PROMISING YOUNG WOMEN AND TOXIC MEN

In February of 2020, when sex offender Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years for his decades of sexual assault, it was a moral victory and a hard-earned one for his many victims and the #MeToo movement. Putting away the former mogul had a real impact and it’s forced every corner of Hollywood, let alone other industries, to examine how it treats women today and re-examine how it has done so in the past.

During the course of the past six weeks, a number of stories have come out that continue to paint a picture of the problem and the inability of some privileged white males to learn or even atone. There seems to be a veritable cadre of those still with their heads still in the sand. (And if there was an ostrich here, I’d apologize to it.) 

Consider Woody Allen, once one of the world’s most lauded filmmakers. In the recent HBO documentary ALLEN v. FARROW, he refused to be filmed for it, but his audio read of his 2020 autobiography Apropos of Nothing is included. Even with all the new evidence, testimony, and release of previously sealed court documents, it is Allen’s own words that truly hang him. He sounds wholly unable to see the depth of the damage he’s done to the family he was ostensibly parenting with Mia Farrow. He points the finger at her and adopted daughter Dylan Farrow as villains out to ruin him, even though a slew of evidence points decisively to his guilt of inappropriate behavior with the then 7-year-old Dylan. You may love many of Allen’s films, as I do, but it’s awfully hard to think of his work now without thinking of his creepy behavior and all he did to cover it up and deny it to this very day.

Additionally, read Sharon Stone’s tale in the new Vanity Fair about how shabbily she was treated by men in Tinsel Town even after she became a superstar. One producer of a movie she was making urged her to sleep with her costar to increase their chemistry and make him a better actor. She refused outright, out of principle, and explained to the producer that sleeping with her costar wouldn’t make him a better actor. “Nobody’s that good in bed!” she quipped.

 Then there were the revelations by Heather Kristin in Glamour magazine this month that working on SEX AND THE CITY made her quit Hollywood forever because of various crew members putting her through a horrifying gauntlet of taunting, groping, and humiliation. At one point she was taped into stirrups of a gynecologist table on the show's set, the victim of a vicious, sexist prank. White male privilege doesn't always mean rich and powerful. It means men acting like a dick because they have one.

I don’t even want to get started on all the horrifying revelations allegedly about Armie Hammer's personal tastes and what he wanted to taste. The women who know him best seem to be more than capable of making the case against him. Suffice it to say, he's going to have to pray for a miracle to salvage his career. It's so bad right now, Disney is pushing back the release of the DEATH ON THE NILE remake that he stars in back to February of 2022. That's how much distancing the most powerful name in the entertainment industry feels it must do to not be seen with such a scoundrel.

I will mention Chris Harrison, however. He's the host of THE BACHELOR who stepped in it twice, big time, this past month. First, he defended illegal Antebellum parties on the show EXTRA, defending the plantation setting as a bad look in 2021, but not necessarily a few years back when one of the show's contestants attended on. As is slavery was ever a good look. Then he added insult to his injury by bullying EXTRA host Rachel Lindsay for questioning his attitude about such shindigs.

Harrison blamed the “woke police” for being far too sensitive, but the outrage wasn't just Lindsay's, it was millions. The outcry was so bad that ABC executives removed him from the last couple of episodes of the season to avoid any more controversy. As the announcements were made of his stepping back from the show for a while, Harrison said he would go away to learn, but apparently, it was a quick one because he's back in LA and the buzz is he's lawyered up to go after Disney to keep his job. Perhaps the lesson he learned was that America has a short memory. He'd be right about that. 

Watching last month’s Hulu documentary FRAMING BRITNEY SPEARS derided far and wide in the press for her sexual imagery and her emotional fragility. It was shocking to see how outright sexist men were towards her, none more exasperating than Matt Lauer smugly demeaning her morals and mental health on a 2006 interview on THE TODAY SHOW. Lauer, you’ll remember was shown the door after one too many times locking his door to entrap female employees he wanted to assault. Still, his perversion didn't stop him from all but calling Spears a whore on national television.

It's especially ironic that he would cast such aspersions because, in almost all of Spear's music videos, she's presented as the smartest person in the room. The characters she's playing are the ones in control, like her undercover spy masquerading as a flight attendant in the video TOXIC. By the end of the three minute-narrative with song, Britney's spy has stolen top government secrets, managed to break in and defy a laser-guarded penthouse apartment, and knocked out an enemy of the state with a lethal toxin. And oops, she's done it again, taking control of her career, working to control her finances, and whooping it up on Instagram with millions of followers hanging on her every word and move. Toxic men tried to cancel her, but she's having the last laugh. 

And yet, these male saboteurs and womanizers cry foul, blaming “cancel culture” for the shining lights exposing their inadequacies. They'd rather do anything than change their behavior. It’s one of the reasons that PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN has become such a cultural touchstone this movie season. Emerald Fennell’s darkly comic take on the revenge tale is especially pungent as it sets its sights on America's strange tolerance of rape culture.

In the film, Carey Mulligan plays Cassie, a once-promising young woman who became forlorn after her best friend in college was raped at a party with plenty of male onlookers cheering on the assault. A decade later, still unable to shake the events that shattered her life and her friend’s, she goes after such scuzzballs. But this is not a Stallone or Willis type of revenge movie, it’s a clever dissertation about atonement. Cassie gives the scumbags who’ve taken her back to their place, thinking she’s a drunk easy lay, a chance to straighten up and fly right. She doesn’t kill them, merely hectors. And in one case in the film, it works. Cassie invites old college gal pal Madison (Alison Brie) to lunch and regales her with stories of the gossip she spread about how her raped friend has it coming. For a moment, the audience thinks Cassie is going to physically harm Madison, but she doesn’t. 

 Cassie’s intent is for such abusers to change and chose not to abuse. Madison not only learns that lesson, but she helps Cassie to identify her friend’s rapist as a rather bold form of penance. In a film that is as sly as they come, Fennell and company are telling us in the audience that the first move to atone is to admit what you did was wrong. Apologize for being wrong, not merely being caught.

Still, too many men are taking a long, long time to learn how to treat women as equals. Just ask the NCAA. The revelations of their egregious double standards just broke this week in a month already chock full of stories of egregious sexism. March Madness, indeed. 

I've been a writer and artist working in the world of marketing and journalism for over 25 years. My film criticism started at TheEstablishingShot.org in 2011 and I'm now read in 27 countries. Other review stints included many years at both the Examiner online and Creative Screenwriting magazine, as well as hosting the movie podcast "Page 2 Screen" for three years. I've written screenplays that have been optioned, illustrated for many books and periodicals, and still work in the advertising world of Chicago. I'm also a proud member of the Chicago Indie Critics, the International Screenwriters Association, and SAG-AFTRA.