On Toxic Masculinity, Cinefamily/Fairfax, and the Harkhams
Jerks abound. They shape our world to such an extent that a philosopher stepped in to define the term:
the essence of jerkitude in the moral sense, is this: the jerk culpably fails to appreciate the perspectives of others around him, treating them as tools to be manipulated or idiots to be dealt with rather than as moral and epistemic peers. This failure has both an intellectual dimension and an emotional dimension, and it has these two dimensions on both sides of the relationship. The jerk himself is both intellectually and emotionally defective, and what he defectively fails to appreciate is both the intellectual and emotional perspectives of the people around him. He can’t appreciate how he might be wrong and others right about some matter of fact; and what other people want or value doesn’t register as of interest to him, except derivatively upon his own interests.
What jerks lack in empathy, they make up for in entitlement. Their actions aren’t hurting other people, because those others aren’t full people. Their actions aren’t violations, because these rules don’t apply to them, you see.
August 2019 will mark two years since jerks like Hadrian Belove and Shadie Elnashai ruined Cinefamily. Two years since jerks on Cinefamily’s Board rushed to shut the organization down rather than fix it, and paid for a secret report allegedly clearing them of wrongdoing. Two years since jerks like Dan and Sammy Harkham oversaw it all, grabbed what they could, and tried for a rebrand and a do-over.
Casting about for an appropriate way to mark the occasion, I discovered the traditional two-year anniversary gift is cotton. And sure, sending used tampons to shitty men is a thing, but do people even know where the Harkhams’ corporate headquarters is? Pass.
Instead of bemoaning the hegemony of hideous men, let’s celebrate small victories—like the opening of the Alamo Drafthouse. One sees why writers frame Alamo in the context of the post-Cinefamily void. Walking in there felt like a homecoming: the passion, erudition, earnestness, and playfulness, the sense that all of us—staff and patrons—are on the same team. These were—are—my people.
At least that’s how it felt—I have no details on employment conditions or workplace practices.And skepticism is warranted: Cinefamily itself once felt like home, and Alamo has its own fraught past. But Alamo appears to be trying, and I’ll give them a chance to earn my trust.
The first film I saw there was The Art of Self-Defense, a dark horror-comedy showing toxic masculinity as a heady mix of insecurity and entitlement. The film’s jerks—both the mean-spirited and sadsack varieties—were chillingly familiar, and left me feeling queasy. But I was also cautiously optimistic in one regard: this was the sort of film I once might have missed but for Cinefamily, and I got to see it on the big screen among my people.
In the coming weeks, we hope to spend more time at the movies than writing about them. But we’re not going away: if the Harkhams’ strategy is to say as little as possible and hope the scandal fades from view, then CA recommits ourselves to patience, accuracy, and respect in reporting.
As we begin year three, here’s some of what’s in the works:
We’ll be giving the website a facelift. CinefamilyAccountability has evolved from its initial purpose as a “how-to” for filing complaints with the government. The heart of this site has become the reporting, and our new architecture will better reflect this.
We’ll track the Harkhams’ plans, update the reference library, and analyze the new legal, financial, and regulatory filings. We’ll also take a look at some of the other players involved with the Harkhams in the renovation and rebranding.
Many alleged Cinefamily shenanigans have not been publicly reported, floating around the L.A. film community as “open secrets.” Former staff and volunteers have told CA about workplace and sexual violence, financial embezzlement, retaliatory firings, lying to government investigators, and—in some cases—Board awareness and cover-ups of same. As we can ensure the privacy of sources, we’ll start to tell some of these stories.
Although this site uses the editorial we, it really is just me writing this stuff. That said, none of this would be possible without the ongoing support, assistance, and insight of very many people. Thank you!