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The Dirty Little Secret in Hollywood

by Melissa Silverstein
March 1, 2011 5:30 AM
11 Comments
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There is a power disparity in Hollywood. A big one. The men have got it. It is never more evident when one of the most high profile people exhibits behavior that makes the whole country and society take note. The man on display for the last several weeks has been Charlie Sheen - the highest paid actor on TV.

The thing is that Charlie Sheen has been acting like an ass, abusing women and abusing drugs for some time. But clearly, he crossed a line last week when he went after CBS' cash cow - Chuck Lorre, the Executive Producer of Two and Half Men and several other CBS shows. And now that it's gotten him fired, people are wondering, especially the ever eloquent David Carr at the NY Times, what took so long and why can a person get away with being a serial abuser against women but when he talks about his boss, a dude with money, that's when he gets the boot.

I'm not trying to excuse what he said to Mr. Lorre. It was unacceptable and anti-Semitic. But people this is not news. Sheen he has been acting like this for some time. He abused his ex-wife Denise Richards. He abused his ex-wife Brooke Mueller. He beat up an escort in the Plaza Hotel in NYC on a bender last fall.

But none of those things got him into trouble at work -- even though his bosses knew that he was abusing drugs and women -- until he insulted Chuck Lorre who CBS is in business with on multiple shows and wants to stay in business with a long time.

As David Carr says:

So the message from CBS and Warner Brothers seems clear: abuse yourself and the women around you to your heart’s content, but do not attack the golden goose.

We can all nod and wink and say “it’s Hollywood, what do you expect?” CBS and Time Warner may be in the entertainment business, but they are both publicly traded companies with shareholders, corporate ethics policies and, one presumes, many female employees who don’t particularly care to see a highly paid employee (Mr. Sheen, between his share of syndication and a salary of $1.2 million per episode, makes enough to put him at the top of the food chain in most of corporate America) continually threaten to use women as punching bags.

Men in Hollywood get away with treating women like crap because that's part of the business. I've heard stories from friends who have been yelled and taunted for being a woman in a writer's room just because there is no recourse against these guys. Sheen revealed in one of his 100 (or so it seemed) interviews yesterday that he got a phone call of support from Mel Gibson. Gibson supposedly said "I thought you might like to hear a friendly voice." With friends like Gibson who needs enemies. Gibson himself is readying his next redemption scene with the premiere of The Beaver at SXSW in the next two weeks. It seems that those two are part of a club of men who get away with treating women like crap. I'm betting this club has lots of members.

And let's not forget Roman Polanski who was just lauded with 4 Cesar Awards in France this past weekend for The Ghost RiderWriter a film that he was able to finish when he was under house arrest. Tough life. Now he's a free man and is making a movie in Paris with two of the biggest female stars Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster.

It's great that the public is waking up to seeing the cycle of abuse. It's sad that this man refuses to get help and this has become another Hollywood trainwreck that we can't look away from. But let's not forget that though Charlie Sheen might be the most public and visible face of abuse -- substance and otherwise -- right now in this country, this is an ongoing epidemic. Women are abused by men -- powerful and not -- each and every day. There is no excuse for the behavior to be dismissed for any reason.

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11 Comments

  • Louise Fleming | March 3, 2011 6:02 AMReply

    same old, same old.

  • Allison | March 3, 2011 2:26 AMReply

    Here is an interesting article on Sheen's "goddesses" and how they degrade all women:

    http://www.popeater.com/2011/03/02/charlie-sheen-goddesses/

    I would also like to point out that Harvey Weinstein has gone on record that he would work with Sheen again in the Scary Movie franchise. If you'll remember, Weinstein also supported Roman Polanski. I love how some in Hollywood support these creeps.

  • Lisa | March 2, 2011 9:05 AMReply

    This is Southern California, the one place that it seems you can murder your wife or a model and get off if your a celebrity. So why wouldn't it be acceptable to abuse woman if your a celebrity? It's been going on a long time and it's very sad. For some reason celebrities are superior and get away with being abusive and everyone forgives them. I've seen videos of peolpe on the street here saying Charlie is the man. He's telling it how it is and he's my hero. All men ofcourse.. Very disturbing...

