Bigger Than Harry Knowles

A recent wave of sexual harassment allegations against Ain’t It Cool News founder Harry Knowles has moved through the film world. Knowles is accused of allegedly groping, fondling, verbally accosting and making unsolicited advances against a number of women over the years. The famed “Head Geek” of the pioneering film website announced he was taking a leave of absence placing his sister in charge of the site.

This news comes on the heels of similar allegations against The Alamo DrafthouseOnline response was swift and hard, condemning the alleged actions of Harry Knowles and Drafthouse writer, Devin Faraci. Some of Knowles’s best veteran writers as Eric “Quint” Vespe have resigned their positions in protest and out of good moral conscience.The allegations continue to roll in and Knowles seems to have taken a very casual response to the scandal, calling his exile from Fantastic Fest a chance to “mind the store” and devote more time to his website.

The issues making these headlines are not only repugnant, they help erode an industry already stricken with moral cancer.

Why a Cynema article on this subject? If the allegations are true, when these women reported the offenses perpetrated against them, they were told in so many words to “deal with it.” That’s the way things go. Boys will be boys. All of the usual excuses to rationalize predatory behavior.  After reading this Facebook post by former Fantastic Fest employee, Jill Lewis,  I decided to weigh in.

Ms. Lewis’s post outlines so much that is wrong in this industry. She opens by stating “I believe women. I believe women when they recount the times that someone groped them or was inappropriate with unwanted and unwarranted words/sexual advances.” She needs to clarify that she believes. The knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss such public allegations as “hit jobs or witch hunts.”

To be clear, there have been false sexual allegations made by women in the past (Tawana Brawley, the Rolling Stone frat case, etc.). There have been false allegations by men against men as well. There are also cases where groupies, hangers-on, and manipulators have put themselves deliberately in harm’s way looking for a payout sweepstakes win.

A recent headline underscores why “Believing” is not a blanket, one size fits all, unimpeachable statement: https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/man-cleared-rape-charges-victim-073030228.html

This is not the case here.

The veracity of Ms. Lewis’s accounts is not in question. She has nothing to gain from this. I see no way this would advance her career and so far there doesn’t appear to be any financial motive.

It comes down to something pretty simple: people just can’t fucking behave.

When casting Camp Dread, I notified both auditioning male and female actors that some nudity or undress was involved with some of the characters. It was up front–a disclaimer. No harm, no foul if that wasn’t for them. In fact, one actress asked if she were considered; could there be some kind of alternative if it didn’t compromise the integrity of the film. She auditioned, was great and we indeed found a solution that was a win-win because she was a good actress.

Onset with the cast of “Camp Dread”

Later, when shooting onset,  she told me of auditioning for another production company that did not behave. The director and several male members of the production were drinking when she came into the room for her audition. The producer asked her to “show her tits” because there was going to be nudity and they wanted to make sure she looked good.  She walked out and did not succumb to their fuckery. It confirmed my previous suspicions to not affiliate with douchebags like that.

This is simple. Whether you’re a filmmaker, politician, athlete, film reviewer or well anyone…you don’t do the shit you’re reading about. You behave. Do we really need laws against rape? I mean, any decent human being knows it’s wrong. Yet, we do need those laws because again…people just can’t fucking behave.

Let’s go forward that the men mentioned in these allegations (there seem to be other lesser-known offenders alluded to) did what was said. What makes any one of them think what they did was okay? You write film reviews, cavort with stars. You sit on some panels with some cool luminaries and you break some interesting industry news with a few scoops along the way.

How does that make anyone think it’s okay to allegedly lay their hands on another human being the way we have read? If Knowles did proposition Jill Lewis (he denies it) to a threesome with his wife, what made him think this was okay? It’s not as if he was some Adonis (Even if so, still doesn’t give you a pass). It’s not as if Lewis expressed any kind of romantic interest in him. By her account, she had little previous contact with him. As a heterosexual male, I wonder: what made him think he was in this woman’s league? Aside from that, what mental player was waving him into home?

