‘Untouchable’ Details Weinstein’s Abuse of Women and How He Got Away With It
The allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein that played a major role in ushering in the #MeToo movement are detailed in “Untouchable,” an absorbing and important documentary from the BBC that is being streamed in the U.S. on Hulu. Director Ursula Macfarlane presents an unflinching portrait of a predator who for years used his power to abuse, bully, and coerce countless people into silence. It should come as no surprise that the former Hollywood heavyweight’s favorite phrase was “Do you know who I am?” “Untouchable” offers a more in-depth look at Weinstein and the impact of his monstrous behavior beyond the snapshots presented by the news cycle.
Macfarlane, who recently spoke to Entertainment Voice in London, explained how “Untouchable” is a personal film for herself and all the women she knows, as the stories of abuse being presented speak to all female viewers, as even those who have not experienced sexual violence have been subjected to harrassment in one form or another. “I just felt it was an important film to make. I felt very privileged that I could do it and we could tell it on a larger scale, as a proper feature.”
“Untouchable” provides some biographical details on Weinstein that help the viewer gain insight into who he is. Growing up in Queens, he considered himself something of an underdog, but the way he and others perceived himself evolved as he gained power. As he worked his way up in Hollywood and acquired more prestige, we see a pattern emerge. Various women provide harrowing accounts of being lured into Weinstein’s hotel room under the pretense of discussing business, and once he had them alone and vulnerable, he allegedly forced them to give him massages and far worse, usually threatening to destroy their careers if they did not bend to his will.
Among the interview subjects are high-profile actresses Rosanna Arquette and Paz de la Huerta, as well as private citizens, such as Hope Exiner D’Amore, who, for the first time on camera, gives a devastating account of her alleged rape by Harvey when she was a college student 40 years ago. As she does with all her subjects, Macfarlane stays close on Exiner D’Amore’s face, and her pain is evident even after all these years. De la Huerta recounts how she felt like she was hovering her body as she was raped. Even the women who “got away” have disturbing stories that are sure to stay with the viewer, as is the case with visually-impaired actress Nannette Klatt, who vividly describes how she fled from Weinstein’s room into complete darkness. Weinstein denies all claims of rape and sexual assault and declined to be interviewed by Macfarlane.
“I think, hand on heart, it felt very painful and scary to speak out like that. Harvey Weinstein, he’s still a free man at the moment. Restricted, but he’s free,” said Macfarlane. “I think they all did it not for personal gain. They all did because they thought they could speak on behalf of other people who maybe could never speak, who didn’t want to speak, who perhaps never would speak. I think all of them had that feeling.”
Numerous erstwhile employees of Weinstein’s also speak in “Untouchable,” such as former assistant Kathy Declesis, who quit in disgust learning a former colleague was suing her boss for sexual assault. Zelda Perkins, a former executive for the London branch of Weinstein’s distribution and production company Miramax, details how the producer hounded her following her confronting him about his alleged assault of her assistant, and she even provides disturbing voicemail messages. But it was former literary scout Lauren O’Connor who bravely penned a now-infamous memo calling out Weinstein’s abuse of power. O’Connor, whose whistling blowing played a pivotal role in Ronan Farrow’s New York Times investigation, opens up about her ordeal, the hurt and anger still visible in her face.
While the men, such as former Miramax executives John Schmidt and Jack Lechner, bravely open up about their regrets and survivor’s guilt — They were also subjected to Weinstein’s bullying and violent outbursts — It’s notable that only the female employees took action. “I think you’re the first person who’s noticed that,” said Macfarlane when asked about this. “Yeah, it’s the women who are talking on both levels. The women who are the accusers, and then the colleagues. I didn’t deliberately seek out women, but afterwards it was apparent that it was the women who were the ones who talked. It’s cheering, and it’s very courageous.”
The untouchable aspect of “Untouchable” is never more clear than when journalists Rebecca Traister and Andrew Goldman detail how Weinstein got away with an assault that took place not in a locked hotel room, but out on a crowded NYC street outside of a party in 1999. After a hostile exchange with the reports led to Goldman getting the producer on tape declaring that he’s “glad he’s the fucking sheriff of this shit-ass fucking town,” an incredibly creepy and damaging quote, to say the least, Weinstein put Goldman in a headlock. But the most revolting part of the whole ordeal was that despite numerous cameras flashing away, not one photo was ever published anywhere.
“Absolutely not,” replied Macfarlane when asked if Weinstein could get away with that sort of public display of violence today. “It’s very much a story of its time. I think it was just on the cusp of when photographers were starting to go digital… People said to me that Miramax employees would go around and buy up the film. They would take the film out of the cameras and buy it off people. In that situation, that’s obviously what happened. All the photographs just disappeared.”
While technology has certainly changed the game, remnants of Weinstein’s power apparently remain. “Actually, we tracked down one of the photographers who I heard took loads and loads of pictures, and he denied it,” revealed Macfarlane. “It’s shocking.”
Something else that strikes a chord in “Untouchable” is the fact that while Weinstein has been accused of some horrible things, he was also the visionary producer responsible for bringing about beautiful films such as “Shakespeare in Love” and “Cinema Paradiso.” Former Miramax president Mark Gill puts it best when he says, “Anger and abuse of power are inseparable from the genius. That’s the tragedy.”
“He championed young directors and actors and people who may never have gotten jobs otherwise, so you have to hand that to him. But the cost was too high. Any number of Oscars can’t make up for the collateral damage. That’s the way I see it,” said Macfarlane when asked about reconciling Weinstein the genius producer with Weinstein the abuser. “There’s no doubt that his contribution to the film industry is immense… But he’ll gone down in history [as the abuser]. It’s really sad for him. It’s sad for his family. I feel a lot for his wife and his children… But justice has to be done.”
At the end of it all, “Untouchable” carries a very important message about the power of speaking up. Macfarlane best summed this up with a very powerful quote from Exiner D’Amore. “She said to me, ‘What I learned was, just say it out loud. Because if you say it, even if you say it to your dog, once you’ve said it, the secret loses its power.’”
“Untouchable” begins streaming Sept. 2 on Hulu.