With a powerful and harrowing op-ed, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o has become the latest woman to come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein.
“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,” the actress wrote in a piece published Thursday in the New York Times — the same outlet that first detailed Weinstein’s alleged behavior. “But now that this is being discussed openly, I have not been able to avoid the memories resurfacing. I have felt sick in the pit of my stomach. 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.”
In 2011, Nyong’o was a student at the Yale School of Drama when she first met Weinstein, whom she was advised to keep in her “corner,” she wrote. Not long after, she was invited to a private screening at his home. While his family was present for the film, Nyong’o recalled that 15 minutes in, Weinstein insisted she come with him and they ended up in his bedroom, where he asked to give her a massage.
“I thought he was joking at first,” Nyong’o wrote. “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.”
Nyong’o said she could rationalize giving Weinstein a massage because her drama school curriculum included “using massage techniques on one another to understand the connection between body, mind and emotion.” She continued, “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.”
Two weeks ago a bombshell New York Times exposé reported “decades” of alleged sexual harassment by Weinstein. Since then high-profile actresses including Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Kate Beckinsale, Heather Graham, Rose McGowan, Cara Delevingne, and Mira Sorvino have come forward with claims of harassment and/or assault. Last week in a statement through a representative, Weinstein denied claims of sexual assault: “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein.”
Vowing after the previous incident that she “would not be accepting any more visits to private spaces” with Weinstein, two friends accompanied her to his next invitation, which was a staged reading of a Broadway show and dinner. “He was definitely a bully, but he could be really charming, which was disarming and confusing,” she recounts. “I left feeling that perhaps he had learned my boundaries and was going to respect them.”
That turned out not to be the case, though. A few months later, they would again meet at a restaurant, but this time, she was surprised to discover it would only be the two of them. “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,’” the actress revealed. “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.” When she declined his offer, the meeting quickly ended. “We are done here,” Weinstein declared. ‘You can leave.” Hoping she hadn’t “awakened a beast that would go on to ruin my name,” she asked if they were “good,” to which he responded, “I don’t know about your career, but you’ll be fine.” To her, it “felt like both a threat and a reassurance at the same time.”
Her next encounter was in 2013 at the premiere of 12 Years a Slave, the movie for which Nyong’o won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar and cemented her name in Hollywood. When they talked privately at the after-party, she says Weinstein “was ashamed of his actions and he promised to respect me moving forward.” Promising herself she’d never work with the producer, Nyong’o rejected Weinstein’s future attempts to cast her in one of his films, even when he offered to “add a love scene” for her character and build a starring vehicle for her in exchange.
“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,” concluded Nyong’o. “I hope we are in a pivotal moment where a sisterhood — and brotherhood of allies — is being formed in our industry. I hope we can form a community where a woman can speak up about abuse and not suffer another abuse by not being believed and instead being ridiculed. That’s why 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. And we hopefully ensure that this kind of rampant predatory behavior as an accepted feature of our industry dies here and now.”
Read Nyong’o’s full essay here.