Brian De Palma is the latest male artist to announce that he’s working on a Weinstein-inspired project. But if ever a story deserved to be told by women, it’s this one.
Over the weekend, filmmaker Brian De Palma – most famous for directing 1976 horror movie Carrie and crime drama Scarface – confirmed that he is working on a film based on the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
De Palma has been following the unfolding Weinstein story “very closely”, he said in an interview with news agency AFP, and has been discussing a script with a French producer. He added that his film will explore the subject of sexual abuse in the film industry – “although my character would not be called Harvey Weinstein”.
“But it is a horror film, with a sexual aggressor, and the story will take place within the film industry,” he told French newspaper Le Parisien.
De Palma stressed that he finds Weinstein’s alleged actions abhorrent, stating that filmmakers have a responsibility to “get actors’ confidence and their love”, and that “to violate it on any level is just to me the worst thing you can do, just because of your gluttony or your lust”.
But despite his – surely sincere – insistence that he sees the disgraced producer as a villain, it’s hard not to feel a twinge of discomfort at the idea of De Palma tackling the Weinstein story. Aside from Carrie and Scarface, the American filmmaker is best known for his work on “erotic thrillers” such as Dressed to Kill and Body Double: in other words, he specialises in films that are violent, bloody, sexy, frightening and melodramatic. The thought of the Weinstein scandal being given the traditional De Palma treatment is disturbing, to put it mildly.
De Palma is not, however, the only man to express an interest in creating art about Weinstein’s fall from grace. Playwright David Mamet has already written a piece – titled Bitter Wheat – about the producer, with actor John Malkovich reportedly in talks to play the role of Weinstein on stage. Brad Pitt’s production company, meanwhile, has acquired the rights to make a film about Jodi Kantor and Meghan Twohey, the New York Times reporters who first broke the scandal in October.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with making art about or inspired by true and horrific events. Three Girls, last year’s BBC One miniseries based on the Rotherham sexual abuse scandal, was widely praised for its sensitive handling of an explosive subject. Similarly, Monster – Patty Jenkins’ biopic of serial killer Aileen Wuornos – proves that it’s entirely possible to tell an abhorrent story with subtlety and nuance, as does Emma Cline’s Manson Family-inspired novel The Girls.
But what connects all of those works is that they were created several years after the events on which they were based took place. The trauma of the Weinstein scandal, in contrast, is ongoing and unresolved. It wasn’t until 25 May that the disgraced mogul was arrested for the first time; it’s yet to be seen how his trial, on charges including rape and sex abuse, will play out. For the dozens of women who have accused Weinstein of sexual harassment, rape and assault, the coming months will likely be a time of profound anxiety and fear. With that backdrop, it feels distinctly cruel for artists to be publicly mulling over their plans to transform Weinstein’s alleged behaviour into popular, profitable entertainment.
There’s also the not-insignificant issue of who gets to tell the story, and how. The television and film industries, which are still overwhelmingly dominated by male writers, directors and producers, have a long and troubling history of using the abuse of women as a salacious narrative device. (Three Girls, Monster and The Girls, incidentally, were all written and directed by women.) As a result, it is deeply unsettling that the first artists staking out their claim to the Weinstein scandal are men. If ever there was a story that deserves to be told by women, it’s this one.
To his credit, De Palma seemed to teeter close to grasping this essential fact in his interview with AFP.
“It will be interesting to see when women start controlling the aesthetic, what is going to happen,” he said. “It would be interesting to see if their gaze is so much different than ours. Because a lot of movies are about the male gaze, what the male sees.” Here’s hoping that he recognises how this applies to the Weinstein scandal, and takes a step back.
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