The term “producer” as used by the American film industry is a curious thing. What, exactly, do these people produce? They do not create anything that appears onscreen, and the function is generally acknowledged as that of a “shepherd” on a film project. Would anyone call an actual shepherd a producer? In what other realm is a shepherd imbued with an aura of mysterious power?
It has been a rough patch recently for the powerful white male media executive, with film producer Harvey Weinstein the latest pariah to have his career derailed after being unmasked as a sexual predator. Parallel investigations by the New York Times and the New Yorker into his decades of vile behavior towards female subordinates and actors have produced a parade of prominent women willing to go on record, name names, and provide details. The industry will do a lot of navel-gazing to decipher how such an open secret remained out of the media spotlight for so long. Some other things this soul-searching might examine include the usage of these terms:
- “Hollywood” – shorthand for the U.S. center of the global entertainment industry. The place of its historic nexus conjures glamor, nostalgia, and escapism – all meanings intended to distract from the fact that it denotes a collection of multinational conglomerates whose mission is to separate its customers from their time and money with artifice, both obvious and covert.
- “Actress” – intended to conjure femininity and beauty. It implicitly defines the craft of acting as being a distinct activity when practiced by a woman vs. a man. It is an oddity in a language that does not use grammatical gender and anachronistic in the same manner as the term “stewardess”.
I am also curious about the facts deemed relevant to Gwyneth Paltrow. She grew up in the industry, has been an actor for nearly thirty years, and has won the highest award for the profession, the Academy Award. She is the CEO of Goop, the company she founded, which the Times chose to shorthand as “entrepreneur”. Was it necessary to bolster her credibility by contacting her ex-boyfriend and printing his account? How do Weinstein’s actions towards her make it relevant that Brad Pitt called him out on the incident? Paltrow’s godfather is Stephen Spielberg – why not mention that too? Did the Times contact him to find out what he thinks about the whole thing? And does Brad Pitt have anything to add about Weinstein’s behavior towards his ex-wife Angelina Jolie?
The reporting on this, far from only illuminating Weinstein’s depraved actions, also illustrates how the media itself continues to marginalize women in the entertainment industry and how the industry treats “actresses” as interchangeable commodities. The sexual aspect of Weinstein’s offenses and the repeated use of the term “harassment” to describe many of them also camouflages the fact that a person who threatens the livelihood of another to get something of value is not practicing harassment, but extortion.