The abuse problem within the film community extends beyond big names like Harvey Weinstein

And the patterns of behavior that shelter predators extend much further than Hollywood.

The crashing fall of Harvey Weinstein, legendary Hollywood mogul and accused sexual predator, might look like a bombshell from the outside. But for those on the inside of the film industry, it feels like just the biggest link in a chain of revelations.

That’s because sexual misconduct has been at the center of a number of high-profile accusations, resignations, and firings within the film industry over the past few months. Weinstein’s decades of alleged predation have made the biggest headlines because of how pervasive and wide-ranging the still-unfolding repercussions are — which includes cascading allegations against people like filmmaker James Toback, who’s been accused of assault by more than 200 women.

But the factors at play in Weinstein’s case — the twisting of an asymmetrical power dynamic, the way victims often downplayed their experiences for survival or had them downplayed for them, the way “everyone knew” but nobody took action — all of these are part of the broader film community’s recent barrage of similar stories. Cinefamily, Alamo Drafthouse, Ain’t It Cool News and Fantastic Fest, Screen Junkies — all of these spaces, once at the center of some of the interlocking communities that make up the broader cinephile world, have been rocked by scandal.

What links them all, besides the obvious interest in cinema, is the pervasive sense of betrayal felt by not just the direct victims but the broader community as well. The pattern of abuse and deception was especially acute, given that those communities often pride themselves on their progressive, inclusive ideals — on being safe, welcoming spaces for anyone who loves movies. Even in the midst of an industry that has long tolerated and even encouraged sexually predatory men and bullies, these communities of fans had seemed like places where those dynamics were actively criticized and eschewed. That illusion has been shattered.

And in most, if not all, of these cases, the cover-ups and looking the other way happened for the same reason they happen in any sector: not just because people are afraid, but because these are communities that gather around some kind of common purpose and shared value. Would-be predators in those communities get away with it because taking the accusers seriously often means rattling the core of the community itself, calling into question its sense of righteousness and exposing its failings to outsiders.

The Weinstein scandal is the latest in a string that has rocked the film community

The Weinstein revelations, and the cascading Hollywood fallout, represent the biggest and broadest in a succession of recent film community scandals.

In August, the Los Angeles nonprofit cinema Cinefamily suspended operations after allegations of an abusive work environment and sexual misconduct made against two of its key figures, co-founder and creative director Hadrian Belove and board of directors vice president Shadie Elnashai. Cinefamily had been a much-loved center for cinephiles in Los Angeles, both those who make the movies and those who watch them. The scandal sent a shockwave through the community and drew sharp criticism from many, including Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson, who had co-founded a group called Women of Cinefamily and noted that “Cinefamily prides itself on being a space of safety and communion.” Though both men disputed some of the charges, both Belove and Elnashai resigned at the request of Cinefamily’s board.

The Hollywood Arts Council's 30th Anniversary Gala - InsidePhoto by Charley Gallay/Getty Images
Cinefamily co-founder Hadrian Belove at an event in 2008.

Not long after, a year-old scab was ripped off when news broke that Devin Faraci, the former editor-in-chief of the movie website Birth.Movies.Death, had been quietly working for the Austin-based theater chain Alamo Drafthouse — which owns BMD — even though he’d supposedly left the company a year earlier, after sexual assault allegations surfaced against him. The discovery and its handling by Drafthouse CEO Tim League damaged the trust of its community of loyal fans.

That situation was exacerbated by the revelations of misconduct by Ain’t It Cool News founder Harry Knowles. Along with League, Knowles is also a co-founder of the much-loved genre film festival Fantastic Fest, which is held under the Drafthouse banner. Fantastic Fest 2017 went forward in September, but Ain’t It Cool News was dropped as a sponsor and neither Knowles nor League attended. Meanwhile, the community that normally gathered around the fest found themselves caught up in discussions and arguments over how the event ought to be treated in the wake of the revelations.

Netflix Films 1922 Premiere at Fantastic Fest, Alamo DrafthousePhoto by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Netflix
The 1922 premiere at Fantastic Fest in September.

The Weinstein story broke within a week of Fantastic Fest’s conclusion, and within days another high-profile film community personality — Andy Signore, creator of Screen Junkies and the popular “Honest Trailers” series on YouTube — was accused of sexual harassment and assault. He was fired from his job on Sunday, hours after the announcement of Weinstein’s termination from the Weinstein Company.

