If you’ve been following the accusations that have been coming forward by a number of women (over 30 so far) against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, you’ll probably agree that this is something that has been going on for far too long.
Many of us have heard of the legendary “casting couch” where women would be led to have sex with the producer or director or someone in charge of the film in order to get hired. It was something that you heard about, but never really saw someone come forward about it–until now.
Women from young, first-time actresses to legendary heavyweights are all coming out against this man who made sexual advances or even raped them. One of the latest is the beautiful Hollywood starlet, Lupita Nyong’o. She won an award for her role in 12 Years A Slave and is starring in the new movie, Black Panther. In a detailed piece in the New York Times, Nyongo shares all four of her encounters with Weinstein–each one getting progressively worse. It was a new world for her being introduced to this “big, Hollywood producer” but she knew something wasn’t right. Here are her own words:
“I settled in for the film, but about 15 minutes in, Harvey came for me, saying he wanted to show me something” explains Nyong’o. “I protested that I wanted to finish the film first, but he insisted I go with him, laying down the law as though I too was one of his children. I did not want another back-and-forth in front of his kids, so I complied and left the room with him. I explained that I really wanted to see the film. He said we’d go back shortly.”
Harvey led me into a bedroom — his bedroom — and announced that he wanted to give me a massage. I thought he was joking at first. He was not. For the first time since I met him, I felt unsafe. I panicked a little and thought quickly to offer to give him one instead: It would allow me to be in control physically, to know exactly where his hands were at all times.
Part of our drama school curriculum at Yale included body work, using massage techniques on one another to understand the connection between body, mind and emotion, and so I felt I could rationalize giving him one and keep a semblance of professionalism in spite of the bizarre circumstance. He agreed to this and lay on the bed. I began to massage his back to buy myself time to figure out how to extricate myself from this undesirable situation. Before long he said he wanted to take off his pants. I told him not to do that and informed him that it would make me extremely uncomfortable. He got up anyway to do so and I headed for the door, saying that I was not at all comfortable with that. ‘If we’re not going to watch the film, I really should head back to school,’ I said.
I opened the door and stood by the frame. He put his shirt on and again mentioned how stubborn I was. I agreed with an easy laugh, trying to get myself out of the situation safely. I was after all on his premises, and the members of his household, the potential witnesses, were all (strategically, it seems to me now) in a soundproof room.”
“I received an email from Harvey, inviting me again to New York for a screening of “W.E.” After the screening, we would have drinks in TriBeCa. I then received a phone call from one of his male assistants to arrange my transportation. Feeling more confident about the new sense of boundaries that we had established in our last meeting, I attended the screening on my own this time. Afterward, as planned, his male assistant arranged for me to get to the Tribeca Grill, where Harvey would be joining us. I met a female assistant when I arrived there. I was expecting that it would be a group of us, as it had been for the reading, but she informed me it would just be Mr. Weinstein. She would sit with me until he arrived. She seemed on edge, but I could only imagine how stressful it was to work for a man who had so much going on.
“Harvey arrived and the assistant immediately disappeared. We ordered drinks and starters. Again he was offended by my nonalcoholic beverage choice but he didn’t fight me on it as hard. Before the starters arrived, he announced: “Let’s cut to the chase. I have a private room upstairs where we can have the rest of our meal.” I was stunned. I told him I preferred to eat in the restaurant. He told me not to be so naïve. If I wanted to be an actress, then I had to be willing to do this sort of thing. He said he had dated Famous Actress X and Y and look where that had gotten them.”
“I was silent for a while before I mustered up the courage to politely decline his offer. ‘You have no idea what you are passing up,’ he said. ‘With all due respect, I would not be able to sleep at night if I did what you are asking, so I must pass,’ I replied.”
His whole demeanor changed at that point. ‘Then I guess we are two ships passing in the night.’ I had never heard that saying before, so I remember asking him what it meant. ‘It means just that,’ he said. ‘We are two ships going in two different directions.’
‘Yes, I guess we are.’
‘So we are done here,’ he said. ‘You can leave.’
We got up, having not eaten anything, and he led me out of the restaurant. My heart was beating very fast. A cab was hailed for me. I said I would take the subway (I could not afford a cab at the time), but he handed me some money and told me not to be silly, take the cab. Before I got in, I needed to make sure that I had not awakened a beast that would go on to ruin my name and destroy my chances in the business even before I got there.
‘I just want to know that we are good,’ I said.
‘I don’t know about your career, but you’ll be fine,’ he said. It felt like both a threat and a reassurance at the same time; of what, I couldn’t be sure.”
N’yongo met with Weinstein one last time at after she had won an Oscar at the awards after party. She declined his offer to work with him simply because it was the Weinstein company and she now knew that this is how they did business.
“And that was the last of my personal encounters with Harvey Weinstein. I share all of this now because I know now what I did not know then. I was part of a growing community of women who were secretly dealing with harassment by Harvey Weinstein. But I also did not know that there was a world in which anybody would care about my experience with him. You see, I was entering into a community that Harvey Weinstein had been in, and even shaped, long before I got there. He was one of the first people I met in the industry, and he told me, ‘This is the way it is.’ And wherever I looked, everyone seemed to be bracing themselves and dealing with him, unchallenged. I did not know that things could change. I did not know that anybody wanted things to change. So my survival plan was to avoid Harvey and men like him at all costs, and I did not know that I had allies in this.”
“Fortunately for me, I have not dealt with any such incidents in the business since. And I think it is because all the projects I have been a part of have had women in positions of power, along with men who are feminists in their own right who have not abused their power. What I am most interested in now is combating the shame we go through that keeps us isolated and allows for harm to continue to be done. I wish I had known that there were women in the business I could have talked to. I wish I had known that there were ears to hear me. That justice could be served. There is clearly power in numbers. I thank the women who have spoken up and given me the strength to revisit this unfortunate moment in my past.”