The Star Wars and Black Panther actress has now detailed her experiences with the former Hollywood titan in a New York Times op-ed, writing that she has now realized that her encounters were “not a unique incident with me, but rather part of a sinister pattern of behavior.”
Nyong’o writes that she first met Weinstein when she was a Yale School of Drama student in 2011, two years before her breakout role in 12 Years a Slave. She writes about finding him to be “very direct and authoritative, but also charming,” and that “he didn’t quite put me at ease, but he didn’t alarm me, either” — an assessment that changed radically once she subsequently agreed to go to a “screening” at his house in Westport, Connecticut.
Nyongo’s evening with Weinstein, she writes, started with a dinner where Weinstein ordered vodka and diet soda for them both — over her objections — and insisted that she drink it. (She did not.) After they got to his home and Nyong’o met his children, she writes that it was only 15 minutes into the screening when Weinstein interrupted to “show [her] 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. 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. 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.
Part of our drama school curriculum at Yale included body work, using massage techniques on one another to understand the connection between body, mind and emotion, and so I felt I could rationalize giving him one and keep a semblance of professionalism in spite of the bizarre circumstance. He agreed to this and lay on the bed. I began to massage his back to buy myself time to figure out how to extricate myself from this undesirable situation. Before long 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. “If we’re not going to watch the film, I really should head back to school,” I said.
For months afterward, she continues, Weinstein invited her to events and chatted her up at screenings. Eventually, she felt as though she could handle being around him alone again, but the first time she met him for dinner on her own, she writes that he immediately propositioned her, telling her he had “a private room upstairs where we can have the rest of our meal.”
“I told him I preferred to eat in the restaurant,” she writes. “He told me not to be so naive. 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.”
Nyong’o’s account is yet another that corroborates what appears to have been Weinstein’s MO: inviting an actress at the beginning of her career to a private place, asking for a massage, and seeing how far he could push it. She is also, notably, the first black woman to have come forward as one of Weinstein’s alleged victims, who are otherwise overwhelmingly white.
It is also interesting insomuch as it shows how radically Weinstein’s attitude toward Nyong’o changed once her star rose with 12 Years a Slave. Once he met her again at the Toronto premiere, she writes, he expressed that he “was ashamed of his actions and he promised to respect me moving forward.” At this point, it seemed, Nyong’o no longer qualified to be one of the women he could take advantage of without repercussion — but she sure could help his company by starring in more movies now that she had been certified gold. For her part, Nyong’o writes, she then “made a quiet promise to myself to never ever work with Harvey Weinstein.”
“I hope we can form a community where a woman can speak up about abuse and not suffer another abuse by not being believed and instead being ridiculed,” Nyong’o concludes. “That’s why we don’t speak up — for fear of suffering twice, and for fear of being labeled and characterized by our moment of powerlessness ... [but] now that we are speaking, let us never shut up about this kind of thing.”
You can read Nyong’o’s full op-ed at the New York Times.