“Women who want to be equal with men lack ambition.” Timothy Leary
Just over two years ago today, the wheels of retribution took a final turn in a weird way for Harvey Weinstein. An investor deal led by Maria Contreras-Sweet fell through, leaving The Weinstein Company blinking like doomed sheep.
It was supposedly a bit of a legal hoodwink. While promises were made, nothing actually materialized except an incomplete contract. As the Weinstein lawyers were quick to point out, “It’s like they never had any intention of following through at all.”
The fact that the deal involved paying millions to Harvey’s victims might have been a sticking point, but the “spin” at present is that the company got the runaround, and nobody plays the injured party better than a Hollywood movie distributor or a mogul looking at a very long prison sentence.
When shows like this move into rotations and reruns, the profits escalate beyond what some weapons manufacturers get for F-22 fighter jets.
In any event, The Weinstein board sought Chapter 11, with the goal of “achieving maximum value in the court.” That simply means — as Donald Trump knows better than anybody — all liens are essentially erased as the company attempts a form of liquidity. Even with no debt, however, it was only a matter of time before the lights went out for the Weinstein organization.
The surprising part? The buyers of The Weinstein Company, Lantern Entertainment, only paid $289 million, a fraction of the company’s worth. That’s considering it has a 227 film library, four unreleased movies, and a television division which owns “Project Runway.” Taking into account rotation, reruns, and future films, the profits are what some weapons manufacturers would get for a bunch of F-22 fighter jets.
That’s the financial side, now let’s look at the equitable side, or maybe the moral side. Considering the money involved—not to mention the profile—not to mention what a thriving enterprise could mean in terms of future employment for women in the movie industry, shouldn’t this underpriced, potentially rich company have been acquired by, well, women?
The two owners of Lantern Entertainment, Andy Mitchell and Milos Brajovic, have already relaunched “Project Runway” with a focus on more full-figured models. Again, isn’t that something women should have done, not two equity traders?
And how hard would it have been for some enterprising women to do just that? Let’s look back at The 75th Golden Globes. Such notables as Oprah Winfrey, Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon and Kate Capshaw stood in support of women everywhere. In particular, they spoke out against the inequalities of pay within the Hollywood system.
If they’d been willing to put their money where their sincerity is, wouldn’t it be divine justice if they’d bought The Weinstein Company and done pretty much what Lantern Entertainment is doing now?
The combined worth of Winfrey, Streep and Witherspoon alone could easily afford the asking price, and Capshaw could certainly ask hubby, Steven Spielberg, for money — he’s loaded.
In other words, why were men—with fewer assets—ready to turn projects like “Project Runway” into something representing what women have been representing all along? A movie studio and distribution network were there for the taking, and business could have been up and running in a matter of months. Surely Oprah Winfrey alone could have come up with $286 million.
In a sense, she was exactly what Photoplay Magazine described her as back in 1913: “…a luminous tenderness in a steel band of ferocity.”
This wouldn’t be the first time a studio formed out of what could be called “industry discontent.” In early 1919, Mary Pickford, then regarded as “The best known women who ever lived,” joined forces with Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith to found United Artists.
Before you say, “Well, she joined with three famous male celebrities,” Pickford was the guiding force. She oversaw every aspect of directing, casting and distribution. In a sense, she was exactly what Photoplay Magazine described her as back in 1913: “…a luminous tenderness in a steel band of ferocity.”
That reviewer wasn’t exaggerating. Pickford was as shrewd as she was diminutive. By 1919, she was already demanding $10,000 a week, with full authority over the production, and half the film’s profits guaranteed at $1,040,000 (17,700,000 in 2018). Hardly a small amount considering a 3,538 foot mansion went for $3,350,000 back then.
Today, she’s worth over $2.8 billion and owns more real estate than some Saudi emirs.
Pickford was a shark and United Artists proved other sharks couldn’t out shark Pickford. She ran the studio profitably for decades. Producers who signed with UA were true independents, producing, creating and controlling their work to an unprecedented degree. Pickford kept things going until 1956 when she sold out (just after Chaplin), walking away with $3 million dollars.
Not bad for an actress who started out playing scrub women and secretaries. Oprah Winfrey can claim equally modest roots. She began as a weathercaster in Nashville and was fired shortly afterwards. Today, she’s worth over $2.8 billion and owns more real estate than some Saudi emirs.
Admittedly, both Winfrey and Pickford had their lean years, but both went on to prove sharks can have longer hair and shrewder minds. This alone should have Winfrey eyeing The Weinstein Company as a wise investment.
They’ll have to match salaries or lose their biggest female talent. Like any industry, action only happens with some form of financial duress.
Instead of demanding equal pay, United Women (thought I’d give it a name) could have grabbed other studios’ biggest female stars, paying them what they’re really worth — or at least more than their previous employers.
Once big name actresses joined United Women, what choice would the other studios have? They’d have to match salaries or lose their biggest female talent. Like any industry, action only happens with some form of financial duress.
And think what this would do for women’s movements all over the world. Women-centric films could attack all forms of objectification and inequality. Like in “Wonder Woman” and “Black Panther,” bustiers would be symbols of power, although uncomfortable ones.
Keep in mind how much Mary Pickford’s stature grew with United Artists. In a single speech made in Chicago at the end of World War 1, she sold an estimated five million dollars’ worth of war bonds.
She also started the Motion Picture Relief Fund and the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital to help needy actors. Throughout her career, when she entered a party, people stood up. Even in her final years, she still controlled the room. Asked her age at a court appearance over a television license dispute in 1958, she replied, “I’m 21 going on 20.”
Owning a studio has its perks — and not just one-liners. Women like Pickford showed you could rise above the Hollywood hierarchy. Certainly Winfrey, Streep, Witherspoon and Capshaw could have done the same thing.
No doubt Harvey will be watching, gnashing his teeth on olives and ice.
Witherspoon was on the news one night last year, polishing her star on The Walk of Fame. It’s nice to keep things tidy, Reese, but what could be more constructive — or humiliating to Harvey and Bob— than a group of high-minded women buying The Weinstein Company?
Hell, the probably could have inked a deal before The Academy Awards, sticking it to Harvey like no court could—or would.
If that isn’t divine Hollyood justice, I don’t know what is.
Robert Cormack is a novelist, children’s book author and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press for more details.