Why everything and everyone in Harvey Weinstein's orbit is at risk of being burned in the sex harassment fallout
- As Harvey Weinstein battles sexual assault claims, The Weinstein Company may not survive in its current form.
- Every project that bears his fingerprints may suffer in the fallout, experts tell CNBC.
- Ben Affleck faces a stiff near-term test.
During a week of lightning-quick developments, Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein was forced out of the company bearing his name as sexual assault accusations keep piling up. While the disgraced executive has steadfastly denied any claims of "non-consensual sex" or retaliation against his accusers, his storied career lies in tatters.
As the crisis swirls, the fate of Miramax Films and The Weinstein Company, two Tinseltown production he helmed, hang in the balance. In addition, projects bearing Weinstein imprint — in addition to the careers of actors he's worked with in the past — may pay a heavy price of their own, especially after Weinstein was unceremoniously tossed out of the Motion Picture Academy on Saturday.
Although only time will tell, observers say it's unlikely either company will be able to proceed with business as usual. This week, The Wall Street Journal said the Weinstein Company is weighing the possibility of changing its name, while Variety reported the company could get sold or file for bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, Amazon — which was dragged into the scandal late Thursday amid a volley of accusations by actress Rose McGowan—said it was reevaluating projects it was planning with the company.
Miramax and The Weinstein Company did not return several requests made by CNBC for comment.
Branding consultant Farrah Parker explained that an entire culture shift is in order at the company, and should entail internal investigations, from top to bottom.
"Harvey the man may be gone, but his impact on their corporate culture remains," she said. "Leaders must ensure that the degrading behavior has not infected other levels of staffing in a trickle-down manner."
'Smoking radioactive fallout'
This week, McGowan — who has claimed Weinstein assaulted her about 20 years ago and has emerged as a leading voice in the charge against him — called for the entire Weinstein Company board to be dissolved.
For that reason, observers like Kara Alaimo, an assistant professor of public relations at Hofstra University, said much more is needed if the company is serious about its long-term survival.
"While there will always be questions about what other executives at the company knew and when, the Weinstein Company can at least point to the fact that they axed Harvey as soon as this pattern of behavior really came to light," Alaimo told CNBC.
With the company reportedly struggling financially even before the allegations against its founder came to light — and its pipeline of talent said to be drying up — its next steps must be weighed even more carefully.
"The company should be vociferous in condemning what he did, and should generously support causes that protect and empower women in order to demonstrate that Harvey doesn't represent what they stand for," she added.
Past and future projects bearing Weinstein's fingerprints may also suffer. That means box office favorites distributed or produced by the mogul like "Good Will Hunting," "Shakespeare in Love" or "Bridget Jones's Diary" may not resonate with moviegoers the same as they have in years past.
"Many will [be willing to] patronize his movies as much as they would visit smoking radioactive fallout from one of North Korea's recent missile launches," joked Eric Schiffer, chairman and CEO of the Patriarch Organization, a technology and media private equity firm.
Yet Shannon Wilkinson, CEO of Reputation Communications, predicted that the public would be willing to separate the art from a flawed man who helped bring them to life.
"Harvey Weinstein did not act in or direct in those wonderful films," she said. "He did not compose the music, create the stunning sets or spend thousands of hours editing them. The people who did are gifted artists who should — and will — continue to be recognized for their immense talent."
However, actors associated with Weinstein may pay a price of their own. Boldface names like Russell Crowe, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, whom McGowan alleged had known about Weinstein's behavior for years and is now dogged by allegations of his own improper conduct, fears are growing that disenchanted moviegoers could boycott their projects.
For Affleck, a big test looms with the release of "Justice League" next month, in addition to his
"It is far too early to predict what outcomes will transpire from this crisis," Wilkinson said. "It touches on many issues and has sparked a multifaceted conversation within and beyond the industry…one that has just begun."
Sandy Rubinstein, CEO of digital marketing firm DXagency, said that if the allegations against these actors are true, they're going to have to earn their way back into the public's good graces. After all, a lengthy list of celebrities have managed to earn second chances from the public.
"Hugh Grant, Bill Clinton, Kevin Hart…Tiger Woods, Elliott Spitzer, Michael Jackson and many more have survived sex scandals," said Nancy Irwin, a therapist who works in the field of sexual abuse prevention. "Even the Catholic church and Penn State football have survived."