The biggest fish in all of this is most certainly Weinstein, who made his reputation as a kingmaker in Hollywood who could take an independent film or a talented actress and make Oscars rain down. Through his tenures at Miramax, Disney, and finally the Weinstein Company, which he co-founded with his brother Bob in 2005, Weinstein ruled Hollywood through a combination of friendship, fear, and money — and, it turned out, intimidating and humiliating women, some of whom were finally able to go on the record about their experiences with the producer.

They told stories of being asked for favors in return for career advancement, of being subjected to baldly inappropriate propositions, of being cornered in a restaurant while Weinstein masturbated in front of them, of being forced to perform or submit to nonconsensual sex acts and raped. The stories just keep coming, as well as revelations that implicate Weinstein’s associates and other Hollywood figures. Though Weinstein’s behavior was Hollywood’s “worst-kept secret,” most people were still startled that he had, at last, been called on the carpet — especially given the long list of enablers.

Communities formed around shared values too often enable abusers

The long string of powerful men who had taken advantage, to one degree or another, of women around them in the film world has its echoes in other arenas. Fox News, for example, has been rocked by scandal in the past year, with the late chair and CEO Roger Ailes and former star Bill O’Reilly brought down by revelations of their own pattern of using their positions of power to bully and proposition women in their orbits.

Yet the film world’s various scandals felt different to many on the inside. That’s in part because often the men who were accused of misconduct had gone out of their way to paint themselves as feminist allies and progressive heroes; Weinstein in particular had donated huge sums of money to progressive political causes, endowing a chair named for Gloria Steinem at Rutgers University and distributing The Hunting Ground, a 2016 documentary about sexual assault on campus.

And there’s another factor here: For many who frequented places like Cinefamily and Alamo, those places were a kind of safe haven where a love for entertainment that might be seen as “frivolous” by others — it’s just a movie, right? — could be indulged in, passionately debated, and made the center of a social life. A love of cinema was a shared value on which they could all lean, a key that unlocked a vibrant and often inclusive world.

Those two factors — shared ideals and a central community that prompts a feeling of belonging — sound a lot like the setup that can shelter predators in religious communities, too. In the 2015 Oscar-winning film Spotlight, which tells the story of the Boston Globe investigative team that uncovered a monstrous pattern of abuse among Catholic priests, one of the victims explains why his own abuse case was pushed aside. “When you’re a poor kid from a poor family, and when a priest pays attention to you, it’s a big deal,” he says. “How do you say no to God?”

Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight.Open Road Films
A scene from Spotlight.

Boz Tchividjian, who is the executive director of GRACE — an organization with a respected history of responding to child abuse and predatory behavior in church communities — sees clear parallels between this pattern in the film community and in other similar groupings of people. “More often than not, the reason why this type of offense remains silent for so long is the imbalance of power,” he told me by phone. “It may look a little bit different, depending on the community you’re in, but there is no doubt imbalance of power.”

Tchividjian notes that there are several kinds of power at play, especially when adult victims (as opposed to children or teens) are involved: the power associated with position, with notoriety, and with charm. “You combine these powers — the power of notoriety and of position on one side of the scale,” he says, “then on the other side of the scale, somebody who is almost powerless. The dynamics can be very complex and could be quite dangerous, especially when that power is distorted or exploited.”

In faith communities, Tchividjian said, an added factor is that the abuser’s power also takes on a spiritual component — “somebody that we look up to, somebody that we have entrusted as a church to provide some degree of spiritual oversight.” That particular power can give them cover when someone accuses them of abuse.

It’s not hard to see how someone like Weinstein, or Knowles, or Faraci carries a similar kind of “spiritual” power in the world of film. As their work drew together people who love cinema, their power took on an added dimension. And that made it increasingly hard to expose them — so much was at risk. It was easier to look the other way.

The matter becomes even more complex when one takes into account the way power is distributed in the world of film. It’s rarely centralized, though a figure like Weinstein certainly represents an enormous amount of concentrated power. But in the film world, critics, fans, distributors, and producers all have different, interlocking sets of power. And all of them were directly affected by the choice to ignore the abuse happening in their highest ranks, which enabled the kind of exploitation that has been exposed.

The scandals in the “film community” span three important circles

These horrific revelations, as others have noted, feel like evidence of a bigger cancer in the film world at large. That’s partly because they represent three different but mutually reinforcing groups within the community.

The first group is the fans, under which Screen Junkies and Ain’t It Cool News fall. These sites create and publish content — ranging from reviews and news to videos and more — aimed at engaging fans, particularly those who want to read about blockbusters, comic book and other genre movies, and franchises. Signore and Knowles, as founders of sites to which fans flocked, held a great deal of power over both their employees and their acolytes, and they weren’t afraid to exploit it.

