This article originally appeared on VICE US.
On Wednesday night at a bar in New York City, Harvey Weinstein, a man charged with multiple assault in New York and accused of sexual harassment and assault by dozens of people, sat flanked by friends in a booth at Actor’s Hour, an exclusive soiree for actors and artists, according to BuzzFeed News. This was reportedly the second time Weinstein’s been welcomed at the event; its organizer, Alexandra Laliberte, told BuzzFeed News he’d shown up once before. “I welcome all walks of life into my space," Laliberte said.
That may be fine for Laliberte, but it certainly wasn’t for the people in the room. At least two people were reportedly escorted out of Downtime, the Alphabet City bar where the event was being held, after drawing attention to and yelling about the accused rapist in their midst. The first person to actually say something about Weinstein’s presence was Kelly Bachman, a comedian performing that night.
“I didn’t know that we’d have to bring our own rape whistles and mace to Actor’s Hour,” Bachman said. Her comment was met with (masculine-sounding) boos from the audience. “No? This kills at group therapy for rape survivors, they love it. I have been raped, surprisingly by no one in this room, but I never got to confront those guys, so just a general ‘fuck you…’”
During intermission, Zoe Stuckless, an actor who uses they/them pronouns, approached Weinstein’s table and started screaming: “Nobody is going to say anything? Nobody is really going to say anything? I'm going to stand four feet from a fucking rapist, and no one is going to say anything?"
Stuckless was then escorted out by a man who didn’t say who he worked for, but according to Laliberte, Actor’s Hour doesn’t provide its own security. Shortly after Stuckless was kicked out, Amber Rollo, a comedian and friend of Bachman’s, followed in Stuckless's stead by approaching Weinstein’s table and saying, “You’re a fucking monster. What are you doing out here? Fuck you.” Rollo was then also led outside by someone from the table.
In posts on both Facebook (since deleted) and Instagram Stories, Downtime referred to what happened Wednesday night as “heckling.” “One guest began heckling another, causing a disturbance to everyone in attendance,” reads a slide posted Thursday to Downtime’s Instagram story. “After several requests to stop were ignored, we kindly asked the heckler to leave.”
This seems to suggest that Stuckless is the heckler; which, yeah, they kind of were. Heckling is one very good way to respond to structural injustice. The point of doing it is to cause a non-violent disturbance. Screaming at something you hate is an extremely human response; one of the only things people are literally born able to do. It’s primal, a little neolithic, and it freaks people out. And because adults are told they shouldn’t scream in public, heckling often succeeds at its task of making people really uncomfortable.
In a Splinter post from 2018, Hamilton Nolan extolled the virtues of heckling Trump staffers, instead of allowing them to live in shelter and peace. “There is little incentive for those who work within that system to change it in a way that might create the sort of negative feedback that can be unpleasant,” Nolan wrote. “Therefore it is the job of the public to do just that. Doing so is, in fact, a public service.”
The same idea can be applied to Weinstein, who isn’t a politician, but is extremely rich and powerful and enjoys the deference that others around him default to, including insulation from feeling the consequences of his own actions. In this case, “the public” doing the public service of heckling was Bachman, Stuckless, and Rollo; three people who generated negative feedback that made people feel unpleasant. So unpleasant apparently, that the latter two had to be removed from the space entirely.
If we accept that “the public” is an important corrective force when powerful people protect their own, that could have taken many forms other than a troop of re-traumatized people being once again tasked to point at an abomination and yell at it. The public action could’ve been Laliberte deciding to bar Weinstein from her events, instead of welcoming “all walks of life,” even the allegedly rape-y ones. It could’ve been an employee at Downtime correctly removing Weinstein because he is, perhaps, the last guy you’d want photographed at your bar. The public action also very well could’ve come more forcefully from Andrew B. Silas, a male comic who said he was trying to show solidarity with Bachman by joking into the mic, “I'd like to address the elephant in the room...Who in this room produced Good Will Hunting? 'Cause that shit was great." (Silas assured BuzzFeed News that he is “not a piece of shit.”)
Laliberte has since attempted to apologize about her decision to welcome Weinstein into her space, one that, mind you, is meant to showcase the talent of young actors and artists. In a post—which repeatedly misgendered Stuckless—on Actor’s Hour’s Instagram, Laliberte wrote: “[They] should not have been encouraged to leave. Then and there, I should have shut down the event or given [them] the microphone to vocalize [their] feelings, but I was in total shock and I let my fear and inexperience paralyze my decision making [sic] ability...I want to sincerely apologize to any people—male or female [Ed. note: Jesus christ!!!]—who were re-traumatized, hurt, or felt disrespected this week at Actors [sic] Hour.”
Laliberte told BuzzFeed News that she initially welcomed Weinstein back as a way to protect “freedom of speech.” Where was that noble kindness as Stuckless and Rolla were being led from the room? The public service of enforcing values and pointing out the inequities of extreme power is always going to be uncomfortable, will always create the sort of stir that one might think Laliberte and her cabal of artists would be intrigued by. It’s a shame that this discomfort pushed certain people out of the room on Wednesday night, and allowed the same people who always get the benefit of the doubt one more time to stay.
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