The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret
(Canada, 90 min.)
Dir. Barry Avrich
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)
The impact of the Silence Breakers is everywhere at Hot Docs this year. It’s a full programme devoted to women speaking against systemic misogyny. Women’s voices are at the forefront of the festival. People are listening and stories are being heard.
It’s appropriate for Hot Docs to feature the snowball that got the conversation rolling. The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret covers the watershed moment that began with breaking news in The New York Times and The New Yorker exposing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator. The stories featured brave women, including high profile names like Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan, revealing sickening memories of a mogul who abused his power by demanding sexual favours in return for stardom. The reports recount several careers sandbagged by Weinstein when women defended themselves and refused, and the number is surely greater.
Barry Avrich returns to the world of Harvey Badman after his 2010 doc Unauthorized: The Harvey Weinstein Story and adds to the unflattering portrait of a power-hungry megalomaniac who revolutionized American independent film at a cost that has only begun revealing itself. Avrich draws upon a wealth of archival material both old and new to show the demon in all his grotesque power-hungry glory.
At the same time, the doc can only devote itself to the stories of a handful of predators (Weinstein, James Toback, Louis CK, and Bill O’Reilly get the most attention), but cutaways to countless stars called out in the #MeToo movement convey visually how wide this system of abuse reaches. The editing by Michèle Hozer and Darby MacInnis accounts for the many women who aren’t able to speak in the 90-minute running time by including images, headlines, and interviews of their stories. Avrich’s film features many women, including Weinstein accusers and silence breakers Lauren Sivan and Melissa Sagemiller, which gives audiences a sense of the powerful machine that enabled Weinstein’s predatory behaviour for years.
Their stories are compelling and Avrich’s skill as an interviewer ensures that their reflections with Weinstein respect their agency, while also giving the juicy details to convey the manipulative character that drew them into situations where he harassed and abused them. The film also scores interviews with former Weinstein aid Zelda Perkins, who speaks directly about the bizarre energy of life at Miramax (and then The Weinstein Company following its split from Disney) that drove loyalty and ambition under Weinstein’s erratic and abusive persona. These aspects of the mogul are the well-known parts of Weinstein lore, but they’re essential for capturing the complicated figure that the industry acknowledged. The film tells how the industry accepted Weinstein as a mere philandering, power-hungry brute one had to deal with in return for Oscars, fame, and fortune.
The Reckoning calls out Hollywood’s complicity in the Weinstein affair and the enabling of other predators who have fallen in the seismic shift. Voices like Kim Masters from The Hollywood Reporter speak energetically about knowing that Weinstein raped women as part of his game. Dylan Farrow, Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter and accuser of Woody Allen, asks how fans can turn a blind eye to actions that exceed “bad behaviour” and “misconduct”, while others ask where culture is willing to draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not. A tap on the butt might not be “as bad” as a rape, but they’re part of the same spectrum that workplace culture, and society more broadly, needs to interrogate.
The film stumbles somewhat by including an interview with street artist Sabo, who isn’t worth the screen time The Reckoning affords him. Sabo gained notoriety when he claimed responsibility for blanketing Hollywood with posters of Meryl Streep branded with the hashtag #SheKnew in an attempt to make the actress the posterchild for Hollywood complicity. (Streep made several films distributed by Weinstein, including The Iron Lady for which she won an Oscar.) Sabo gets to point the finger at Hollywood and he uses the same tired example, oft-retweeted by Russian bots and Trump supporters, that Meryl Streep stood and clapped when Roman Polanski won an Oscar. He doesn’t add that several thousand people joined in the standing ovation. His venomous targeting of Streep is itself an example of the toxic misogyny “The Reckoning” needs to extinguish. The inclusion of Sabo’s alt-right voice is therefore problematic, particularly since he justified his posters as retaliation against Streep for being an outspoken critic of sexual predator/American President Donald Trump. Even in The Guardian’s article crediting Sabo with the posters, he admits to having no information that Streep knew of Weinstein’s crimes. Tabloid speculation isn’t productive to this conversation.
However, my frustration with a minor aspect of this overall productive addition to the conversation illustrates how fans must wrestle with their idols. The stars might not be the heroes one thinks them to be. The Reckoning extends the #MeToo conversation to the debate over whether one can still separate the artist from the art, which is a necessary discussion as the downfall of many men implores fans to reconsider the canon. Similarly, productive interviews with controversial talking heads like Margaret Wente and Marie Henein articulate the next steps in the conversation to keep workplaces respectful and safe while changing the system to afford women more agency.
The Reckoning gives an engaging, troubling, and comprehensive account of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the social movement it precipitated. The doc improves upon many ripped-from-the-headlines documentaries by extending the story to the greater dialogue the news hopes to inspire. For all the great films that carry Weinstein’s name, The Reckoning might be the only one left that captures his legacy.
The Reckoning screens:
-Sat, May 5 at 6:00 PM at TIFF Lightbox
Hot Docs runs April 26 to May 6. Please visit hotdocs.ca for more info.