[an abridged version of this story appeared on The Wrap on Oct. 17, 2017]
I spent years covering the entertainment business as a journalist in Hollywood, and I’ve never seen a scandal cut as deeply and widely across American culture as the Harvey Weinstein debacle. The now-disgraced producer spent over thirty years groping, molesting and allegedly raping up-and-coming actresses — and getting away with it. What’s worse is that he wasn’t alone; his colleagues and corporate culture covered for him, and for untold other predators just like Harvey. One person who still works in the entertainment industry refers to those who covered for predators as “hyenas.”
My friend Rae Dawn Chong, who starred in several Hollywood studio pictures in the 1980s like “Quest for Fire” and “Commando,” claims the now-disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein “is only the tip of an ugly iceberg” regarding the industry’s treatment of women.
Chong, who used to be represented by one of the most powerful agencies in town, CAA, recalled that she was once sent to an evening meeting with then-movie star Steven Seagal in the 1980s.
“9:30 p.m. at the Bel Air hotel — I was shocked at the time,” she said, but the agency excused the late hour and location, and when Chong arrived at the front desk she was told to go to his room.
“I knew then that I was being pimped by the agency,” she said.
Although she refused to enter Seagal’s hotel room, she knocked on the door to confirm that she had made the appointment, only to have Seagal answer in his bathrobe.
“I stood outside the open door mortified that I was told to go to this meeting,” she said. “My heart broke because my agency had obviously pimped me out to this creep.”
Seagal opened the door, she said, and the actor “walked across his room and sat in a chair and manspread so I could see his junk. But he casually covered back up as if it was a mistake.”
After she declined his invitation to enter the room, Chong said, “then he asked if my blouse was silk and could he feel it. I said, ‘You know what silk feels like’ and I left.”
“I never let him touch me,” she said. “And to be honest…I would have f — ing killed him.”
She said that she went home and cried “because I realized the agency did not care about me. I left them, hurt and betrayed. Of course I struggled for work after that, and I was angry at them for lying and betraying my trust.”
Reps for Seagal and CAA did not respond to my request for comment.
What’s worse is that it didn’t end there, Chong said. “For years Steven Seagal would leave sex messages on my message machine. I had never met him before that night and never spoke to him again but for some reason he decided he could do this,” she said. “What burned me most was the agents. They got away with this and I was burned by them. I could not tell on them — who would I tell?”
Chong is now the third woman to accuse Seagal of misconduct after actresses Lisa Guerrero and Jenny McCarthy told their stories to Newsweek and the L.A. Times.
Chong’s saga has been echoed by the litany of statements coming from the British, French, Italian and American actresses who worked with, or wanted to work with Weinstein. Hundreds of other women have come out of the woodwork, speaking openly now about what they have endured to get work in Hollywood. Other producers, directors and movie stars are being accused of sexual aggression and abuse of power.
Every man should be alarmed by these stories of sexual predators, and look inward. What we don’t yet know is how the Weinstein scandal is likely to play out. Will it be a watershed moment in the patriarchy, changing the way men behave across industries and western nations? Or will it eventually blow over — the way a similar scandal exposing Donald Trump as a sexual predator during last year’s presidential campaign quickly evaporated, leading to his siege of the White House?
My wife, the author Sheana Ochoa, calls me naïve when I express optimism that this time, the shock waves are too great and that the culture will have to evolve. She writes in a column in the London Economic that “this story will fizzle out. It will soon be replaced by something else to enrage, scare, and stir us up. Meanwhile, nothing will have changed.”
We can only hope she’s wrong.