Arts & Culture News

State Representative Uses Harvey Weinstein Scandal as Ammo to Nuke Texas Film Commission

State Rep. Matt Shaheen of Plano has been one of the leading voices calling for the abolition of state spending and programs designed to help bring film and TV productions to Texas. Earlier this week, Shaheen used the growing sexual abuse scandal involving Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein to widen the scope of his target.

Shaheen released a statement on his Facebook page Monday announcing his intention to file legislation in the next session that would dismantle the Texas Film Commission in light of the growing number of sexual harassment and assault allegations levied against the Miramax Films co-founder. 

Shaheen cites "allegations of rampant sexual abuse by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and others in the motion picture and TV industry."

"This program takes the hard-earned tax dollars of fellow Texans and gives it to the movie and TV industry in return for media productions to be made in Texas," Shaheen says in the statement. "I have always believed that this is an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars, and given the apparent culture of sexual exploitation of women in Hollywood, it is now even more clear that we should not be wasting taxpayer money on this industry."

In the statement's concluding paragraph, Shaheen also warned fellow state legislators that they should be wary of courting the opinion of "Hollywood elites."

"Given the apparent culture of sexual exploitation of women in Hollywood, it is now even more clear that we should not be wasting taxpayer money on this industry." – state Rep. Matt Shaheen

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"In the future, when the Texas Legislature debates topics important to Texas and these same Hollywood elites feel compelled to offer their opinion, we should be mindful that we are hearing from some of the same people that have demonstrated a total disregard for the safety and wellbeing of women," Shaheen says. 

Shaheen has been one of the Texas House's leading critics of the program. He was one of three state legislators to file legislation in the last session to abolish "the Music, Film, Television, and Multimedia Office in the office of the governor" and the incentive program, but the bill was withdrawn from the schedule.

Instead, the Texas House passed a similar measure that would redirect funding to the Healthy Texas Women marketing program. Gov. Greg Abbott called for the Senate to restore the incentive program's funding, and the Senate reappropriated the funds for the program to $22 million, an amount significantly lower than the $72 million Abbott listed in his original budget proposal.

Janis Burklund, the director of the Dallas Film Commission, says by email that the "Hollywood" industry that Shaheen refers to in his statement isn't just limited to Hollywood's geographic borders. She cites the importance of programs overseen by the Texas Film Commission, like the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program, that promise lucrative tax rebates to attract film and TV studios to set up productions here. Crews spend money at local businesses and hire Texas residents to work on film and TV productions.

"It’s important to remember that the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program is designed specifically to create jobs for Texans in Texas," Burklund says. "A large crew and talent base resides in Dallas, and they rely on the jobs the program helps to create in order to make their livings, raise their families and pay their taxes. The industry is no longer simply from 'Hollywood.' Companies are based locally as well. Cities, states and countries around the globe recognize that the jobs and economic benefits are spread widely across a community, and this is why so many have film commission offices and incentive programs."

Burklund adds that the Weinstein scandal is about more than the sexual harassment of women in the film and television industries. Sexual harassment in the workplace is an issue for women across all industries. On social media this week, thousands of women shared personal stories of how they were harassed and abused, using the hashtag "#MeToo."

"Sexual harassment is unfortunately a widespread issue across the country and in most, if not all, industries," Burklund says. "The entertainment industry presents a uniquely different level of exposure, however, when allegations surface due to the fact these people are celebrities and widely recognized publicly."

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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.