Should we blame public relations for Hollywood’s ‘worst-kept secret’?

Written by Jodie

It’s the scandal that’s blown Hollywood wide open, spilling out allegations, secrets and cover ups that appear to have plagued the industry.

As of this week, over 40 women have now spoken out against Oscar-winning executive producer, Harvey Weinstein including A-listers such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, and Rosanna Arquette – prompting many to ask why the story didn’t come out sooner.

Many critics have said it is the publicists and agencies tasked with managing Weinstein’s reputation who bear the most culpability, for allegedly covering up and shutting down allegations.

Building and protecting reputation is a key part of any public relations practitioner’s role and while Hollywood publicity and talent agencies are a mere fraction of the PR industry at large, safeguarding the reputation of their clients in an environment where appearance is everything, is often central to their agenda.

One reporter lays the blame firmly at the door of “the network of aggressive public relations flacks and lawyers who guard the secrets of those who employ them and keep their misdeeds out of public view.”

The power of this ‘Hollywood PR machine’ is said to be reliant on the ability to woo reporters with access to A-list stars and invitations to premieres, holding a threat of a lawsuit over the heads of those attempting to break the story, with the support of high-profile lawyers. It has been reported that at least eight women were paid hush money to silence their claims.

And the talent agencies representing those now considered victims could be said to be a part of this machine, with some suggesting they are guilty of ignorance and endorsing an environment that facilitated his behaviour – all in the interests of profits.

“The agencies have a vested interest in protecting their own bottom line, not their clients,” says Tamara Holder in a Vanity Fair article, after describing how she won a settlement in a sexual assault case against a network executive, despite an agent urging her to stay quiet.

In the same article, the journalist states: “Holder’s story reveals the complex role agencies can sometimes play in sexual-harassment and assault cases, as talent representatives weigh the well-being of their clients against lucrative long-term relationships with studios and networks.”

But, it doesn’t stop there.

With films such as Django Unchained, Pulp Fiction and Silver Linings Playbook under his belt, Weinstein’s power and superiority is clear to see. So, is the reason the abuse didn’t surface until now down to the fact too many people had a lot to gain from the film mogul – money, film deals, notoriety – and as such, kept quiet?

“Let’s be perfectly clear about one thing: Everybody f***ing knew,” says Scott Rosenberg – a screenwriter, actor and producer, whose first two films were distributed by Weinstein. If he is to be believed, rumours of Weinstein’s behaviour were discussed with producers, directors, financiers, models, actors, journalists, screenwriters, rock stars, politicians, and so on.

Yet still, the story didn’t come out.

Rosenberg himself admits blame: “Harvey was nothing but wonderful to me. So, I reaped the rewards and I kept my mouth shut. And for that, once again, I am sorry.”

Many of the women themselves admitted to being afraid to come forward or follow through on their claims, for fear of ruining their careers.

And it seems Hollywood starlets are not alone. In the wake of the outrage surrounding the abuse allegations, #Metoo started trending across social media, with women across the world proclaiming that sexual harassment and abuse is a common experience in their daily lives.

What’s clear is that this is not just an issue with PR or reputational management, and more an insight into a widespread problem that surpasses the boundaries of the film industry.

In a culture where equality is still a goal, rather than a reality, and with recent data revealing men still occupy a large majority of the best-paid positions, people aren’t surprised that a powerhouse like Weinstein was reportedly able to abuse his influence for so long.

Reese Witherspoon, who alleges she too was abused and encouraged to stay quiet when she was a fledgling star, thinks if women can break through the ‘glass ceiling’ that appears to still exist, it can help to build an environment that doesn’t perpetuate a system of harassment and exploitation.

“…I think maybe during your next negotiation, this is a really prudent time to ask important questions like, who are your top female executives? How many women are on the board of your company?

“If we can raise consciousness and really help create change, that’s what’s going to change this industry and change society.”

Perhaps she’s right. And perhaps we should let the fallout from this scandal be a lesson for all industries.

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