One year after the groundbreaking New York Times exposé about Harvey Weinstein, Amanda Palmer and Welsh songwriter Jasmine Power have released a powerful video accompaniment to their protest song, “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now.” The totally crowdfunded video (all profits are being donated to #TimesUp) is a female tour de force, directed by Noemie Lafrance, shot with an all-woman cast and crew, and featuring sixty women artists. It’s NSFW—shots include full-nudity and implicit assault. It’s a tough but essential watch. Shots of solemn, white Oxford-clad women alternate with anguished dance. As the final shot expands to a full choir, the sorrow—and defiance—is palpable. BUST spoke with Palmer about #MeToo and the difficult, but necessary, process of making this vision a reality.
“Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now” features the work of more than 60 women and the video concludes with a choir; why was it important to have such a strong collective, female presence?
This moment in time and the progress that we are just beginning to grasp is so clearly about the power of the collective. So while we could have choreographed a video with five killer professional dancers, the sheer force of the number wouldn't have been an ingredient. It's also always important for me to include my community in what I make. This story isn't just my story—it's theirs. I come from a punk and performance art background, and it's always important to me that we all create together. I believe that everybody should be involved in making art, not just the so-called "professionals." So a lot of the women you see in the video have literally never been in front of a camera before, much less naked and raging in front of a camera. And there's something innately powerful about giving all these women a chance to be on the other side of the screen. It reflects what's been happening in the #MeToo era in general: women at every level are grabbing back the narrative, and the very platforms in which that narrative gets told.
So, the video was totally crowdfunded—how does that interact with the video’s narrative or themes?
The fact that this video was crowdfunded is essential. People are so used to seeing content appearing on their screens that they don't often think about where the funding comes from, and most musicians are still very loathe to express how the art-sausage gets made. Every time you see an expensive video, that money had to come from somewhere, and videos themselves don't earn any money. No major label would have ever funded this project. I was on a major label for many years and I have friends who still have to do battle in giant boardrooms to convince a bunch of men that their ideas are worthwhile. I don't want to work in conditions like that—it's why I went indie ten years ago. I would also never let corporate dollars fund a piece of work like this. I mean, I'm from the '80s and '90s and still believe that selling out is real. I think that having Dove Soap or Mac Cosmetics fund art like this literally undercuts the point of the art.
Feminist art has to be able to exist in a liberated playing field without boundaries, without permissions, without dudes up in marketing telling you that your work is too this, too that, or "off brand." Fuck that. That's the sort of idiocy that trapped us in this mess in the first place. So if you're not independently wealthy, and there's no money coming from labels, and there's no money coming in from sponsorship, the only answer left is crowdfunding. The media is in a strange freefall right now, and people are so hungry for truth and authenticity in art and storytelling. This is why you're seeing people starting to flock to journalists and writers and musicians on platforms like patreon. I've been working on building my patreon for over three years, and I now have 12,000 people giving me about $3-4 a month so that I can make the art I want to make without having to answer to a higher power, and more importantly, without having to rely on the mainstream media to push my work into the world. And that feels like a revolutionary act right now.
Rape is (to say the least) a difficult topic to depict, and even imply, in a music video. Can you tell me about the process of translating that topic into visuals?
Noemie [Lafrance, the music video director] and I discussed this at length and so carefully when we laid out the plans for the choreography, cast and crew. One of the most important things you'll notice is that Weinstein himself isn't represented in the video. Nor is a rape depicted. The song was written as an argument in a woman's head: Jasmine's voice and my voice are pitted against one another as if two sides of a woman's brain—"escape right now and deal with the consequences" versus "just lie back and let's get this over with." So many women I know have had to deal with that inner, crazy-making decision at one point or another. It was such a difficult thing to write about, especially with a specific title like that: these weren't our experiences, and we were using Weinstein as a springboard to a much larger conversation. I actually leaked the title of the song to my patreon blog before it came out and I got a text from one of my feminist journalist friends—Laurie Penny—saying, basically: "Eek - don't call your song 'Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now,' it's not your story to tell, Amanda. Be really careful and don't get yourself into a typical kerfuffle." And I challenged her and said: "Listen, when Weinstein is on the cover of every newspaper and his name is now synonymous with #MeToo, I think we're at the point of fair use." And she said: "Don't." And I said: "What if I just emailed Rose McGowan and asked her permission?" and Laurie said, "Wow. That's fair, I guess."
So I wrote to Rose McGowan—whose book I had just finished reading, which played no small part in the inspiration for this song—and sent her the track and the lyrics. I asked for her blessing to use the title. And she told me that the song made her heart race and cry, and to go ahead and use the title. And I have to say, that whole exchange gave me so much hope for feminism. Laurie calling me out, my reaching out to Rose, all of us discussing the etiquette of story, respect and ownership together. Like feminism itself: it's always going to be messy as fuck, and nobody is ever going to agree completely, but we have to keep working together to keep this fire burning. Otherwise we are going to perish in the flames of in-fighting and useless battles over the nuances of language and consent while the patriarchy just marches along and crushes our chances.
The song was originally released in May as a response to Weinstein’s crimes, but the video arrived in the midst of Kavanaugh’s confirmation. How do you think the timing has affected the conversation surrounding “Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now”?
Oh my god, it was too poetically painful. The video release date was set for the 5th of October, which was the one year anniversary of the New York Times article on Weinstein, but as fate would have it, that was also when the hearing and the vote for Kavanaugh was going down. I hadn't planned to do a screening for the video—I've never done that—but I just happened to be in L.A. that week making a record and I said: fuck it, I really want to get everybody together in one room. Every artist and woman I know right now is just in a state of shock, being on the internet just wasn't enough. So I booked a theater and a few hundred people got to huddle in the dark and watch it together. And we did what needs doing right now: we talked. We wept. People got up and grabbed the mic and shared stories. A six-foot tall man wept in my arms while he told me about his assault and how people find it so hard to believe because he's such a huge dude. Making art and gathering people together is what I do. It felt like the strongest response I could possibly have to Kavanaugh: to get women in a room and share our stories.
How has the process of filming this video personally changed you?
I've been making art and music videos like this for so many years and it wasn't until Trump was elected that I started proactively using my Patreon money to hire crews with more women. the "Mother" video that I shot was with a female director and a crew that was predominately women, plus a lot of them brought their kids, and I was like: holy shit, it's actually incredible when you have a film set that's run by women, there's just a completely different energy. And with the Weinstein video, Noemie and I committed to a cast and crew that was almost entirely female as well. And I can't quite describe the feeling in that room, but it was alchemical. As if we were harnessing something really massive and giving a pointed message to the universe with the act of making this video. And every woman on that set commented on it, and felt it. That video wasn't just about the product we were making, it was about the act of communion that birthed it. I think it fundamentally changed every woman in the building. We left feeling like we had a posse, we had hope, we had a voice. I said to the whole cast while we were rehearsing: even if the footage all gets lost in the river tonight: the point of this video has been archived. Because we're all here, we're all feeling this, and we're going to take this feeling back out into the world tomorrow.
What’s the change—big or small—you hope to provoke in viewers?
I've already read some comment from women who said that the video provided them a real catharsis. That's the ultimate purpose of this work. And if just one person found a sense of camaraderie or healing as a result of this video, that's enough for me.
Top photo: Youtube / Amanda Palmer
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Tessa is a puertorriqueña / Syrian gal interested in race, women, and the arts - more specifically, their intersections. Follow her on Instagram @tessa.sol and Twitter @tessa_solo. She lives in Brooklyn.