Disclaimer: This essay is in no way a defense of the deplorable things that Harvey Weinstein has done. No amount of "good" a person can do makes sexual assault in ANYWAY justifiable.
As a long time fan of independent films, I’ve been heartbroken and angry to learn the truth about Harvey Weinstein. Since I was 16, I've dreamed of working for the Weinstein Company. Learning what this man has done to people in this industry, doing the jobs I dream of doing is horrifying, especially as minority in this industry.
In the wake of this scandal, countless articles are being published about the man. However, one really stuck out to me. It was an article by IndieWire, Harvey Weinstein Accusations: How Film Festival Environments Provided a Backdrop For Sexual Assault, which I completely agree. Indie filmmakers are required to grovel at the feet of powerful people, like Harvey Weinstein. And these people know it. However, it was the caption I had a real issue with; “The time has come to stop giving Harvey Weinstein so much credit for '90s American indies.”
I do think Harvey deserves a ton of the credit for indie films being so popular in America. IndieWire even mentions Reservoir Dogs, Clerks, and Michael Moore's movies. With those films alone, I think you can’t take that title away from him.
This line of thought helped me to recall much of what I learned in my Motion Picture History class. The history of films is plagued with bad people. It has quite a dark past (and present, and future unless we do something about it). Here’s two others.
Birth of a Nation
Let us not forget that movies are what they are today because of Birth of a Nation, and explicitly racist piece, but nonetheless Hollywood’s first blockbuster. “The domestic melodrama/epic originally premiered with the title The Clansman in February, 1915 in Los Angeles, California, but three months later was retitled with the present title at its world premiere in New York, to emphasize the birthing process of the US,” says AMC’s Filmsite.com.
They continue, “Film scholars agree, however, that it is the single most important and key film of all time in American movie history - it contains many new cinematic innovations and refinements, technical effects and artistic advancements, including a color sequence at the end. It had a formative influence on future films and has had a recognized impact on film history and the development of film as art. In addition, at almost three hours in length, it was the longest film to date. However, it still provokes conflicting views about its message.”
Yes. And that message was that the KKK was going to save us from the evil "negroes" who only want to rape white women. In this film, there is literally a man in blackface, who tries to rape a white woman. The KKK is the heroes of this film.
Triumph of the Will
A Nazi propaganda film that shaped editing. “Triumph of the Will remains well known for its striking visuals. As one historian notes, "many of the most enduring images of the [Nazi] regime and its leader derive from Riefenstahl's film," according to Wikipedia. Leni Riefenstahl, the director of this film, used cutaways of a very excited crowd during Hitler’s speech. Editing as we know it today is largely due to this film.
The moral of the story, terrible people can do important things. You can’t change the history of cinema. You can, however, try to do better next time.