The Pain and Poise of The First Lady Of Miramax — The Roundabout Tale Of How No Man In Hollywood Can Believe It Happened To Gwyneth
One of the first times I remember becoming aware of Gwyneth Paltrow was when I got the mail. My mom had recently been given a free subscription to Entertainment Weekly through her work and I loved it — The interviews, the reviews, the photoshoots. My thirteen year old self was over the moon, listening for the iron thud of our thick black mail box’s lid to shut, for the dogs to bark (All telltale signs that the mailman had just been by), ready every week for another sixty-some-odd-pages of glossy goodness to fill my tweeny brain with pop culture agendas being pushed by suited men with power plays I was completely blind to.
All I cared about were the girls.
Neve Campbell. Sarah Michelle Gellar. Alanis Morisette. Calista Flockhart. Madonna. Nicole Kidman. And Gwyneth Paltrow.
Paltrow seemed to, more or less, come out of nowhere, though one of my teen magazines would later show me pictures of her hard at work as a young thespian in college, and with her parents who were names I didn’t know at thirteen but apparently well regarded in the movie industry. She was marketed — and marketed well — as poised, affable, lithe and unattainable; a mix of Grace Kelly and Helen of Troy. She was the type of actress that tabloids would wage wars over.
That star power worked, particularly when coupled with the blonde, tanned, and chiseled Brad Pitt, with whom she co-starred in New Line Cinema’s Seven and stayed coupled with afterwards for a little over a year, to great public intrigue. (Pitt’s string of iconic relationships, a callback to the days of Elizabeth Taylor and her many suitors, will cement him in pop culture more than any of his forgettable films will.) Gwyneth was EV-ER-Y-WHERE.
And so was Harvey Weinstein. He was not as prominently pictured as Paltrow, but he and his brother Bob’s names were in nearly every issue of Entertainment Weekly, repeated so much that it’s hard now for me to remember a time when Harvey Weinstein wasn’t a peripheral figure in the pop culture region of my brain.
It was the late ‘90’s, which meant Paltrow vehicles of varying success were released in quick succession. Great Expectations, Sliding Doors, Shakespeare In Love, Hush, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and A Perfect Murder were all released in either 1998 or 1999 and three of those six films were the product of the Weinsteins, leading Paltrow to be dubbed “The First Lady of Miramax”.
What we did not know then, however, was that the great oaf Harvey had used his oversized meat-sack-like paws to assault Paltrow before any of this had happened.
There were whispers — Even I, a now 15 year old girl from the midwest with an incessant hunger for all things pop culture, had heard these rumors, though when I think about it now, I can’t place exactly when I first heard them or what they exactly said. Did they paint Paltrow as a victim? Or as a willing participant in the Hollywood casting couch game? Like I said, I cannot remember but for some reason, I suspect it was the latter. These “whispers” all but became shouts when the push for Paltrow to win best actress for Shakespeare In Love began. It was all over message boards, even alluded to in the pages of magazines like my beloved Entertainment Weekly — Harvey Weinstein will get you an Oscar if you spread those legs.
As the years went by, the rumors only gained traction as Weinstein campaigned and campaigned HARD for actresses from various Miramax vehicles that did in fact go on to win Oscars — Renee Zellwegger for Cold Mountain. Jennifer Lawrence for the gussied-up rom-com Silver Linings Playbook. (Note that Zellwegger has yet to give a statement on her dealings with Weinstein. Lawrence initially said she had no inappropriate contact with Weinstein and later gave a statement about the harassment she faced from a number of unnamed producers and higher-ups.) By the time the allegations against Weinstein finally came out earlier this month, first in the New York Times and then in the New Yorker in a suberbly written piece by Ronan Farow, it seemed that we were being told what we already knew except it was far more insidious than most people had guessed.
The word “bully” kept getting thrown around, particularly by male actors who claimed to have “no idea” what Weinstein was doing to their costars, friends, and girlfriends. These men claim that Harvey was a “womanizer” and that everyone knew Weinstein was a “bully” but… I guess they just thought all these beautiful actresses, dating the likes of George Clooney, Jack White and Brad Pitt, would willingly trade in their Sexiest Men Alive for a cruise through the tunnel of love with dream boat of the late ‘90’s Harvey Weinstein. Clooney (a former flame of Zellwegger’s) claimed that the talk of women on Weinstein’s “casting couch” was a rumor he heard but never gave much credence to because it seemed like it was just a way to demean actresses. Ben Affleck (Paltrow’s one time boyfriend) gave a sneakily worded response to the whole thing where he made sure not to say he didn’t know Weinstein was a predator. Matt Damon went on Good Morning America to save face after a scandal where he allegedly helped crush an expose on Weinstein raping an Italian model that was set to break in the New York Times. Damon confirmed that he knew about Weinstein and also that Aflleck knew — They knew because Paltrow had been assaulted and Affleck had dated her for some time. But, said Paltrow’s peer, “I knew they had come to whatever agreement — or understatement — about it. She had handled it. She was, you know, the First Lady of Miramax! And he treated her incredibly respectfully. Always”.
