Film director Paul Feig called on men in Hollywood to speak out against embattled producer Harvey Weinstein, saying the industry must stop “predatory guys” and stand with the “heroes” who have accused the movie mogul of sexual harassment.
In an interview with the Guardian, the director of the women-led Ghostbusters reboot slammed Weinstein for making “excuses” in the face of a flurry of sexual misconduct allegations, saying: “This is so reprehensible to me when it’s one of these gatekeepers who has so much power over people’s careers.”
Feig continued: “Men need to speak up. This can’t be women just speaking up. They need backup. It’s a big sacrifice for women to come forward with this stuff. As we’ve seen over history, they are generally not rewarded for coming forward.”
Feig spoke by phone from Toronto, where he is finishing production on his latest film, days after Weinstein was fired from his own company in the wake of a New York Times investigation alleging unwanted physical contact and harassment spanning several decades. The paper alleged that he repeatedly invited women to his hotel room for business purposes and would greet them in the nude or ask them to massage him or watch him shower. He reached settlements with at least eight women, according to the report.
Feig said that before the New Yorker published accounts from three women on Tuesday who alleged that Weinstein raped them. Weinstein “unequivocally denied” the assault allegations through a spokeswoman.
After the New Yorker published its piece, Feig emailed a follow-up comment about audio included in the story, which captures Weinstein seeming to admit to groping a model, saying it’s behavior he is “used to”.
“To hear that woman protesting that much and that vehemently and for him to persist and cajole and threaten like that. It’s shocking and disgusting,” Feig wrote, adding that the recording was “beyond disturbing”. “If only all sexual harassment moments in this world could have been recorded like this the world could hear just what a terrible crime harassment is and just how predatory and what an abuse of power by the powerful it is.”
Feig – famous for his 2011 box-office smash Bridesmaids, which helped launch the careers of Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy – More than 20 male actors and directors with close ties to Weinstein did not respond to requests for comment on Monday, though George Clooney has since condemned the alleged harassment as “indefensible” and Ben Affleck released a statement that said: “This is completely unacceptable, and I find myself asking what I can do to make sure this doesn’t happen to others.”
After the New York Times story, Weinstein apologized for causing “pain”, but he and his attorneys also denied many of the accusations and threatened to sue the New York Times for “false and defamatory” statements. Weinstein said: “I came of age in the 60s and 70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”
“Harvey’s excuse of, ‘This is the culture I grew up in, blah, blah, blah …’ I’m tired of that,” Feig said by phone earlier on Tuesday. “‘This is just how guys are.’ This is not fucking how guys are. This is how shitty guys are. This is how predatory guys are. It’s not an excuse. I call absolute bullshit.
The director, also creator of the cult teen TV drama Freaks and Geeks, said he had long heard rumors that Weinstein had a “terrible temper” and was “really tough to work with”, saying numerous friends spoke of bad experiences with him. Feig said a few years ago he had several meetings with Weinstein about a potential remake of the French film The Intouchables. But he said he decided not to move forward with the collaboration, in part due to his concerns about the producer’s reputation.
Feig, also behind 2013 action comedy film The Heat, said it would make a huge difference if women were better represented in the industry, which remains male-dominated and homogeneous, despite a recent push for diversity. He said: “We just need more women in power. There’s no parity behind the camera, in front of the camera and barely in the executive offices.”
Gender imbalances enable abuse, he added. “Women are fighting so hard to get more access to the power positions, and that creates a situation sometimes where people feel they can’t speak up or people just put their head down and plow forward.”
Feig also said it was critical that “liberal Hollywood” speak up for victims of sexual misconduct and that men in the industry call out other men they observe mistreating people: “We don’t stand for it when the Catholic church is doing it. We don’t stand for it when Fox News does it. We shouldn’t stand for it when our side does it, either.”
“Anybody who knew about this and knew for a long time is very, very responsible,” he continued. “You can’t turn a blind eye to this shit.”
Feig compared Weinstein to Donald Trump, who has also been accused of sexual misconduct over the years: “When the power is there, people excuse a lot of things, and that’s terrible.”
The director said his company doesn’t “tolerate any kind of misbehavior or shitty people”, but recognized that harassment and abuse like the Weinstein allegations are still not uncommon. “Yeah, the culture is changing. But there is no way this is an isolated case.”
Feig noted that online the bullying of women seemed to be getting much worse. He made headlines last year when he came to the defense of Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones, who was bombarded with sexist and racist abuse on Twitter.
“The advent of social media has put these people in our faces and given them such access to us that is so invasive. Horrible people show up in your phone,” he said. “The misogyny has just gotten so fucking terrible.”
Feig said it was important to recognize that sexual misconduct is pervasive across industries, noting that his wife was sexually harassed when she was a lawyer and a friend mistreated in the airline industry. He said he was happy to see a wide range of people speaking up and praised Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News host whose sexual harassment allegations helped pave the way for the ousting of chairman Roger Ailes.
“It happens in showbiz, and it happens in all industries,” he said. “It’s up to powerful men and powerful women to stand up and support women who are going through this.”