As more and more women come forward with allegations of Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behavior, actor Lupita Nyong’o has opened up about her own troubling experiences with the movie mogul and described “the conspiracy of silence” that allowed his behavior to go unchallenged for decades.
“I have felt sick in the pit of my stomach,” Nyong’o, an Academy Award winner for her role in “12 Years a Slave,” wrote in an essay published Thursday in the New York Times.
She recounted two separate occasions in which Weinstein made inappropriate advances on her. She also said he tried to push her to drink an alcoholic beverage after she repeatedly refused, she alleged.
Weinstein made her believe “This is the way it is,” Nyong’o wrote. “And wherever I looked, everyone seemed to be bracing themselves and dealing with him, unchallenged.”
Nyong’o’s piece is one in a series of public accusations against Weinstein by female actors, often accompanied by anguished reflection, that collectively offer probably the most revealing glimpse ever of the predation women face in show business.
Such stories, long the stuff of rumors and wisecracks about the “casting couch,” are now real, poignant and powerful, and have prompted thousands of women who are not celebrities to relate their own stories of sexual abuse from male power figures.
The floodgates opened with articles in the New York Times and the New Yorker about sexual assault and harassment allegedly by Weinstein dating back to the 1980s. Among those who have come forward are Kate Beckinsale, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mira Sorvino and others.
Thursday night, the Los Angeles Police Department said it is conducting a criminal investigation of Weinstein for a sexual assault of an unnamed Italian model-actress that allegedly occurred in 2013.
Weinstein, who has been fired from his company and stripped of numerous honors, has “unequivocally denied” any allegations of nonconsensual sex through a spokeswoman. “Mr. Weinstein obviously can’t speak to anonymous allegations, but with respect to any women who have made allegations on the record, Mr. Weinstein believes that all of these relationships were consensual.”
“Our business is complicated because intimacy is part and parcel of our profession; as actors we are paid to do very intimate things in public,” Nyong’o wrote. “That’s why someone can have the audacity to invite you to their home or hotel and you show up. Precisely because of this we must stay vigilant and ensure that the professional intimacy is not abused.”
Nyong’o wrote that she first met Weinstein in 2011 while she was a student at the Yale School of Drama. A short time later, he invited her to watch a screening of a film with his family at his home in Westport, Conn. She agreed, and a driver picked her up.
The two had lunch at a local restaurant beforehand, where Weinstein insisted on ordering Nyong’o a vodka and soda cocktail after she asked for a juice. She repeatedly declined.
When Weinstein asked her why, she said, “Because I don’t like vodka, and I don’t like diet soda, and I don’t like them together.”
“You are going to drink that,” he responded, Nyong’o recounted, but she did not budge.
At his home later that day, Weinstein led her into his bedroom and said he wanted to give Nyong’o a massage, she wrote.
“For the first time since I met him, I felt unsafe,” Nyong’o recalled. “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 was used to giving massages to her classmates and colleagues during exercises through her drama program, she wrote. It also bought her time to figure out how to get out of the situation.
When Weinstein began to take off his pants, Nyong’o went straight to the door and told him she was uncomfortable. She insisted on going home.
Nyong’o said she struggled to process what had happened. “I didn’t know how to proceed without jeopardizing my future,” she said.
During a group setting on another occasion, everything seemed normal around Weinstein.
“He was definitely a bully, but he could be really charming, which was disarming and confusing,” Nyong’o wrote.
She agreed to meet him again in New York for a different screening. This time she met him for drinks and dinner, expecting to be joined by a group of others. But they were alone.
Before appetizers arrived, she recounted, Weinstein said: “Let’s cut to the chase. I have a private room upstairs where we can have the rest of our meal.” Shocked, Nyong’o refused.
“He told me not to be so naïve,” Nyong’o wrote. “If I wanted to be an actress, then I had to be willing to do this sort of thing.”
“You have no idea what you are passing up,” he said, Nyong’o recalled.
“With all due respect, I would not be able to sleep at night if I did what you are asking, so I must pass,” she said.
He told her she could leave. Before she stepped in the cab, Nyong’o said to him, “I just want to know that we are good.”
“I don’t know about your career, but you’ll be fine,” he said.
Nyong’o later vowed to herself to never work with Weinstein. She turned down numerous offers to star in his projects, she said.
“I was part of a growing community of women who were secretly dealing with harassment by Harvey Weinstein,” she wrote.
Nyong’o said she has not dealt with other incidents since then, which she credits to working with women in positions of power, and men “who are feminists in their own right who have not abused their power.”
“Though we may have endured powerlessness at the hands of Harvey Weinstein, by speaking up, speaking out and speaking together, we regain that power,” Nyong’o wrote. “And we hopefully ensure that this kind of rampant predatory behavior as an accepted feature of our industry dies here and now.”
More from Morning Mix: