Among the questions to emerge from the Harvey Weinstein scandal is one that human beings of conscience have been grappling with forever: Is it ethical to support the work of a scoundrel?
At first glance, the answer would appear to be simple: Art transcends biography. You wouldn’t rebuff a child because his father was a murderer, would you? So why hate the brainchild of a Weinstein or a Woody Allen – who, tellingly cautioned about a “witch hunt” against Weinstein – or a Mel Gibson or any other artist/athlete accused of heinous behavior?
But it’s more complex than that, isn’t it? And in a world in which some NFL fans are turning off kneeling players and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Boston Red Sox fan, says it would be constitutional impossible for him to root for the New York Yankees in the postseason, we see how complex fan loyalty really is. Our allegiances help define who we are. For many, plunking down money for a work by a man who’s an anti-Semite or a sexual predator is tantamount to condoning that behavior. But where do you draw the line? What about an offense that occurred centuries ago – think of the anti-Semitic Richard Wagner, whose operas remain popular – or one that is more personal in nature, like that of an athlete who cheats on his or her spouse? And what of those who collaborate with the offenders on a work of entertainment? Are they guilty by association?
We are such complicated creatures, aren’t we? And, in the end, we’ll justify what we love and want, while no one and nothing will persuade us to what we don’t. Still, the gravity of the offense may be a tipping point. So widespread are the allegations against Weinstein that there appears to be no way back into American art for him.
Knowing what I now know about him hasn’t changed my impression of his films. I loved “Chocolat,” even though John Oliver made it the butt of his Weinstein rebuke. And I still think “Shakespeare in Love” deservedly beat out “Saving Private Ryan” for the Best Picture Oscar.
Weinstein is an exceptionally talented filmmaker who rode a singular talent to a power that he thought entitled him to be an abuser.
I won’t be revisiting his films any time soon.