Unfinished Business: The Enablers
The future of workplace safety is up in the air. We don’t yet know if #MeToo will herald a new era of responsibility, or if it’s just the latest in a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. Changing the culture is a long-term project, and while (some) perpetrators have been held accountable, new ones take their place every day. For sustainable, lasting change, we have to walk and chew gum at the same time: as we hold jerks to account, we must also attend to the systems and structures that support and protect them.
On seeing a ‘life ruined,’ a hit of smug superiority can give a false sense of justice served—false because this downfall addresses only part of the problem. Increasingly, advocates and the press are putting enablers under the microscope:
Feminist Lisa Bloom and other prominent attorneys allegedly enabled Harvey Weinstein
Rich kid turned socialite Ghislaine Maxwell allegedly enabled Jeffrey Epstein
Staff at Michigan State University and the U.S. Olympic Committee allegedly enabled Dr. Larry Nassar
Staff at USC allegedly enabled Dr. George Tyndall
Agent Dave Becky allegedly enabled Louis CK
Perpetrators typically have multiple enablers, and the track record at holding them accountable is mixed: some have lost jobs, clients, and respect; others laugh all the way to the bank.
Of the many enablers at Cinefamily, I am ashamed to count myself as one—albeit on the passive side of the spectrum. I’m sure I was not the only patron to find Cinefamily’s reliance on “volunteer labor” to be sketchy, but I said nothing. I saw beer handed out to patrons willy-nilly but ignored the implications. I reveled in the outré screenings, conflating criticality with prurience. To be clear: I had no clue about the abuse or harassment or violence or embezzlement or fraud—but maybe I should have?
The more active enablers—the ones who could and should have stopped it—attended Cinefamily board meetings. Not everyone on the board knew every detail of the abuse and improprieties, but the “core” board members knew a lot, according to my interviews with several former board members. They approved spending money on lawyers to bully press outlets. They approved secret investigations and secret settlements. They kept information from law enforcement, staff, members, regulators, and the public.
Cinefamily’s board members included:
Phil Lord, screenwriter and director
Katharine O’Brien, director
Alia Penner, artist
Amy Poncher, producer
Brad Simpson, producer at Color Force
Bec Smith, agent at United Talent
Melissa Volpert of the Standard, Hollywood
John Wyatt of Cinespia
Michael Bacall, screenwriter
Albert Berger, producer
Louis Black, producer
Liesl Copland, agent at WME
James Andrew Fino of Starburns Industries
Phil Hoelting, producer
Ted Hope, Amazon Studios
Dan Harkham was not only the Silent Movie Theater’s owner and Cinefamily’s co-founder and Board Treasurer, but corporate filings show him as Cinefamily’s sole legal decision-maker, appointing (and/or ousting) every single board member. Dan Harkham was the one person charged with board oversight—he was the CEO, the Chief Enabling Officer.
Corporate filings indicate Harkham is also the man in charge of Fairfax Cinema. When will the next round of whack-a-mole start?