Lupita Nyong’o has joined the ranks of women accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, writing in The New York Times that the producer offered to support her career if she slept with him.
The Oscar-winning actress says she did not previously speak out about her encounters with Weinstein because she didn’t know other women had experienced similar things.
“I had shelved my experience with Harvey far into the recesses of my mind, joining in the conspiracy of silence that has allowed this predator to prowl for many years,” Nyong’o writes. “I had felt very much alone when these things happened, and I had blamed myself for a lot of it, quite like many of the other women who have shared their stories.”
Nyong’o says she first met Weinstein at an awards ceremony in 2011, when she was still a student at the Yale School of Drama. A short time later, he invited her to a screening of a new film at his family home in Connecticut. Before they went to Weinstein’s house, he took her to a restaurant for lunch, where she says he repeatedly insisted she drink a vodka and diet soda rather than her preferred juice.
Once they arrived at the producer’s house, Nyong’o says she settled down in a soundproof screening room to watch the film with Weinstein’s young children. However, he soon announced that he “wanted to show [her] something” elsewhere in the house. Not wanting to make a scene in front of his children, she reluctantly agreed.
Weinstein then led Nyong’o into his bedroom, she says, and announced that he wanted to give her a massage.
“I thought he was joking at first. He was not. For the first time since I met him, I felt unsafe,” she writes.
Panicked, Nyong’o says she offered to give Weinstein a massage instead. Being the masseuse rather than the massaged would allow her “to be in control physically, to know exactly where his hands were at all times”.
However, “before long he said that he wanted to take off his pants,” Nyong’o says. “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.”
When Weinstein told her that she was “stubborn”, Nyong’o says she “agreed with an easy laugh. 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.”
Nyong’o says she struggled to process what had happened at Weinstein’s house. The producer had hinted he wanted to cast her in a HBO TV series (one she later discovered had already been off the air for some time), and she says she “didn’t know how to proceed without jeopardising my future”.
A short while later, Weinstein invited Nyong’o to a reading of a Broadway show he was working on. She brought two male friends with her, and Weinstein, she says, “was charming and funny once more”.
“I felt confused about the discomfort I had previously experienced… I left feeling that perhaps he had learned my boundaries and was going to respect them,” she says.
Nyong’o was then invited to another screening of one of Weinstein’s films in Manhattan. After the screening, it was arranged that Nyong’o would meet him at a restaurant. She says she assumed she would be joining a group of people, but realised when she arrived that she and Weinstein would be dining alone.
She says he then told her they should retire to a “private room upstairs” to eat.
When she told Weinstein that she would prefer to stay in the restaurant, she says he told her “not to be so naïve. If I wanted to be an actress, then I had to be willing to do this sort of thing.”
Nyong’o says that Weinstein named other successful actresses he claimed to have had sex with, telling her to think about “where that had gotten them”. After she declined his offer, he told her: “You have no idea what you are passing up.”
She stood her ground. “‘So we are done here,’ he said. ‘You can leave.’”
Nyong’o says she didn’t cross paths with Weinstein again until the premiere for 12 Years a Slave, the film for which she would win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2014, when he allegedly apologised.
The actress says she didn’t speak out beforehand because she “did not know that there was a world in which anyone would care… I did not know that things could change. I did not know that anybody wanted things to change... I did not know that I had allies in this.”
When Nyong’o realised that her meetings with Weinstein were “part of a sinister pattern of behaviour”, she says she experienced “a flare of rage”. She adds that the recent outpouring of allegations against Weinstein had left her feeling “sick in the pit of my stomach”.
“I speak up to contribute to the end of the conspiracy of silence,” she says.
Six women have now accused Harvey Weinstein of rape, and police in London, New York and Los Angeles are actively investigating claims of sexual assault made against the disgraced producer. The most recent allegation was made by an Italian actress and model in Los Angeles, who told the Los Angeles Times that Weinstein forced his way into her hotel room in 2013 and raped her.
Images: Rex Features