Lupita Nyong’o is the latest woman to speak out against disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein, who is accused of sexually assaulting dozens of women in Hollywood.
In an essay for the New York Times, Nyong’o shares her story of sexual harassment by the hands of Weinstein, in which she says he used his powerful position in Hollywood as a crutch in an attempt to lure her in bed.
The Academy-award winning actress says she first met Weinstein in 2011 when she was still a student at Yale School of Drama. She was attending an award ceremony in Berlin. After someone described him as “the most powerful producer in Hollywood,” the young and ambitious actress initially saw no harm in introducing herself to and eventually exchanging contact information with the Hollywood heavyweight.
Soon after, Weinstein invited Nyong’o to his home for a film screening. She accepted the invitation.
“The driver and I met Harvey in the little town of Westport, where he informed me that we would be having lunch at a restaurant before getting to his home. I did not think much of this,” Nyong’o recalled. “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.
After lunch the two went to Weinstein’s home where she was greeted by his “domestic staff” and young children. But things only got progressively disturbing throughout the visit, Nyong’o revealed.
“I settled in for the film, but about 15 minutes in, Harvey came for me, saying he wanted to show me something. I protested that I wanted to finish the film first, but he insisted I go with him, laying down the law as though I too was one of his children,” she writes. “I did not want another back-and-forth in front of his kids, so I complied and left the room with him. I explained that I really wanted to see the film. He said we’d go back shortly.
“Harvey led me into a bedroom — his bedroom — and announced that he wanted to give me a massage. I thought he was joking at first. He was not. For the first time since I met him, I felt unsafe,” she adds. “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.”
Weinstein obliged to the massage, however, Nyong’o says things took another turn for the worse when 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,” she said. “He put his shirt on and again mentioned how stubborn I was. I agreed with an easy laugh, trying to get myself out of the situation safely. I was after all on his premises, and the members of his household, the potential witnesses, were all (strategically, it seems to me now) in a soundproof room.”
Another incident occurred some time after when Weinstein invited Nyong’o to yet another screening with drinks to follow. To her surprise, she was the only one invited to the outing, which was arranged by Weinstein’s assistants. After they were left alone, she says, Weinstein said, ““Let’s cut to the chase. I have a private room upstairs where we can have the rest of our meal.”
“I was stunned,” she recalls. “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. He said he had dated Famous Actress X and Y and look where that had gotten them.”
When Nyong’o stuck to her guns, Weinstein eventually blew her off and called her a cab. That was followed by a seemingly threatening text message stating, “I don’t know about your career, but you’ll be fine.”
Just a short couple of years later, Nyong’o would land her first feature film role in the Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave, for which she would snag an Academy Award of her own for Best Supporting Actress. After becoming a Hollywood breakout star, she and Weinstein eventually crossed paths again, at which time he apologized for his actions. Nyong’o, however, vowed to never work with Weinstein, even turning down an offer to star in one of his films–much to his chagrin.
“Fortunately for me, I have not dealt with any such incidents in the business since,” Nyong’o writes.
“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. There is clearly power in numbers. I thank the women who have spoken up and given me the strength to revisit this unfortunate moment in my past.”