It’s not as if Lewis expressed any kind of romantic interest in him. By her account, she had little previous contact with him. As a heterosexual male, I wonder: what made him think he was in this woman’s league? Aside from that, what mental player was waving him in to steal home? He had money? He had influence? Was he regarded as some kind of cult-geek hero among the convention and online community?

So a woman works with you. You’re the boss, leader, Lord High Muckety-Muck. This somehow gives the right to grope, touch, lewdly proposition or as one account read, force your hands down someone’s pants on the dancefloor? It goes beyond the litany of excuses like “being drunk.” No one should be subjected to such garbage anywhere, let alone the workplace.

None of this is new. The “casting couch” has been around before Hollywood. Positions of power, prestige, and wealth create the belief of sexual prowess and entitlement. Child star,  Shirley Temple outlined a particularly disturbing example. During a studio audition for a major film, the producer would grant the part if he could sleep with her. She was around ten or eleven years old. The predator was in his 50s. The man exposed his penis to her. Shirley giggled, infurating the producer. Her mother was appalled and rushed her daughter from the office. Temple’s most chilling words described how she left the office to a hallway filled with young girls and their mothers. She knew one mother would take the offer.

Me in my mid-20s

I came to Los Angeles when I was 26 years old to do some business. I met with a producer known for some B films from the 80s over a script that got his interest. The rookie mistake was meeting him at his penthouse. He greeted me in a bathrobe and drink in hand. When I sat down, he informed me the very chair my ass was in was occupied by Luke Perry only a few days earlier (this was @1993). Anyone reading this is likely saying, “Dude…all the signs were there. Danger Will Robinson! Danger!” Yeah, yeah, I know.

I was 26, ambitious and wanted my script bought and produced. He was around sixty with a career and track record in the business. I didn’t know how business was done. It was odd, but not out of the realm for Hollywood to have a meeting at someone’s house. It was in a nice area and this guy was somewhat well-known. My “male privilege” and being naive gave me comfort: I wasn’t an aspiring female starlet…what did I have to worry about? I was a guy and a movie theater manager at that time. I was also an aspiring screenwriter and director. That’s all I knew.

About 30 minutes into the meeting this guy starts telling me about the real currency in Hollywood.  “It’s all about who likes you,” he purred. He leaned forward and put his hand on my knee, and brought it up to the middle of my thigh, rubbing it firmly. “So,” he asked. “Do you like me?” He gave the inner side of my thigh an extra squeeze.

Even then it took me a second to completely process what was going on as I sat in Luke Perry’s chair. “If you’re asking me what I think you are asking me,” I replied, “I am not doing that.”

He frowned, pulled back and swirled his drink. “Then I guess you want to run a movie theater the rest of your life.” His bathrobe had opened up, revealing a nest of grey chest hair over fake-baked, leathery skin.

Seat warmer, Luke Perry

“If it means doing what I think you’re asking me to do, then I guess so.” I packed up my script, stood and thanked him for his time and walked out the door. It was a long elevator ride to the lobby. I felt so dejected and let down. So all those shitty stories were true after all.

Now, this is just one experience for me, as a male. This has ZERO to do with homophobia and I don’t need to justify this story by listing my LGBT friends and family. It was bad behavior. Period. Had this producer been female, young or old, hot or not, it is still bad behavior. Had I been gay and it was a straight seduction, it’s still bad behavior.

You just don’t do it.

Everyone has the right to go to work and therefore socialize to live their lives free of harassment and predatory practices. It’s not about witch hunts or social justice crusading. It’s about doing the right thing. Making a movie is hard enough without this kind of cynical horseshit. There is no “mansplaining” to excuse anything that I have read. Likely there will be more revelations. Yes, there is innocence until proven guilty hence why everything has been affixed with “alleged.” Most of all, we know this kind of thing goes on at every workplace and basically everywhere around us.

It’s bad behavior. It’s wrong. There is no equivocation. It’s a shame for those who don’t know what shame is and shame their victims as a result.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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