On Thursday, the New York Times published an op-ed by actress Lupita Nyong’o detailing her own harrowing experience with Harvey Weinstein, who she alleges sexually harassed her on numerous occasions. Nyong’o is the first black women to make public allegations of sexual misconduct against Weinstein. What she describes in the piece is a psychological minefield of professional-seeming interactions that will be familiar to most, if not all women, who work in a male-dominated industry, which is to say, in an industry.
Nyong’o writes that she first encountered Weinstein in 2011, as a student at the Yale School of Drama. They met at an awards ceremony in Berlin and exchanged contacts. Soon after, Weinstein convinced Nyong’o to come to his home for a film screening. He got her into his bedroom under the pretense of having something to show her, at which point he told her he’d like to give her a massage. “I panicked a little and thought quickly to offer to give him one instead,” writes Nyong’o. “It would allow me to be in control physically, to know exactly where his hands were at all times.”
Nyong’o also recounts an incident where Weinstein invited her to a so-called professional dinner, then propositioned her with a slimy, “Let’s cut to the chase. I have a private room upstairs where we can have the rest of the meal.” Nyong’o declined his offer, even after Weinstein made threats about her career.
It’s an insightful piece for more reasons than just Nyong’o’s allegations, and a few of her observations stood out to me in particular. First, that being in a creative industry, “where the intimate is often professional,” led Nyong’o to initially wonder if Weinstein’s request for a massage might have been an acceptable, professional request.
Second, Nyong’o writes movingly about not knowing there were women around her whom she could share her experience with:
“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…. I wish I had known that there were women in the business I could have talked to. I wish I had known that there were ears to hear me. That justice could be served.”
Finally, Nyong’o remarks that she believes she hasn’t had another experience like the one with Weinstein, in part, because she chooses projects where women are in positions of power.
Just after Nyong’o’s article was published, actress Tessa Thompson revealed on Twitter that Weinstein asked her to meet him once, but she declined.