Another group is the distributors and exhibitors of movies; Alamo and Cinefamily fall under this rubric, while Fantastic Fest, as a fan-focused film festival (rather than an industry-focused one like Cannes or Sundance), spans both this circle and the fans. Cinefamily was a hub for people in the center of the movie world, Los Angeles, who wanted to watch great classic and repertory films. Alamo, with its chain of Drafthouse theaters across the country as well as its new distribution shingle Neon, is a bigger force, showing a range of films from cult classics and new independent releases to major studio blockbusters.

For many people who spoke out after the allegations made against Belove, Elnashai, and Faraci, these places were the center of film culture, a safe place to indulge their love of cinema while also forming community with others. The misconduct — and the failure to address assault and harassment by those in charge — turned them into just another unsafe space, especially for women in a community already dominated by men.

Museum of the Moving Image Award for Achievement in Media and EntertainmentPhoto by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Museum of the Moving Image
Roy Price and Harvey Weinstein in New York City in June 2017.

The final group is the producers, represented by people like Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, Amazon Studios’ Roy Price (who resigned after the company suspended him following assault allegations), and former Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, among others. These are powerful men who throw around a lot of money and have the ability to make or break the careers of aspiring filmmakers and artists, particularly young women who are trying to make their way in the industry. They are, in a sense, the gods of the industry, their actions and influence trickling down through the other circles of the film community.

Together, these three circles represent some of the most powerful segments of the broader “film community,” with the resources and clout to make or break a film or a career for those who cross them. That’s important, because in a big sense these abuses are not, primarily, about sex. They’re about imbalances of power that pervade the filmmaking business.

And in fact, sexual misconduct by powerful men is rarely really just about sex. It’s about a twisted relationship with power. In many cases — like those of Faraci, Belove, and Weinstein — the accused is also commonly known to have verbally or even physically assaulted others in piques of temper and rage. The kind of lecherous comments and invasive advances made toward women in their circle of influence are of a piece with a broader pattern of lashing out. The unwanted sexual conduct is the extension of a toxic power dynamic — a need for the powerful to humiliate the less powerful, to belittle others, to see their will exerted against vulnerable people.

And yet that pattern isn’t unusual among communities that come together around a common meaning. That “progressive” Hollywood has long looked the other way when powerful men were accused of sexual misconduct, abuse, and assault is hardly a secret. And in communities of fans and critics, women have warned one another for years about predatory men who take advantage of young, eager talent. Some of them have been at last held accountable for their actions. Other misconduct will undoubtedly come to light in the months and years ahead.

There’s no political or religious or any other kind of boundary to communities that cover up for abusers and silence the accusers. It happens at Fox News. It happens in Hollywood and among communities of cinephiles. It happened among sports fans at Penn State. It happens on college campuses. It happens in Silicon Valley and in politics on the left and right. It happens in the Catholic Church, in missionary communities, in evangelical churches.

The patterns of enabling predators and abusive, powerful men is in keeping with the way American culture, at large, is still willing to look past people’s personal failings if they’re charismatic enough, competent enough, good enough at their jobs to be worth keeping around. In fact, as a culture, we’ve been fascinated with brutal, sometimes brilliant men who bulldoze their way through life, whether they’re antiheroes on TV or in the White House.

So bringing about change means shifting perspective, no matter the community. No common cause or shared interest can be more important than the dignity of the individual people in the community; no person is that good at their job.

I can’t say, though, that I have a great deal of hope in communities really shifting their perspectives this way. Stories of powerful predators are as old as history itself. Even after the Weinstein story broke, Hollywood’s elite were loath to go on the record. Reputations are partly made, but also partly bolstered by perceptions that are perpetuated by exactly the kind of whispered rumors and open secrets that let men like Weinstein lash out for decades without repercussions.

What seems to work is shaming the companies and people that harbor predators; Weinstein, for instance, was reportedly fired only after some creatives told the company that they wouldn’t do business with it again unless he was not just on leave but ousted entirely.

What that means, though, is that people in positions of influence — and particularly men — have a responsibility to throw their weight around to make their communities safer, a more level playing field that doesn’t tolerate cruelty from anyone, no matter how competent, and are willing to step away from profits and make their own spaces for creation when the major players aren’t willing to do so. “Speaking truth to power” is all well and good. But if there’s no action accompanying that truth, then it’s merely a smokescreen, big talk to cover up a rotting, self-perpetuating core.