Terry Gilliam, a critically acclaimed director with a large-if-aging cult fanbase that stretches from his work in Monty Python to elegantly paranoid films like Brazil and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, made a game attempt today to reckon with Hollywood’s #MeToo moment, and somehow came up with the idea that the real victim was Matt Damon, at the hands of an internet mob.
“I feel sorry for someone like Matt Damon, who is a decent human being,” said Gilliam, “He came out and said all men are not rapists, and he got beaten to death.” (R.I.P.: Matt Damon, who will be missed.)
During a discussion of the rampant sexual harassment and exploitation in the entertainment industry with the French wire service AFP Friday, Gilliam managed simultaneously to cast doubt on the notion that women in the business actually face violation at the hands of more powerful men and went on to suggest that those who do are often in such a situation by choice.
“I think some people did very well out of meeting with Harvey and others didn’t. The ones who did knew what they were doing,” Gilliam said, referring to disgraced former Hollywood power player Harvey Weinstein, who made a decades-long habit out of cornering and assaulting women who came into his orbit. “Harvey opened the door for a few people, a night with Harvey — that’s the price you pay.”
Gilliam’s distillation of the lurid, often criminal details of these many allegations into “a night with Harvey” — and one voluntarily embarked upon, no less — invokes the idea of a woman choosing to accept a tidily proposed offer, something out of Hollywood fare like Pretty Woman or the fifth season of Mad Men. As ThinkProgress’ Jessica Goldstein has accounted at length, the reality of such encounters is not so gauzy in recollection.
The precise manner of Weinstein’s abuse matters little if at all, but it’s worth correcting Gilliam here. Weinstein’s methods, as described by women he preyed upon, were not so genteel. Waves of thorough, iterative reporting and testimonials about Weinstein’s abuse of women illustrate a flagrant, predatory pattern. In story after story, Weinstein was said to isolate a woman from others, bully his chosen mark into drinking alcohol, and eventually steer the encounter into a sexual assault. So it was for then-news anchor Lauren Sivan in New York, then-acting student Lupita Nyongo in New Haven, and unnamed subordinates at The Weinstein Company over a period of decades.
Gilliam’s remarks extended beyond Weinstein — whom he also referred to as “a monster” — to tar the broader cultural wave that’s followed the long-delayed exposure of the mogul’s abuse.
“It’s like when mob rule takes over, the mob is out there…carrying their torches and they are going to burn down Frankenstein’s castle,” Gilliam said. “It’s crazy how simplified things are becoming. There is no intelligence anymore and people seem to be frightened to say what they really think.” The #MeToo moment “got silly,” he said, adding that “people are being described in ridiculous terms as if there is no real humanity left anymore.”
Gilliam specifically referenced the commentariat’s dogpiling of Damon which, to Gilliam’s mind, occurred after the actor stated that there was “a difference between…patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation,” and that these “behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but [not] conflated.” But this is a gross oversimplification of the controversy Damon provoked.
But what Gilliam’s done here dismisses something that’s far larger than Hollywood. The mass attention that was trained on Hollywood’s own abusers quickly spread far beyond the entertainment world. Women across all manner of professions found, in the moment Gilliam derides as mob rule, the opportunity to tell stories that, in many cases, they had never shared. The wave of average-Jane testimonials fast eclipsed the initial surge of stories of assault, harassment, and abuse in the entertainment industry. From politics to service industries to the restaurant business to print and television journalism, the great coming-forward illustrated the all-encompassing nature of men’s abusive treatment of women across every corner of modern society.
About half a year on from the dam-breaking moment cause by the exposure of Weinstein’s crimes, more room for reflection and commentary has opened, all of which comes in varying hue and value. Plenty of conservative writers have scorned the movement with the same kind of trollish slippery-slope arguments that Gilliam made during his Friday interview. And liberal analysts have fretted that cynical hatemongers might find it all too easy to exploit one virtuous component of this moment — the new value being placed on believing women’s stories of abuse — in dishonest ways toward devious ends.
This kind of pondering can be useful for figuring out where society might go from this moment. But Gilliam — long identified with the counterculture, with those who would challenge the powerful or trouble the steeples of cultural hegemony — isn’t adding value here. The brush he’s flicking is awfully broad.
“I know enough girls who were in Harvey’s suites who were not victims and walked out,” Gilliam said. For good measure, he pivoted the discussion to President Donald Trump, who was recorded describing his pattern of sexual predation years ago and has been accused of assault by dozens of women.
“There is touching and there is grabbing, that is the problem. I find it funny that [while this is going on] a self-confessed pussy-grabber is the president of the US and is just walking around,” Gilliam said. “I find it incredible.”
It’s odd that Gilliam finds that to be “incredible,” when a better way of assaying Trump’s emergence from a culture that allowed Weinstein’s own crimes to remain invisible for such a long time is to describe it, simply, as nothing more than natural and logical consequences. And for what it’s worth, the media belongs in the crosshairs of this reckoning as well: Trump’s election triumph, weeks after giving a qualified national apology for “locker room talk” and denying the allegations of women he’s often mocked as insufficiently attractive for him to even want to assault, came after a campaign where many of the most influential journalists covering him had long been embarked on sexually predatory careers of their own.
For his part, Matt Damon has made an effort to take a fuller measure of himself after speaking a little too glibly about the post-Weinstein reckoning. Days after the star had — to Gilliam’s reckoning — been “beaten to death,” he offered his female peers in the film industry grace and space, saying, “A lot of those women are my dear friends and I love them and respect them and support what they’re doing and want to be a part of that change and want to go along for that ride. But I should get in the back seat and close my mouth for a while.”
This week, Damon’s production company, Pearl Street Films, announced that they would be “adopting the inclusion rider for all of [their] projects going forward.”