‘I sat in a theatre alone with Harvey Weinstein as he grunted’ says film producer Alison Owen

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  • Last night's Golden Globes was a watershed moment for women, and it's about time too, says film producer Alison Owen, who worked with Weinstein in the '90s

    ‘When I was 14, I got my first job – washing-up in a hotel. It had been advertised in the local paper, and the pay was 50p an hour for men and 30p an hour for women. Since then, things have changed, both legally and culturally, but despite this incident happening in our recent history, I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I wasn’t mad or frothing with the unfairness. It was normal.

    During the 70s and 80s, I saw pictures painted by men, TV programmes made by men, advertising campaigns devised by men and aimed at men. My parents didn’t help – my dad would switch over if a female comedienne came on TV. “Your dad doesn’t think women should be funny,” my mum would say, equally horrified if anyone mentioned periods or Tampax within earshot of a man. It truly was a man’s world.

    Bob and Harvey Weinstein in 1989

    Sixteen years later, I made my first movie, Hear My Song, which was bought by Mr Weinstein himself. As I entered Weinstein World in the 90s, I heard plenty of rumours about the charismatic, eccentric Harvey. He was rumoured to give actresses roles only after they had allowed him to ejaculate on their leg. People ask now, “Why didn’t anyone do anything about it?” But what was anyone supposed to do?

    ‘He was rumoured to give actresses roles only after they had allowed him to ejaculate on their leg’

    I was a film producer by then, but I had worked as a waitress (serial groping and continual sexual innuendo) and production assistant (requests to sit on the boss’s lap), so I was familiar with harassment and the impossibility of doing anything about it. I myself had sat in a screening theatre alone with Harvey freeze-framing on a naked Meg Ryan and grunting as he called her a ‘little c***’ (I had suspicions he was doing something else, too). And yet what was anyone supposed to do? Report it to the police? Come on, folks. It was still a man’s world and, by and large, people still didn’t see anything wrong with it.

    The TimesUp campaign

    But the wind has changed post Weinsteingate. There is a moment in history when a shift happens, at first imperceptible, but that tiny shift sizzles and sparks until it causes an earthquake. That’s what we’re seeing now. The scales are falling from our eyes, and we’re viewing things for the first time with the female gaze. My own daughter, Lily [Allen], has encountered horrific sexual harassment in her career in the music industry. She writes and sings about them with great courage. Since Weinsteingate, there has been a tsunami of great women’s writing all over social media. This causes change, just as when we see our own lives mirrored back at us on TV and cinema screens, in paintings and in magazines.  The female gaze will change the world. No wonder men have been scared of it for so long. Change can be scary, but this change is for the better. Hallelujah!

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