  • Justina Vail Evans | March 2, 2011 8:02 AMReply

    Thank you for highlighting this issue... I have been on the receiving end of various levels of physical, verbal and sexual abuse by men in the film industry in the past, and because they were either on the poster or had a position of power, there was no consequence whatsoever, no matter who was told about it. (Though one of them is now, finally, on trial for serial rape so hopefully there will be some justice in his case, even at 30 years later.) This problem has got to be addressed. Even Piers Morgan, whom I have had great respect for never mentioned the abuse of women when he interviewed Charlie Sheen yesterday. Piers just says that he stands up for anyone's rights to 'party'. I don't call abusing women part of acceptable 'partying'.

  • Anat | March 2, 2011 7:56 AMReply

    "Two and a Half Men" just lost one of its most devoted viewers. I can only wish best of luck to the rest of the cast, finding a better crew member to work with on their next show.

    If more stories like this get published, and more people vote by refusing to see the shows/movies these actors appear in, maybe Hollywood executives would get the message. Once this type of behavior start hurting their pockets, they would be quicker to get rid of these so-called stars

  • Anonymous | March 2, 2011 3:43 AMReply

    That is an interesting point Linn

  • Allison | March 2, 2011 3:27 AMReply

    I almost fell down laughing when Sheen said he got support from Mel Gibson--a man who is currently being brought up on charges of abusing the mother of his child. It's just like when Woody Allen came out for Roman Polanski. All these creepy men supporting each other. Yuck.

    Apparently CBS and Warner Bros. kept giving a pass to Sheen's abuse of women (because it was all a "personal private matter") but drew the line when he went after Lorre (because it endangered their pocketbooks).

  • Akiva Penaloza | March 2, 2011 1:06 AMReply

    Linn: What you stated rings true insofar as labor laws. However, I take issue with the fact that you mention that "...I heard stories of women abusing their power too." Women who are also abusers is not the topic here. Men abuse women. That is the point. And it is RAMPANT. There is no equivalency between the amount of women who abuse their power and men who abuse power. Their abuse is destructive to many women because they also often times resort to violence and sexual abuse. Why can't it just be said that men are abusive? Why do we have to somehow lessen the blow by adding in that women abuse too? Again, no equivalency there.

  • Yvonne Jones | March 2, 2011 12:43 AMReply

    I don't want to detract from your excellent points re: the long leash that's finally been yanked on Charlie Sheen after years of abusive behavior. But I can't help but point out that the Polanski film you're referring to is actually The Ghost Writer, while Ghost Rider is yet another baffling action/fantasy/thriller film starring Nicolas Cage.

    Some days I feel close to a breakdown over how many creative people I admire are eager to work with admitted rapist and fugitive Roman Polanski. Et tu, Kate and Jodi?

  • Anne Smith | March 1, 2011 9:05 AMReply

    Lindsay Lohan's gotten much more flak for much less than Sheen has.

  • Linn D. | March 1, 2011 8:00 AMReply

    Melissa: Based on the facts I've heard, I think the issue is that California is pretty protective of a worker's rights and privacy. So an employer can only "punish" a worker for onsite behavior/actions. If Charlie Sheen was accused of being drunk/high on set, or sexually harassing a person on set, then he could be fired/reprimanded/fined. But because from all accounts I've heard this is happening only during his personal free time, the employer's hands are very tied. And since Charlie has always been a big partier, I would imagine his employment contract makes that separation quite clear. His lawyers would have been idiots to allow any kind of language allowing the studio to fire Charlie for non-work related behavior.

    But once Charlie started publicly attacking the showrunner, that makes it work related. And that is something the employer has a right to deal with. Similar to cases where people are publically slamming their bosses on facebook, that is possibly a "punishable" act. But even that depends on the employment contract. Because of the issue of Free Speech.

    Going back to Charlie Sheen, this is why in the beginning when Mr. Sheen was threatening to sue the studio if they didn't start production again, he was actually in the right. Depending on his contract, they cannot prevent an actor from working as long as they are sober on set.

    Don't get me wrong, I think a lot of behavior in "Hollywood" is unacceptable, but I've heard stories of women abusing their power, too. (and I don't just mean sexually) If we are condoning abuse of power, that's not limited to men. And if we're talking about substance abusers, well, again, that's not relegated to men only...

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