Bill Cosby, convicted of sexual assault. Harvey Weinstein, arrested and charged with rape and sex abuse.
For many in Hollywood, this is a time they could have scarcely imagined. And while the two cases are distinct and separate, the symbolism of these events coming roughly a month apart, less than eight months after allegations against Weinstein went public, is difficult to ignore.
Powerful men in the media have seemingly existed inside a protective cocoon. Even as the #MeToo movement gained momentum, it seemed unlikely that someone like Cosby or Weinstein would face jeopardy from the justice system.
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Too many allegations lost to the statute of limitations. Too many resources for legal defense teams. And in many cases, too much “celebrity justice,” an “X” factor that has seen famous men acquitted in the past on charges that have included rape and murder.
O.J. Simpson and actor Robert Blake were acquitted in high-profile murder trials, a decade apart. Music producer Phil Spector was convicted of murdering actress Lana Clarkson in 2009, but only after a mistrial on those charges two years earlier.
Those cases bred understandable cynicism about the justice system. Even as the roster of names mounted with accusations against Cosby, the prospect of serious ramifications appeared doubtful after a first mistrial in that case.
Those disheartened by that perceived reality could theoretically derive satisfaction from seeing these high-profile figures relegated to pariah status. Separating them from the adulation they enjoyed, the power that they wielded, was its own kind of sentence.
But their wealth and privilege remained. The phone might stop ringing from powerful pals, but they would still live out their days in luxury.
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In the last month, that perception has been shaken. The verdict against Cosby, especially, served notice that all the advantages the comedian enjoyed – including a public that didn’t want to believe the worst about him – could no longer be counted upon to inoculate him against being held accountable.
Suddenly, that protective shell has cracks in it.
Given the role that reporting about Weinstein played in the torrent of allegations unleashed since October, seeing him undergo a perp walk on Friday had plenty of significance. As actress, activist and alleged victim Rose McGowan said on “Good Morning America,” “‘I have a visceral need for him to have handcuffs on.”
The array of cases that have been lumped together under the broad heading of “sexual misconduct” aren’t perfectly analogous. On Friday, Weinstein attorney Benjamin Brafman said in a statement, “Mr. Weinstein has always maintained that he has never engaged in non-consensual sexual behavior with anyone. Nothing about today’s proceedings changes Mr. Weinstein’s position. He has entered a plea of Not Guilty and fully expects to be exonerated.”
In regard to Weinstein, moreover, the light of celebrity actually resided with many of his accusers, commanding attention that has often eluded victims in the past.
The Weinstein case now enters a new stage. As symbols go, though, his arrest represented a moment – and a message – that seemingly marks another step from #MeToo toward Time’s Up.