Harvey Weinstein is likely to be busy at next week’s BAFTAs. But then he has been for the past few years. Not only does he host a (very popular) post-awards party, but he is either the producer or distributor on no fewer than three of this year’s big contenders.
All three have attracted controversy. “I guess I have had three controversial films,” he laughed when we spoke yesterday. Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s western set in the world of slavery, is the “American holocaust, we’re finally dealing with”. While The Master, seen by many to be a comment upon religion and Scientology in particular, deals with cults and the way combat soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder can fall easily into the hands of such groups.
But looking past the controversy, his films are testament to the positive effect art and the media can have on society. None more so than Silver Linings Playbook, which has been nominated for three Baftas. This brilliant film has a story set around two young people suffering from mental health problems (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence) and their families (including Robert De Niro), and was made by David O.Russell whose family have experience of mental illness.
Weinstein himself, is very keen that the film spreads a positive message, using Hollywood’s “ability to reach and affect millions of people,” to help avoid the “shame” and “ostracism” felt by people and their families who reveal they have mental health problems. The film’s star Cooper, has been called to Washington D.C. to speak to former combat soldiers suffering mental health problems.
“We want to get to a place where there’s an eradication of the stigma of saying ‘I’m depressed, or I have bipolar disorder’ and have it so it is the same as saying ‘I’ve got a disease’, or ‘I’ve got mumps, but I’m getting better’,” he said.
“Economically too it could drive down bills, if people dealt with these issues sooner.”
Weinstein hopes that the film could have a similar effect as 1989’s My Left Foot, another film he was involved in, which stared Daniel Day-Lewis and told the story of a man born with severe cerebral palsy.
“When it came out, a handicapped access bill was going through congress, one which made businesses put things like handrails in public places. There was a very conservative congress that didn’t want to pay for that. Senators Harkin and Dole (one Democrat, the other a Republican in the days when the two sides could work together) asked me if I could get Daniel to the Senate. I did and he spoke so beautifully and eloquently. And the bill was passed. I’m not saying it was us, but we were the icing on the dessert if you like.”