The allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein are deeply disturbing. The disgust we feel hearing of decades of impropriety is only compounded by the fact that it has been going on in Hollywood for decades, revealing an epidemic that not only happens behind closed doors, but which also has been mined by those that have heard the rumblings and used it to shine a much-needed light on the pervasive problem.
Many movies about Hollywood have dealt with the terrifying realities around issues of the powerful taking advantage of the young and hopeful as they try to make a career for themselves.
For those who think the Harvey Weinstein saga is an isolated event, here are 10 movies about Hollywood which have all dealt with just how seedy show business really is.
Actress and filmmaker, Asia Argento, has come forward with allegations of rape against Harvey Weinstein. She has also disclosed that a scene from her 2000 film, Scarlet Diva, was a direct reference to the incident.
This isn’t the only abusive relationship in the film. In addition to being propositioned by a sleazy film producer (Joe Coleman), Anne (Argento) must also fend off the advances of a drug addicted screenwriter (Herbert Fritsch). As The New York Times’ A.O. Scott put it, “[Anna] is also victimized at every turn by the users and predators who inhabit her world.”
In Scarlet Diva, Argento presents the life of a starlet as one of constant abuse and exploitation. For her, making this film and exposing the realities of her life was a way of fighting back. Though technical aspects of the film have often been criticized, the emotional power of Argento’s work has been widely appreciated.
An Open Secret
Child actors have long been targets of predators in Hollywood, but their story often goes untold thanks to a combination of shame, NDAs, and statutes of limitations.
The 2014 film, An Open Secret, set out to change that. Largely built from first hand accounts of former child stars and their parents, the film exposes a long and terrible tradition in Hollywood by giving a voice to its victims.
Director Amy Berg also ties connects known abusers like former manager Michael Weiss to a web of Hollywood figures who have thus far remained unaccountable for their actions. While it is incredibly important that these problems are brought to light, the film might leave you feeling helpless yourself. Many of the alleged perpetrators never faced repercussions for their actions, and some still work in Hollywood. Though you will likely leave the film wishing for a deeper investigations and greater accountability in the industry, you can’t help but appreciate the power of a film the gives a voice to those who felt for so long that they didn’t have one.
Map to the Stars
Abuse, domestic violence, workplace sex, mental illness: David Cronenberg’s film deals with all manner of skeleton’s in Hollywood’s closet. Someone even gets beaten to death with a prestigious Hollywood award. The film explores the scandalous, incestuous (sometimes literally) world of Hollywood with a grim sense of humor. The joke here isn’t delivered with a wink and a nod, though. Map to the Stars offers a scathing indictment of many aspects of Hollywood, and the laughs are punctuated with more than a few gut punches.
The story of the powerful and connected preying on the young, starry-eyed denizens of Hollywood is not a new story. Classic films like Sunset Boulevard remind us of that. Though there are many moments in the film in which you pity Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), the way she treats Joe (William Holden), Max (Erich von Stroheim), and others who orbit her is certainly abusive when viewed through a modern lens. Though we learn Joe’s tragic fate at the beginning of the film, it doesn’t make it any easier to watch him become ensnared in Desmond’s emotional labyrinth. Though we know from the beginning he is doomed, the film forces us to watch him as the weight of Desmond’s shattered ego comes to bear on the ambitious young screenwriter.
The Neon Demon
Though Nicolas Windig Refn’s film technically takes place in the fashion world, the Los Angeles set movie also has plenty to say about what Hollywood does to women. Jesse (Elle Fanning) is immediately sexualized and exploited by her peers and superiors alike as she begins a career as a model, and the objectification is unrelenting. Refn explores issues affecting women in Hollywood throughout the film, examining topics like the “casting couch,” cosmetic surgery, sexual assault, and the constant stress of being replaced or eclipsed by more youthful performers at a relatively young age.
This film is not for the faint of heart, as Refn uses gruesomely literal metaphors to critique the skin-deep materialism of Hollywood and the reality that show business can swallow you whole.
S.O.B. is a film first and foremost about the unreal pressures and seemingly random results of working in Hollywood. The main character, film executive Felix (Richard Mulligan), goes from the brink of suicide to the brink of massive success and back to the brink of failure during the course of the film.
As S.O.B. tracks his chaotic career, it also contends with the sexual exploitation that goes on in Hollywood both on and offscreen. A beach house orgy inspires Felix to add more nudity to a film, even if it means asking his actress wife (Julie Andrews) to do a full-frontal scene. Though S.O.B. is a hilarious film, it examines the mental and physical toll the business can take on those passionate enough to devote their lives to filmmaking.
State and Main
Hollywood’s ills are so deeply ingrained in the culture of film that even a lighter work like David Mamet’s State and Main offers some dark Hollywood critiques. The inciting incident of the film involves an actor known for dating underage girls. A crucial plot point concerns negotiating a contractual nude scene. A main character’s plot revolves around starting a relationship with a much younger woman. State and Main is a light and charming film, but the gentle satire is incredibly effective because it treats deeply disturbing moments like everyday Hollywood fare.
Sadly, this portrayal is accurate.
Living in Oblivion
Anyone who has worked in independent film will tell you that many of the problematic aspects of big time filmmaking are just as bad, if not worse, in the indie world since films are often non-union, low budget, shot on location, involve long hours, and usually involve workers who are young and hungry to get started in a business already rife with exploitation.
Living in Oblivion is one of the most sadly accurate depictions of the indie world ever put on screen, anchored by one of Steve Buscemi’s best early performances. The middle-third of the film focuses on Nicole (Catherine Keener) and Chad (James LeGros), two co-stars who have a sexual encounter. The scenes between the two performers explore how men use bad behavior both on and off set to manipulate women sexually and use the industry’s longstanding boys’ club mentality to retaliate against women who reject them romantically.
Swimming With Sharks
In Swimming With Sharks, a boss abuses and exploits an underling with the justification that it is how they were treated when they were getting started. This is a familiar story in Hollywood, and perhaps nowhere better explored in cinema than in George Huang’s film.
Producer Buddy’s (Kevin Spacey) abuse of his assistant Guy (Frank Whaley) results in non-stop humiliation and degradation of his underling that Buddy says is meant to toughen him up. The film strikes a pessimistic tone, supposing that this cycle of abuse may never end. The final scenes of the film also center on how violence against and abuse of women often figures into the tired power dynamics of patriarchal Hollywood.
Perhaps no film has captured the desperation felt at all levels of Hollywood as well as The Player. The film follows high-powered executive Griffin Mill’s (Tim Robbins) desperate to find the next hit screenplay before younger, hungrier colleagues usurp him at the top of the studio mountain. Meanwhile, screenwriters are falling all over themselves to bend the ear of Mill, often willing to resort to any means necessary to get their script to the top of the pile.
This feeling of being disposable and always one move away from ruin contributes to the code of silence that many in the industry observe in the face of abuse. If with the snap of their fingers you can be replaced, why stick your neck out for someone else? This sad, self-preserving logic has allowed bad behavior to flourish in Hollywood for decades. Until this culture changes, there will likely be plenty more stories like those we’ve heard over the last several weeks.
The reality is that there have been many allegations in the past like those aimed at Harvey Weinstein, and unless something dramatically changes, there will be more in Hollywood’s future.
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