On the side of the angels?

On the side of the angels?

Column for the Jewish News October 19 2017

We all like to think of ourselves as being on the side of the angels, I suppose, aligned with the good guys.

Thus, evidently, the avalanche of opinions and “whataboutery” adorning every part of the media in the wake of the scandal over the repellent Harvey Weinstein.

Since every day brings some fresh hellish revelation, it is a brave columnist who will dip her newly-varnished toe into the mix until this story plays itself out. Only this week we learned of the decision of the academy that runs the Oscars to chuck Weinstein out, and of his own brother’s disgust at his behaviour.

Weinstein is not getting a free pass and may yet, indeed, face court proceedings.

Hollywood, it is said, has its forgiving side and one only has to look at such examples as Robert Downey Jr — imprisoned for drug offences and now rehabilitated — or even the repulsive Mel Gibson, back after a fashion despite his vile anti-Semitism. But there may be no way back for Weinstein.

I was thinking about comebacks and denunciations after watching the finely-militant actress, writer and director Emma Thompson righteously denouncing Weinstein on BBC’s Newsnight, telling the sympathetic Emily Maitlis that she, Thompson, had spent her 20s “trying to push old men’s tongues out of my mouth”.

It’s not a nice image, as I am sure you will agree. And in Weinstein’s case, Thompson was right: older and powerful men, as I have written in this space before, have always used that power to intimidate younger and less powerful women sexually.

It’s worth remembering it’s exactly a year since Israeli writer Ari Shavit’s spectacular fall from grace for his own version of predatory behaviour, albeit nowhere near as nasty as that of Weinstein.

But Thompson’s very insistence that she is right may not always be the case. In 2012, for example, she was happy to add her name to a petition denouncing Israel’s Habima Theatre company when it was due to take part in that summer’s Shakespeare Olympiad in London.

Thompson, as I recall, wanted the Globe Theatre to cancel its invitation to Habima, though she was among the missing when it came to demonstrating outside the theatre.

As I wondered then: “What about artistic freedom, Emma?” Good question, and one that may well have occurred to another actress, Greta Gerwig, this week.

Gerwig, one of America’s best known indie-film actresses, has made a startling — and, I dare say, unprecedented — U-turn over her own backing for a campaign to get the Lincoln Centre to cancel performances of To The End Of The Land, a play based on Israeli writer David Grossman’s novel.

Gerwig has now admitted: “I am generally careful about the causes I support, but in this case I was not. I was unfamiliar with the complexities of the letter and I did not take the time to study them.”

She added: “While I respect the passion and integrity of others who signed this letter, for me to put my name to something outside of my personal realm of knowledge or experience was a mistake — my mistake — and I am sorry for any confusion or hurt I may have caused.”

To which I say, bravo, Greta. And also, down with kneejerkery and instant rushes to judgment when we none of us can know all the facts.

I mean, we all want to be on the side of the angels, right?

  • 19 October, 2017