The allegations of rape and sexual harassment against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein date back to 1984 and have existed as ‘rumours’ until now, writes Joyce Fegan
‘The predator wants your silence. It feeds their power, entitlement and they want it to feed your shame.’ These are the words of Oscar-winning actor Viola Davis, who starred in blockbuster films such as The Help and Fences.
In a statement issued this week, after movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was accused of rape and sexual harassment by household names in the industry, she managed to sum up the entire saga in two short sentences.
Weinstein was a predator, protected by the silence of his petrified victims who he managed to paralyse with their own shame.
It is textbook sexual abuse. No dark alleyway. Not a stranger. Just a massive power imbalance. No one to tell. Who will believe you?
The allegations against the mogul, who is behind films such as Shakespeare in Love and Silver Linings Playbook, date back to 1984 and have existed as “rumours” until now.
On Thursday, October 5, The New York Times, ran a story that blew the lid on decades of harassment.
Then on Tuesday, October 10, the New Yorker, in an article written by Woody Allen’s estranged son Ronan Farrow, published another expose on Weinstein on their website.
Between the two articles, more than a dozen women recounted tales of being stuck alone with the film executive, where he allegedly masturbated over them, appeared naked or in his bathrobe requested a massage or forced oral sex upon them.
In total, three women alleged to have been raped by him and more than a dozen claim to have been sexually harassed by Weinstein.
Big names who have spoken out against him include actors Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Rosanna Arquette, Heather Graham and Rose McGowan.
Ms McGowan is reported to have received a $100,000 settlement from him in 1997, that was “not to be construed as an admission” and which was done to “avoid litigation and buy peace”.
In all of these allegations, there is a pattern.
A business meeting would be called, usually in a hotel suite in some hotel in London, New York or Beverly Hills. It would start with several other participants until it was just Weinstein and his soon-to-be victim.
He would turn on the shower; undress; ask for a massage.
The women all reported similar attempts to negotiate their way out of his lair.
Ms Judd ordered cereal, in the hope that room service would arrive and interrupt the scary dynamic of what was unfolding.
Model and actor Cara Delevingne, who spoke about her experience via social media this week, recalled bursting into song in his hotel room, in order to “negotiate” an exit.
Ms Arquette recommended him a good masseuse she knew.
A TV reporter, whom he told, “just stand there” and be “quiet” as he masturbated, tried to escape by saying she had a boyfriend.
Mira Sorvino, another to speak out about his unwanted and aggressive advances, tried to ward him off by saying it was against her religion to date married men.
This is what women do when negotiating for their safety with powerful and well-connected predators: they resort to defences such as ordering cereal, singing and telling their would-be attackers that they have a boyfriend or a partner.
Other times, they relent, not to be confused with consenting, in order to back their way out of an increasingly dangerous corner. This relenting serves to make the victim feel as if they were complicit in their assault and it feeds their shame that ensures their silence.
This is what happened to Asia Argento, who spoke out about her experience with Weinstein.
In order to extricate herself from his approach, Ms Argento reluctantly massaged him. As soon as she did this, he pulled up her skirt, forced her legs apart and performed oral sex on her while she repeatedly told him to stop.
Ms Argento said Weinstein “terrified her” and described it as a “nightmare”.
She stopped saying no to his advances and feigned enjoyment, in another attempt to stop the assault.
“I said, ‘No, no, no.’ . . . It’s twisted. A big fat man wanting to eat you. It’s a scary fairy tale,” said the actor.
As all of these allegations of abuse and rape emerged over the last nine days, actors of all ages and nationality began to break their silence too.
While not included in either of these two articles, actors such as Kate Beckinsale, Heather Graham, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, made their Weinstein experiences public.
Ms Graham told of how she walked into his room where he had a “pile of scripts,” and said he wanted to put her in one of his movies. She was allowed to choose which one. He then told her he and his wife had an agreement that he could have sex with other women.
Ms Beckinsale was 17-years-old when he made advances at her in a hotel room in London, offering her alcohol while wearing a bathrobe. She declined, saying she had school in the morning.
