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Women want to buy The Weinstein Company. Could they save Hollywood?

Female-fronted bids for Harvey Weinstein’s ailing legacy have the potential to rewrite power structures, says Rachael Sigee

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By Rachael Sigee on

It is tempting to write off The Weinstein Company as collateral damage at this point. Instead of being linked to Oscar winners like Silver Linings Playbook, The Artist, Carol and The King’s Speech, it is now shorthand for a culture of misogyny and sexual assault. But, while the industry speculates whether the company can survive, amid rumours of bankruptcy, litigation and plummeting share values, women are seeing it as an opportunity to overhaul the power structures that have failed them until now.

Two women-fronted bids for the company have been reported and it is galvanising to consider that the decline of The Weinstein Company could lead to female voices being heard at the very top level of the industry.

One proposal is from Project Level Forward, an activist coalition from media corporation Killer Content, which has united partners including philanthropist and film-maker Abigail Disney, The New York Women’s Foundation (NYWF), grassroots anti-harassment initiative Hollaback! and A Call To Men, an international organisation targeting violence against women.

Plans for the acquisition suggest that any profits from completed films will be donated to organisations that tackle sexual assault and discrimination, with the NYWF assuming responsibility for the distribution of donated profits. “The idea that we could transform these assets into generating opportunities for safety, opportunities for solutions, is an extremely powerful idea,” NYWF president Ana Oliveira told BuzzFeed. “We do have the means to translate this cultural uproar into sustainable change over time.”

Projects that are currently in production by The Weinstein Company would be considered on the basis of whether they align with the coalition’s values. Some will be completed (again with donations of profits), some will be sold to approved third parties and some will be scrapped.

It is only through radical redistribution of power, amplification of marginalised voices and transparency that the film industry can be rehabilitated, and making space for women in positions of influence is crucial to this

Another interested party is reported to be Maria Contreras-Sweet who formerly ran the Small Business Administration under President Obama. It is reported that she submitted a first bid to the Weinstein board and is working with a syndicate of majority female financial backers who have offered $275m to buy the company out.

Contreras-Sweet has purportedly stipulated that Harvey Weinstein’s brother Bob Weinstein (who has also been accused of sexual harassment) would have to step down from the board. She allegedly plans to rename the company if her bid is successful – and would also establish a fund of around $30m for Weinstein’s alleged victims and instigate a mediation process for handling legal claims.

In the letter to the board, Contreras-Sweet said she has been “profoundly affected by the recent revelations” and that “reorganizing the Company as a woman-led venture will be an inspiration to the industry, and a new model for how an entertainment company can be both financially successful and treat all its employees with dignity and respect”.

The deluge of sexual-abuse allegations that have poured out of Hollywood since the Harvey Weinstein story broke has shown us that Tinseltown isn’t just dealing with one bad apple. The system that concealed, supported and celebrated men who abused vulnerable women (and men) is rotten to the core.

It is only through radical redistribution of power, amplification of marginalised voices and transparency that the film industry can be rehabilitated. Making space for women in positions of influence is crucial to this. Whoever takes over The Weinstein Company will be making decisions about what stories we hear and who is telling them. And if that person is not a rich, old, white man, but a group of invigorated women, then so much the better for all of us.

@littlewondering

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