Thursday 19 September 2019

2018: the year everything changed

Reeling from the shock of Weinstein-gate, this was the year that Hollywood remade itself - and saw films such as Black Panther shatter many other stereotypes, writes Julia Molony

Black Panther may be the first mega­-budget movie to have an African American director and a predominantly black cast
Black Panther may be the first mega­-budget movie to have an African American director and a predominantly black cast
Disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein is led from court

Julia Molony

'I've had," remarked Harvey Weinstein as 2018 drew to a close "one hell of a year". The comment was part of a round-robin email that Weinsten wrote and distributed to his close friends last month. It was subsequently leaked into the wider world. Out in the wild he's perhaps unlikely to unearth much sympathy for his predicament. After his dramatic fall from grace, Weinstein remains pop culture's public enemy number one.

This time last year the reckoning that would dethrone Weinstein and reshape Hollywood was only just beginning. On October 5, 2017, The New York Times published an expose featuring allegations from several women who claimed to have suffered abusive behaviour - from harassment to rape, at the hands of the Oscar-winning producer.

And then the floodgates opened.

Over the next few months scores of high-profile women, including Salma Hayek, Uma Thurman and Gwyneth Paltrow, came forward. In doing so, they sent an earthquake of shock and painful recognition around the world. It was actress Alyssa Milano who popularised #MeToo as a hashtag on Twitter, writing "if you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet". It went viral overnight, spreading from Hollywood into virtually every professional sector.

Disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein is led from court
Disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein is led from court

The Weinstein affair grew into the biggest and most wide-reaching of Hollywood scandals. Weinstein was fired, his company closed, and his wife, the fashion designer Georgina Chapman, divorced him.

But Weinstein's case was just the starting gun. It launched a wholesale expurgation of hidden stories of exploitation, unfairness and abuse within the film industry. The list of powerful males accused of harassment, inappropriate behaviour and abuse swelled as the year went on. From household names to industry executives hundreds of individuals hit the headlines accused of misconduct.

In May eight women came forward to accuse the actor Morgan Freeman of harassment. He apologised, while strenuously denying allegations of assault. "All victims of assault and harassment deserve to be heard. And we need to listen to them. But it is not right to equate horrific incidents of sexual assault with misplaced compliments or humour," he said.

Two women came forward to accuse singer-songwriter R. Kelly of abuse. He denied it. "Mr Kelly is the target of a greedy, conscious and malicious conspiracy to demean him, his family and the women with whom he spends his time," his people said.

A model accused magician David Copperfield of drugging and assaulting her. He denied it. Footballer Cristiano Ronaldo was accused of rape. He denied it. In August actor Gerard Depardieu was accused of rape. He denied it in the strongest terms. Investigations in all cases are ongoing.

In Weinstein's case the fightback has begun. His day in court has been serially postponed as the case against him (which seemed ironclad six months ago) flounders. One charge against him has already been dismissed. An issue over missing evidence may have seriously damaged the case for the prosecution. And as things stand, it seems possible he may never face imprisonment. But whatever the personal consequences for the man himself, the wider impact of Weinstein-gate is clear. The cultural landscape of Hollywood will never look the same again.

If 2018 was Weinstein's annus horribilis, it was also the year Hollywood's old guard fell. Perhaps it was just good timing that it was also a year that a new set of values found expression in films being produced and released, or perhaps this year simply represented the decisive moment when change that had been gaining traction quietly underground became the new status quo.

Straight white men have the been the main power brokers, decision makers and storytellers in Hollywood since its history began.

That all changed in 2018, when inclusivity became the watchword of the year. The received wisdom that so-called "minority films" or "female-led" stories don't sell as well was kicked into touch by several of the year's biggest successes.

The Walt Disney adaptation of the Marvel Comic Black Panther became the top-grossing superhero film of all time.

"It may be the first mega­-budget movie - not just about superheroes, but about anything - to have an African American director and a predominantly black cast," said film writer Jamil Smith in Time magazine. "Hollywood has never produced a blockbuster this splendidly black."

2018 was the year Ava DuVernay became the first African American woman to direct a movie with a budget of over $100m (€88m). The result, A Wrinkle In Time, featured a diverse cast that included Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon, and a young black actress, Storm Reid, as the star.

"I just wanted a cast that reflects the real world," said DuVernay. "We're not doing anything that shouldn't have already been done. The question is, why hasn't this been done before? There's nothing outstanding and outlandish about this cast. It's outstanding and outlandish that there's been casts without true reflections and inclusiveness of our daily lives. It's about the way that you see it."

Meanwhile Crazy Rich Asians, featuring an all-Asian cast, became the highest earning romantic comedy in six years, pulling in $238m (€210m). "This shows - once again, with emphasis - that true diversity matters," said producer Brad Simpson. "Audiences are tired of seeing the same stories with the same characters. And we have to give people a reason to get off their couch or devices. We have to give them something different."

By the time autumn rolled around, the new Hollywood power-list, published in The Hollywood Reporter was ringing in the changes. Notably absent were five disgraced executives all recently out of jobs following misconduct allegations against them: John Lasseter, of Walt Disney Animation Studios; Leslie Moonves, former CEO of CBS; Roy Price, of Amazon studios; director and producer Brett Ratner; and John Skipper ex-president of ESPN. Harvey Weinstein's name, needless to say, didn't appear.

This year, 16pc of the list are people of colour, compared to just 8pc two years ago and 19pc are women, compared to 14pc two years ago. More tellingly, among the 35 newcomers on the list, 40pc of the names that feature are women and people of colour.

This, it seems, is the shape of things to come in Hollywood.

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