Ms Paltrow said that she was a “kid” when he suggested they go to his bedroom for massages. She had just been signed to the movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s coming-of-age novel Emma.
“I was a kid, I was signed up, I was petrified,” she said.
Earlier this week, in an email to The New York Times, Ms Jolie said: “I had a bad experience with Harvey Weinstein in my youth, and as a result, chose never to work with him again and warn others when they did. This behaviour towards women in any field, any country is unacceptable.”
Then, more Hollywood heavyweights - who had not themselves had experiences such as these with Weinstein - began speaking out.
“My heart goes out to all of the women affected by these gross actions. And I want to thank them for their bravery to come forward,” said Oscar-winning actor Jennifer Lawrence.
Meryl Streep said: “The disgraceful news about Harvey Weinstein has appalled those of us whose work he championed, and those whose good and worthy causes he supported. The intrepid women who raised their voices are our heroes.”
A word about worthy causes was another way Weinstein bought silence from those around him.
Over the course of his career, he has donated millions to the Democrats in the US, with the Obamas and Hillary Clinton coming out this week to condemn him.
Another side note, he even hired the Obama’s eldest daughter, Malia, as an intern. He knew how to keep potential enemies extraordinarily close.
Last January, when some five million people took to the streets on seven continents in women’s marches against “grab ‘em by the pussy Trump,” Weinstein took part in the demonstration in Park City, Utah.
His ability to create a network of powerful allies, where he was top spider on the web, was another way in which he ensured silence.
He bought off accusers; made them fear that they would never work again if they dared to speak; and even planted negative stories about them in the press. Yes, he had many journalists who he kept on side with juicy nuggets of Hollywood gossip or else with tickets to premieres.
He had an arsenal of weaponry that exceeded cold hard cash and it lasted him more than three decades.
In all of the allegations that emerged over the last number of days, one reveals his master manipulation the most.
He is caught on tape trying to lure Italian model and actor, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, into his hotel room. She repeatedly dismisses his advances, much like the way the other women did, through feeble attempts at dodging a predator intent on ensnaring them.
In the tape from 2015, Weinstein said: “I will never do another thing to you. Five minutes. Don’t ruin your friendship with me for five minutes.”
Ms Gutierrez responded by saying: “It’s too much for me. I can’t.
“Please, you’re making a big scene here. Please,” replied Weinstein.
Another classic tactic of the textbook predator: push responsibility onto the victim and shame them by telling them they’re causing a scene. Because if there is one thing women want, it’s to never ever cause a scene. Until now. And when one voice spoke, another spoke and then another.
Weinstein’s wife and mother of his two children, Georgina Chapman, left him. She created fashion label Marchesa, of which many Hollywood actors were forced to wears the gowns of by the movie mogul.
Then the Weinstein Company fired its founder and co-chairman. This was followed by the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) suspending his membership. Today the Oscars will hold a meeting to discuss a similar path.
Meanwhile, the 65-year-old has checked into rehab, while Oliver Stone stands as a lone voice in his defence.
Actor Emma Thompson appeared on BBC Two’s Newsnight and said Weinstein is not a singular case, he represents something that is “endemic to the system”.
“People have to be called out on their behaviour. All the time. That’s all. All the time,” she said when asked how to address this epidemic of harassment and abuse.
The world has been shocked by these allegations against a movie mogul by household names from Hollywood. But it is not that it is a new story, or had only just happened, it is that it has only just been talked about.
Justine Musk, author and first wife of billionaire Elon Musk, was one of the many people who admitted to hearing the Weinstein rumours over the years, but her comments on why they have only come out now are what is worth listening to: “I wonder if it’s not that women are ready to speak, but that the culture is ready to listen.”
But back to Viola Davis, because at the end of the day this is not about movies or celebrities whose names we all know, this is about something far more common than that. This is about power, the abuse of power and women fighting off predators by ordering cereal, bursting into song and relenting to give massages.
“Our bodies are not the spoils of war, a trophy to be collected to fuel your ego. It’s ours. It doesn’t belong to you. And when you take it without permission, it destroys...like a virus,” said Davis.
Only maybe this time, the truth, is what spreads like a virus.
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