On Wednesday, Salma Hayek became the latest woman to come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and bullying against producer Harvey Weinstein. In an op-ed for the New York Times, she wrote, “for years, he was my monster,” and detailed how he allegedly propositioned her again and again.
“With every refusal came Harvey’s Machiavellian rage,” she wrote. “I don’t think he hated anything more than the word ‘no.'”
But his attempts to exert power over Hayek went beyond demands for massages and sex. While he was producing her dream project, the 2002 film “Frida,” Weinstein insisted that the star add an unscripted sex scene with another woman, complete with full-front nudity. Hayek believed that complying was the only way she would get the movie made, and since she was already five weeks into production, she worried about disappointing all of the “talented people” she’d convinced to join her project, including Ashley Judd, Edward Norton and director Julie Taymor.
So she agreed. And with that, Weinstein made every person who watched “Frida” a witness to his abuse.
For Hayek, the scene was a nightmare to shoot. She hyperventilated on the morning of filming and couldn’t stop crying; the stress of it all made her vomit, and she had to take a tranquilizer to get through it.
“By the time the filming of the movie was over, I was so emotionally distraught that I had to distance myself during the postproduction,” she wrote.
Her story is enough to make a viewer rethink how and why nudity ends up in movies — and whether those disrobing feel empowered to refuse a producer whose demands may have less to do with the quality of the finished product than his own fetishes.
Weinstein had a history of trying to shoehorn sex into his movies, a habit that never seemed all that conspicuous until droves of women started coming forward with allegations of sexual assault, harassment and rape. While producing the romantic comedy “The Night We Never Met,” for example, Weinstein tried to bully director Warren Leight into getting an actress to “show tit,” Leight recalled.
Leight refused, and there are occasional Hollywood tales of actors doing the same. On “Sicario,” actress Emily Blunt was supposed to be topless in one scene, but she refused because, as she said in an interview with Howard Stern, “We didn’t agree with it” (clarifying that “we” referred to her and her breasts).
But Blunt is an A-lister with bargaining power, and at the time Hayek was filming “Frida,” she wasn’t. She felt she had no choice.
There’s a lot of talk about the imbalance of power in Hollywood and the need for female storytellers, not to mention decision makers. The conventional wisdom goes that more female directors means more women with some say. Hayek’s story, however, shows how even a movie that was the brainchild of a woman — not to mention directed by one and co-written by two others — was still adulterated by a man. He insisted on a gratuitous sex scene, she wrote, which was a power play over an actress he couldn’t have, but also part of a pattern that normalized needless nudity.
Now that we’re swimming in allegations against men in the industry and beyond, it’s impossible not to see their works in a slightly different light. Would Amazon Studios have canceled “Good Girls Revolt” if alleged abuser Roy Price hadn’t been in charge of programming? How are we supposed to take “Wonder Wheel,” Woody Allen’s latest movie about a man who falls for his lover’s stepdaughter? As New York Times critic Manohla Dargis wrote in her review of the movie, “I tend to think it’s a bad idea to put a movie on the couch, but what if it climbs on the couch and then starts winking?”
Hayek noted in her op-ed that “Frida” found an audience and won accolades, not to mention two Oscars, despite Weinstein’s relentless dismissals of the film and his lack of support. The success should have paved the way for more female-led features. It didn’t, but, for a while at least, it was a beacon of hope. Hollywood so rarely makes movies about brilliant women — especially by brilliant women. Now we know that even the gold standard of moderate progress can be tainted by the whims of a sick man.