“I don’t want to talk about Harvey Weinstein — no one does,” writer-director Kitty Green emphatically tells Yahoo Entertainment. With the disgraced movie mogul’s rape trial currently playing out in New York courts, though, it’s hard to not talk about him and the very real trauma his alleged crimes caused. And that’s especially true for Green, whose first narrative feature, The Assistant, is directly inspired by the Weinstein case. Opening in theaters on Jan. 31, the film stars Ozark’s Julia Garner as Jane, a film school graduate working as an assistant to the head of a Miramax-like New York production company.
Set over the course of one day, The Assistant depicts a workplace that’s been made toxic by her boss’s behavior, which ranges from drug abuse to preying on young women. While the allusions to Weinstein are obvious, Green says that he’s ultimately the symptom of a larger problem in American society. “We have a duty to examine the system that we’re all a part of that is kind of messed up,” she says. “I believe it’s bigger than [Weinstein].” In fact, the movie makes a point of keeping the Weinstein figure off-camera. “Bad men have had enough screen time,” Green says, pointedly. “I had no interest in telling a story about this predator. I wanted to center women in the narrative, and focus on larger systems and not on him. (Watch our interview above.)
In the process of writing The Assistant, Green — whose previous films include the 2017 documentary Casting JonBenet — interviewed multiple women who have uncomfortable experiences in the workplace, ranging from micro-aggressions to more serious offenses. Some of the subjects she spoke with had direct interactions with Weinstein, though she’s quick to note that Jane isn’t a surrogate for those women. “She’s not sexually assaulted. ... But I did speak to people who had a mix of things happen to them, and it really is horrific.” Asked whether she’s been following Weinstein’s trial, Green notes that it’s difficult to avoid. “Every time I turn my phone on, it’s really horrifying. I don’t know what to say about it, except that I hope the survivors get the justice they deserve.”
In watching The Assistant with audiences, Green has noticed how men and women react differently to certain moments. “Men often feel very uncomfortable, and I think discomfort is a good thing. I’ve had so many women come up to me and say, ‘That’s me.’” One example of a scene where the reaction frequently divides along gender lines comes early on when Jane’s two male co-workers notice her drafting an apology email to their boss and decide to offer some unsolicited advice. “The men say, ‘They’re just helping her,’” she explains. “And the women are like, ‘That’s so patronizing!’”
Green hopes that those disagreements generate discussion after the film ends — discussion that could contribute to genuine change in the workplace. Because, as she points out, the toxic office culture that’s fostered by someone like Harvey Weinstein doesn’t just dissipate with his removal. It can only be improved if everyone starts asking some basic questions of themselves. “We all have a responsibility to think about, ‘How can I be kinder and more thoughtful?’ Green says. “‘How can I look after my colleagues and make sure my workplace is fair and equitable? What can I do to make sure moving forward that things are better for everybody?’’’
The Assistant is playing in theaters now. Visit Fandango for ticket and showtime information.
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