Harvey Weinstein and the silencing of women
Isabelle Gray outlines and explores Harvey Weinstein’s timeline of abuse
Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse
As reported in the Guardian, the once legendary figure in the film industry, Harvey Weinstein, was convicted to 23 years in prison over charges of rape and sexual abuse. The cases and his conviction created a conversation that demanded an end to the silencing of victims of sexual abuse and the crowning of abusers.
It could be argued that Weinstein lived a double life. While being a husband and father, he and his company ‘reinvent(ed) the model for independent films’, with films such as Pulp Fiction, The King’s Speech and Shakespeare in Love. The films he was a part of earned over 300 Oscar nominations. At award ceremonies, he has been thanked more than almost anyone else in film history, ranking after Steven Spielberg and before God. Despite this recognition for his mark on the film industry, many victims of Weinstein live recalling the traumatic marks of abuse he had forced on their bodies and lives.
These women’s stories all collided into one story of systematic abuse
The New Yorker reported that Weinstein has been accused of unwanted touching, forced performed or received oral sex, and forced vaginal sex, amongst other things. For many of these women, they had to spend decades in silence, fearing Weinstein’s power and influence would ruin their lives if they ever came forward. Weinstein’s effect on the film industry did not only grant him thanks at award ceremonies but inequitable power.
In the courtroom of Weinstein’s trial, several victims of his crimes took the stand to share their stories. But what was most shocking about these accounts, was not just the acts alone, but how these women’s stories all collided into one story of systematic abuse. Many recalled how Weinstein would set up meetings with women to discuss their careers, claiming a female casting agent would be in attendance (to lure them into a false sense of security), brag about what he could do for them, and then demand what they must do for him. As stated in the New Yorker, a former employee of Weinstein stated that he’d ‘been systematically doing this for a very long time.’
Lucia Evans, a former aspiring actress, spoke to The New Yorker of her experience. She recalls how he would simultaneously flatter and demean her and make her feel bad about herself. During her assault, she remembers after having had repeatedly said no to his advances, she ‘sort of gave up.’ She feigned enjoyment, hoping the assault would soon end. What made Weinstein so endlessly powerful in his abuse was his emotional manipulation and utter determination to succeed in his sexual desires. ‘No’ only spurred him on more.
Although Weinstein’s power did indeed feel endless, The New York Times in October 2017 published a story attempting to put an end to it. Journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey revealed multiple allegations of sexual harassment against Weinstein. The report led to Weinstein’s resignation from his company, his wife leaving him, and several other women coming forward as victims of his abuse, including high profile actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie.
The most powerful man in film had lost his company, his reputation, and crucially his unwavering ability to silence all his many victims. But it wasn’t nearly enough.
With Weinstein disgraced, The Guardian reports that his former company eventually filed for bankruptcy. By May 2018, many more cases, including underage women, had come to a head, CNN detail that it resulted in Weinstein turning himself in to the New York police on sexual misconduct charges.
The New York Times note that as a result, Weinstein was charged with rape and several other accounts of abuse but on a one-million-dollar bail, was released. A grand jury then indicted Weinstein of charges of rape and criminal sexual acts, moving the case towards a trial. This charge alone was a significant victory for survivors of Weinstein, or any sexual abuse. The most powerful man in film had lost his company, his reputation, and crucially his unwavering ability to silence all his many victims. But it wasn’t nearly enough.
Weinstein responded to these charges by formally pleading guilty and later sought to dismiss the criminal case. His dismissal request was not approved, and his trial was scheduled to go ahead in January 2020.
A month before his trial, The Business Insider state that Weinstein gave an interview to the New York Post, stating he’d overseen ‘more movies directed by women and about women than any film-marker.’ He added: ‘I pioneered it! It all got eviscerated because of what happened. My work has been forgotten.’ And here is arguably the crux of the issue. Films made about and by women somehow is regarded to solve the hardship faced by women in the film industry. It acts as a solution and argued as to negate the widespread reality of sexual abuses overwhelming commonality in film and beyond. Weinstein is not the only one.
Another instance of a serial sex offender in the same industry, who was free from accountability for many years was comic Bill Cosby, who is still defended by many, CNN reports that despite being sentenced in 2018 to three to 10 years in prison. The Cut record that Emily Nestor, another victim of abuse from Weinstein, described an exchange between herself and Weinstein, where he said ‘Oh, the girls always say no. You know, ‘No, no‘. And then they have a beer or two, and then they’re throwing themselves at me.’ He added ‘that he’d never do anything like Bill Cosby.’
Well, on 23 February 2020, The Guardian announce that Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to over twice the amount of Cosby. He was given 20 years for a first-degree criminal sex act for forcing oral sex on a production assistant, Miriam Haley, in 2006. He was also given a three-year sentence for third-degree rape.
And so, Harvey Weinstein, at 67 years of age has been committed to 23 years in prison. He will likely die there, perhaps more damning after it was reported just a month after his sentencing that Weinstein had been tested positive for contracting Covid-19.
This case may feel far away from us in the UK, and to the everyday person in general. But it shouldn’t. While Weinstein is a person, hopefully many, were lucky to never encounter, his sentencing sadly does not equate to the formidable and ruthless rape culture that is embedded not only into the film industry’s culture but society itself. The #MeToo movement is powerful and deeply necessary, which forces us all to acknowledge the ‘known secret’ of abuse forced onto many. But these people deserve more; they deserve justice; they deserve the knowledge this will not continue. Harvey Weinstein may die in prison, but some of his victims still haven’t received the justice they deserve. Of the many, many people that came forward, he was prosecuted for only two cases.
There are still many people who have been abused by someone other than Weinstein who watch their abuser walk free. Their stories matter too. Or worse, remain still powerless under them. Once you are abused, it can never be taken back; you are forced to hold onto that forever, no matter (if any) the punishment for the abuser. It needs to stop.
Weinstein is just the beginning.