HARVEY WEINSTEIN, THE CASTING COUCH, AND NOLLYWOOD PRODUCERS

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Harvey Weinstein and Nollywood

Wallahi, na woman go kill ma, no be lie. When I think of how many great men have had their careers marred by an indiscretion or just outright perversion, it emboldens me to state that there is no cure for the malady known as women and their sexual lures. If you add power, money and impunity to this already heady mixture, then you can see how men fall time and again at the feet of sexual power.

Donald Trump grabbed ‘em by the pussy. Our favourite Black American daddy Cliff Huxtable aka Bill Cosby is battling allegations of drugging and sexual abuse spanning decades. He may never spend a day in prison but, at this point, does it matter? Bill Clinton was probably one of the most popular American presidents till we learnt he may or may not have made presidential decisions with a mouth encircling the Presidential Penis.

Kevin Hart’s own is starting to look like home trouble: he cheated on his ex-wife with his current wife, and is now cheating on his current, pregnant wife with an escort.  But Mr Hart ain’t trying to put his money where his mouth has been. He kuku did a video and came clean rather than succumb to blackmail.

Please note that this this is not a treatise on morality; I have no problems with which in well a man chooses to dip his pen. That’s between him, his wife, and his divorce lawyer. The above is just to show that men have always succumbed to the lure of the forbidden fruit.

No, this is more to do with when sex is used to wield power, punishment or establish leverage.  Which brings me rather neatly to the case of Harvey Weinstein. He is an inspired individual, no doubt.  Weinstein, aged 65, is one of the most successful and prolific film producers in Hollywood. He is the co-founder of the production-and-distribution companies Miramax and the Weinstein Company. He has produced some of the most popular films of the last four decades, including Pulp Fiction, Shakespeare in Love, Chicago and The Queen. Weinstein’s movies have earned more than 300 Oscar nominations. He has money, power, status and influence, and uses sex as a vehicle to exert authority over women.

Women who, for years, have praised him and hailed him as being responsible for jump starting their careers are now saying (and I paraphrase) “Yes, we always knew he was a pervert who operated a rather brisk casting couch.”

Meryl Streep and Dame Judi Dench who have both hailed his work in the past have all distanced themselves from him during these turbulent times. If this were a case of pervy producer, no one would bat an eyelid. Hollywood is awash with predators; Woody Allen still works – albeit getting the occasional side eye. Weinstein’s influence would have sailed him through allegations with nary a scratch.

No, the main problem with the allegations against him is to do with the fact that his advances are based on power and not on the pure exchange of chemistry.

Actress after well-known actress is coming out with allegations that suggest that their hiring (or continued success in Hollywood) would be hinged on “playing nice” with the mega-producer.

Mira Sorvino Ashley Judd, Cara Delevingne and Heather Graham have all come forward to state that very early in their careers, Weinstein had been inappropriate with them while dangling the promise of a bright future in front of them. Angelina Jolie point-blank will not work with him. He has previously settled eight allegations out of court with actresses who nearly went all the way with the accusations.

And who could blame these ladies for waiting on a bandwagon before speaking out? So strong was the adoration that Hollywood held for Weinstein, The New Yorker wrote: “At the annual awards ceremonies, he has been thanked more than almost anyone else in movie history, just after Steven Spielberg and right before God.” This is a man with the ability to make, break or bury you. Would you speak??

And this is in a country with ‘clear’ moral outlines.

What does this all bode for Nollywood?

The problems facing Nollywood are manifold: half the time, actresses are not believed. And even when her claim is plausible, it is oft met with shouts of “And what about the women?! They blackmail us too! They wear skimpy things! These actresses come to our hotel rooms!”

Nollywood and sexual harassment cases
In Nollywood, producers are given anonymity | Excerpt from Nigerianfilms.com

Layer that over a patriarchal society – a society that still has a healthy disregard for rape allegations, and considers women objects, and it would seem the battle is unwinnable.

And since we’re layering, here’s another one: a lot of Nigerian women believe that exchanging sexual favours for assistance is Cost of Doing Business. They do not actually perceive it as wrong to exchange their time for dinner; exchange ogling their cleavage for getting out of LASTMA wahala; a little blowjob here or a weekend with “Awon Daddy wa” for a Dubai trip or a promotion. So, even when they are being held over a barrel for a little advancement, they do not actually believe that it is wrong. Or that they have anyone they can tell. Or that saying something could actually ossibly make a difference. And so, the vicious cycle continues.

Our favourite wicked stepmother, Patience Ozokwor, has made reference to the sexual harassment that is rife in Nollywood. People who should be helping to quell the flames instead dared her to mention names.

Utomwen responds to Patience Ozokwor on sexual harassment claims
“Prove it!” – Desmond Utomwen responds to Patience Ozokwor on sexual harassment claims

For every Nollywood actress who has emphatically claimed that there is sexual harassment and trade-by-barter going on, there are many more claiming they’ve never heard of it. And then there are the outliers – those who have heard of it, but mysteriously, were exempt from it. “Yes, I was cornered into offering sexual favours in exchange for a role in that film, but I totally didn’t have to do it, and I am still in the film and indeed, a household name today!” Hmmmm…the mind boggles.

Just a fortnight ago, the president of the Actors Guild of Nigeria, Emeka Ejezie, was asked by newsmen about the rumours that would simply not vanish and he said, “Allegations against film producers by actresses may either be true or false, but we are going to raise eyebrows to ensure it does not exist.” Raise eyebrows? I don’t even know what that means. I can only imagine that facial expression will put a stop to these rumours once and for all. Issorait.

AGN president Emeka Ejezie threatens to raise eyebrows at sexual harassment allegations
In Nollywood, raised eyebrows are VERY serious threats indeed, apparently.

Harvey Weinstein may end up being alright, and then again, he may not. It was previously all accusations of inappropriate sexual acts, but these allegations have escalated to rape. He may yet catch a case.  But the point is: there is no running away from the fact that he was WRONG.

Nollywood will first of all have to tackle societal mores, values and beliefs if it ever wants to make a difference.  And that’s going to be a lot harder than just raising eyebrows, Mr Ejezie.

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