Of course. Of course! The First Lady of Miramax. Yes, she had been groped, cornered, assaulted, at barely 21, scared out of her mind, but she was rewarded for it so it was okay, right? And she was treated with incredible respect by her attacker. She had handled it. Damon would know, of course. He has a doctorate in Women’s Studies and understands sexual assault and the psychological effect it has on a woman quite well*. A counterpoint to Damon’s “she handled it”, however, is that she didn’t. It doesn’t take a lot of googling to find articles littered with clues that she, in reality, did not think so much of her Miramax Commander in Chief.
Take this article, a profile from the New Yorker on Weinstein that does not even touch on abuse allegations.
Paltrow says that “there were certain favors that he asked me to do that I felt were not exploitive but not necessarily as great for me as they were for him. I brought this to his attention, and he said, ‘I will never do that again.’ And he’s been true to his word.”
There’s also this Fox News article from 2003 about Paltrow “burning bridges” at Miramax.
“I just want to say that Focus Features is the best place in the world to make movies,” she declared while introducing the film (inside the Tribecca Film Center, co-owned by Miramax). “They really care about the creative process. And I don’t care what [expletive] building we’re in.”
Say what you will about present-day Paltrow, peddling ben-wa beads and new age face stickers “for your health”, but she’s a smart woman and always has been. These pre-expose quotes tell me that she won’t bite the hand that feeds her but she will spit into the palm. Paltrow, like Zellwegger, like Asia Argento, like Eva Green, like countless other women, some who have settled out of court with Weinstein, some who have NDA’s that prevent them from speaking their truths, know the power that that man, his brother, and his board have over her career. For that reason, to the press and public, she wanted to appear affable, likable, smart but strong, clever and cunning, a woman who would not disclose completely his actions but might occasionally hint at them.
After her comments about how joyful it was to make her passion project, Sylvia, with Focus Features, Paltrow only returned to Weinstein’s company once, to make Proof in 2005. She made less films with Weinstein than most of her male counterparts, the ones who have been fervently dubbing her “Hollywood royalty” and “The First Lady of Miramax” on tv and in newspapers. She certainly made less films with Weinstein than Quentin Tarantino or Affleck or Damon or Clooney, yet so many people have latched on to Paltrow as being a beacon of class, someone who, despite this horrible interaction, had a wonderful and respectful relationship with Harvey, a man who could sometimes be a bully but no one ACTUALLY SUSPECTED OF RAPE!
It was only three years after Paltrow’s last Weinstein feature that she took a “hiatus” from acting, one she more or less only breaks to don a strawberry wig as Pepper Potts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In 2008 she founded GOOP, her lifestyle brand that encompasses cookbooks, clothing, pop up shops, a magazine, and the aforementioned face stickers.
Similarly, Jessica Alba started her own lifestyle brand and took a hiatus from acting after working with Weinstein on Awake and Sin City. (Alba has made no statement about her time working on Weinstein films.) Blake Lively, a long rumored object of Weinstein’s obession, did the same.
As for me? I’m 33 now and not much has changed since I was thirteen. I still only care about the girls. What these — And so, so many other women — go through on a daily basis is absolutely disgusting and a topic that permeates my daily life. It is appalling that the most the average man can do is say “I had no idea this was happening! And boy, it sure does make me sad!”
I wrack my brain sometimes to think of women that I know for certain have never been assaulted and occasionally, I can think of one but then I have my doubts… What if she just never said anything? Never “gave a statement” so to speak? It is not every woman’s responsibility to pull a flaming sword from the ground and slay the ogre or to use their name to start an army hashtag on twitter. Some traumas are personal. Some traumas are silent. But now, more than ever, there is a long shadow of doubt cast over every man in my life, be he a man I know or a man I meet on the street, be he a celebrity on a tv show I watch every week or an attendant at a store I visit three times a month.
“Have you?” I wonder, as the male pharmacist grazes my hand.
“Or you?” I think, as I walk my dog and a man smiles and nods at me.
I wonder. I always wonder.
*Note: Matt Damon does not have any training in handling the trauma of a sexual assault victim. He has never gone to school to learn about women or their struggles, emotions, or traumas. He is very much a straight white male that is very affluent. To adopt a wonderful phrase Rose McGowan used about Damon’s very special friend Ben Affleck, fuck you, Matt Damon.