Oscar-Winner Lupita Nyong’o Recounts Harvey Weinstein’s Sexual Bullying

Melina Gills
Melina Gills
Oscar-Winner Lupita Nyong’o Recounts Harvey Weinstein’s Sexual Bullying

Lupita Nyong’o has given a detailed, lucid, and revealing account in the New York Times of her own disturbing experience with Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood mogul who has been sexually harassing and assaulting women, including dozens of actresses, for the past three decades.

Nyong’o describes feeling “sick in the pit of my stomach” over her own past silence and the distressing buried memories these past two weeks of Weinstein-centered news have forced to the surface.

“I had shelved my experience with Harvey far in the recesses of my mind, joining in the conspiracy of silence that has allowed this predator to prowl for so many years. I had felt very much alone when these things happened, and I had blamed myself for a lot of it, quite like many of the other women who have shared their stories. But now that this is being discussed openly, I have not been able to avoid the memories resurfacing,” writes Nyong’o. “I have felt such a flare of rage that the experience I recount below was not a unique incident with me, but rather part of a sinister pattern of behavior.”

Her story with Weinstein begins when she was a student at Yale University, before she had ever appeared on-screen. He signified then the promise of a career, of a breakthrough role in a major film or television series. Knowing very well the power he held over actresses, especially aspiring ones, Weinstein attempted to coerce the young Nyong’o into a relationship that he defined as an exchange — he would own her as a “dating” partner and she would be cast in one of his properties. To him, a “working relationship” was partially carried out in the privacy of a bedroom or hotel room. Ideally, it began there, with sexual acts, and ended on the Oscar stage, with a trophy in hand.

She details going to his house at his invitation to attend a home screening with him and his young children and abruptly being taken to his bedroom. “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,” she writes.

“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.”

Nyong’o recognized Weinstein’s status, and it led her to his house, to a dinner table at the Tribeca Grill, to various screenings at his behest. Yet, she was always able to draw a firm line, and never crossed it.

One startling, minor-seeming interaction she describes is his almost pathological insistence on her drinking alcohol at their first dinner meeting. “Get her what I tell you to get her. I’m the one paying the bill,” he said to the waiter, when she continued to refuse the vodka and diet soda he wanted her to drink instead of the juice she had ordered for herself. Through to the end, she did not take a sip of that cocktail.

This encompasses much of Weinstein’s entitled and violent behavior, not only towards women but everyone he encountered. He asserted his dominance, his importance above others, and his control over all aspects of what he touched or what touched him, including many of the films he produced.

Weinstein had even sought to dictate the terms of the fallout of these sexual allegations against himself, and is suing the Times for denying him that privilege. By writing this piece, Nyong’o, as many others, has taken back what he had fought to strip her of: the autonomy of a voice he had once silenced.

Nyong’o beautifully and meticulously describes the way in which Weinstein operated – how he was charming and professional when he needed to be, and used that to create spaces and opportunities for subsequent sexual indiscretions. He would present himself as an ally with positive intentions, and then set the scene for an unwanted sexual advance, which he painted as a subset of the job.

After an uneventful (harassment-free) dinner with Weinstein—joined by two of her own friends and several others –Nyong’o accepted his invitation to a screening. What followed was a dinner, from which his female assistant disappeared as soon as he arrived, leaving the two alone. Before they could eat a bite, he said, “Let’s cut to the chase. I have a private room upstairs where we can have the rest of our meal.”

When she refused, “He told me not to be so naïve,” Nyong’o recounts. “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.”

Nyong’o replied, “With all due respect, I would not be able to sleep at night if I did what you are asking, so I must pass.” Weinstein then put money in her hand and sent her off in a cab, confident that the only person missing out that night was Nyong’o, by prioritizing her principles over his abusive offer of a “career” in exchange for sex. For him, there was yet an endless line of other potential women to exploit.

“So we are done here,” he said. “You can leave.”

Nyong’o went on to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her delicate yet powerful performance in the masterful “Twelve Years A Slave,” by the brilliant filmmaker Steve McQueen. This was her first acting role, which she won and mastered without the “help” of Weinstein or anyone like him.

Weinstein has since persistently pursued her for film roles. She always refused. “I made a quiet promise to myself to never ever work with Harvey Weinstein,” writes Nyong’o, and she indeed never worked with the producer, declining to support or profit from someone she knew had no true regard for women.

Her story is a necessary reminder that we do not need to sacrifice our bodies and our beliefs for what others tell us is “success” or a “career.” What she writes here is also looking toward the future, one in which she would not be silent and not fear the retributions and viciousness against women who speak out.

“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.” she affirms. “We don’t speak up for fear of suffering twice, and for fear of being labeled and characterized by our moment of powerlessness. Though we may have endured powerlessness at the hands of Harvey Weinstein, by speaking up, speaking out and speaking together, we regain that power.”

While disturbed by her own inability to tell this story sooner, Nyong’o sees this as an opportunity for change – a breakthrough in how women are treated in the film industry and an end to their silencing.

Nyong’o closes her article with the hope that “rampant predatory behavior as an accepted feature of our industry dies here and now.” “Now that we are speaking, let us never shut up about this kind of thing. I speak up to make certain that this is not the kind of misconduct that deserves a second chance. I speak up to contribute to the end of the conspiracy of silence.”

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