hollywood. We have bullies. Again, every industry, every school, every business, every club has bullies. But Hollywood has some of the biggest, and they are powerful, and they are rich... and that just makes it worse.
I have worked for a lot of bullies. Men and women. Young and old. Working for a bully can deprive you of your self-esteem, your sanity, and your health. But in Hollywood, you are taught to “tolerate” that behavior. If you don’t tolerate it, you are out. If you don’t tolerate it, you don’t deserve to be promoted. When I started in the entertainment business, we barely had Human Resources departments. It was just the way it was. I took it. I survived it. I succeeded in spite of it. But just because you survive it (and are promoted) doesn’t mean it ends. Bullies are everywhere. Sometimes it is your boss, sometimes it is a powerful producer, actor or director. I hated it and I hated myself for tolerating it.
In some cases, I stood up for myself. Often times for others. Sometimes standing up for myself got me fired. Hollywood is like the military. It beats you down and builds you up, so that it can make a “man” out of you. It made me tough, but it also made me compassionate. In some ways, I think it made me a better leader.
Looking back, I am not sure how I would have (could have) done it differently. The problem is with the culture. Those bullies were empowered by someone… at some point. So it comes from the top. It has to come from the top. It starts with role modeling and zero tolerance for bad behavior. It starts with kindness and human decency.
Hollywood is about to tackle sexual harassment head on, but we need to address both sexual harassment and just plain old-fashioned harassment. Harvey will be the poster child for this crusade. He is the embodiment of taking advantage of his power and using it against women who were his victims. Predatory behavior must be stopped in its tracks. But I believe, it is the abuse of power to be the fundamental issue. It’s not just a Hollywood issue, we see it in the political system and everywhere there is hierarchy.
I think Robert Fulghum said it best in his book, “All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten."
- Share everything.
- Play fair.
- Don't hit people.
- Put things back where you found them.
- Clean up your own mess.
- Don't take things that aren't yours.
- Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.