Every day, it climbs a little higher: The list of women coming forward with stories of sexual harassment and assault, in Hollywood in general, and those dozens of incidents allegedly committed by producer Harvey Weinstein in specific. Today’s account of Weinstein’s alleged crimes and abuses comes in the form of a clear-voiced, heartrending New York Times op-ed from Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, laying out what she describes as a years-long campaign on Weinstein’s part to manipulate her into letting him take sexual advantage.
Weinstein’s interest in Nyong’o apparently dated all the way back to her college years, when she caught his eye while studying drama at Yale. As recounted in the editorial, what followed was a steadily escalating pressure, designed to charm, intimidate, and control her in equal measure, all with an eye toward luring her into his bedroom or hotel room for the now-familiar nude massage, and, presumably, more.
Besides being written with painful honesty and clarity, Nyong’o’s account is also one of the clearest pictures so far of the ways Weinstein would subtly (allegedly) work to isolate the women he was reportedly pursuing, withholding information, strategically applying and loosening pressure, and manipulating events in order to get them alone with him. There are more troubling moments that come later in Nyong’o’s account, but one of the most telling arrives early on, during her second meeting with the powerful producer:
It was a busy restaurant, and as soon as we sat down he ordered a vodka and diet soda for himself. I asked for a juice. Harvey was unimpressed with my choice and told the waiter to bring me a vodka and diet soda instead. I declined and said I wanted the juice. We went back and forth until finally he turned to the waiter and said, “Get her what I tell you to get her. I’m the one paying the bill.” I smiled and remained silent. The waiter left and returned with a vodka and diet soda for me. He placed it on the table beside my water. I drank the water. Harvey told me that I needed to drink the vodka and diet soda. I informed him that I would not.
“Why not?” I remember him asking. “Because I don’t like vodka, and I don’t like diet soda, and I don’t like them together,” I said. “You are going to drink that,” he insisted. I smiled again and said that I wouldn’t. He gave up and called me stubborn. I said, “I know.” And the meal proceeded without much further ado.
And it went on like that, across multiple meetings: At every step of her story, Weinstein appears, briefly, to relent, allowing Nyong’o to believe she’s carved out a boundary that he won’t cross, thus setting up the next level of trust for him to violate.
But, as Nyong’o closes out her editorial, it’s not all darkness—at least, not if the allegations against Weinstein actually do seem to have some hope of changing things in Hollywood. As Nyong’o writes,
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…
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.