In the two months since The New York Times first published its explosive report alleging decades of sexual abuse by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein — and yes, it’s only been two months — dozens more women have come forward to add their voice to the furious chorus against him. This chorus has repeated several refrains: patterns of harassment and abuse; fear of retribution from Weinstein; and gratitude — cut with a little bit of anger — that people are finally willing to listen after years of terrified, frustrated silence.
But Salma Hayek’s account of her interactions with the Hollywood producer, published in a New York Times op-ed December 12, stands out for a couple reasons. For one, it is one of the only accounts Weinstein has seen fit to directly rebut, out of the nearly 70 on-the-record allegations against him — a dubious distinction Hayek shares with Lupita Nyong’o, one of the only other women of color to accuse Weinstein to date.
For another, Hayek’s story describes Weinstein’s constant bullying and sexual harassment before, during, and after the production of the 2002 film Frida — a passion project for which she got an Oscar nomination, and which Weinstein’s Miramax studio produced — as a horror she had to withstand, calling him “my monster.”
By framing her story within the context of making this movie, Hayek reveals in excruciating detail how predatory Hollywood men can use their power to bulldoze individual projects and talent.
Hayek’s account paints a picture of a predator using his influence to settle petty scores — at the expense of Hayek’s passion project
Before Frida, Hayek writes, she was an unknown entity in Hollywood, whom Weinstein took a chance on by signing her to a multi-picture deal. At first, she was thrilled. But soon enough, she says, Weinstein made it clear that this supposed generosity came with strings attached, writing that she had to say “no to to me taking a shower with him, no to letting him watch me take a shower, no to letting him give me a massage, no to letting a naked friend of his give me a massage, no to letting him give me oral sex, no to my getting naked with another woman. No, no, no, no, no …”
And then the key detail: “With every refusal,” Hayek writes, “came Harvey’s Machiavellian rage.” At one point, she says he threatened to kill her, telling her “don’t think I can’t.”
From there, Hayek says, Weinstein turned the Frida set into a venue in which he could terrorize her — retaliation, she believes, for all the times she said no to his advances. Hayek describes the seemingly impossible hoops Weinstein asked her to jump through in order to get the movie made, including finding an “A-list director,” enlisting more prominent actors for smaller roles, and raising $10 million — all of which Hayek did, “much to everyone’s amazement, not least my own.”
“Ironically,” Hayek writes, her disdain clear, “once we started filming, the sexual harassment stopped, but the rage escalated. We paid the price for standing up to him nearly every day of shooting.”
One telling anecdote Hayek relates: Weinstein, in his quest to emphasize her sex appeal above all else, “complained about Frida’s unibrow” and told her to “eliminate the limp” that the artist had throughout her life. At one point, Hayek says, Weinstein threatened to shut down the film if she wouldn’t find a sexier way to play Frida Kahlo. “He offered me one option to continue,” Hayek writes. “He would let me finish the film if I agreed to do a sex scene with another woman. And he demanded full-frontal nudity.”
Hayek, exhausted, says she agreed.
What Hayek describes after this point is wrenching: “For the first and last time in my career, I had a nervous breakdown,” she writes. “My body began to shake uncontrollably, my breath was short and I began to cry and cry, unable to stop, as if I were throwing up tears.”
This episode was not the end of the harassment and coercion Hayek says she experienced at Weinstein’s hands. But it is, perhaps, the most telling. It provides a crystal clear example of exactly how much one predator in power can use his influence to settle petty scores, at the expense of other people. It also shows the kind of obstacles women in Hollywood — and particularly women of color — may have to muscle their way through in order to tell the stories that matter to them, or to just do their jobs at all.
This episode also pushes back against one of the most persistent and insidious beliefs that has existed in Hollywood since its very beginnings: that of the temperamental, wrathful “genius,” who may just need to have a few tantrums in order to make great art. In fact, the rebuttal Weinstein’s legal team released to E! News in response to Hayek’s op-ed leans on this cliché, saying that, “as in most collaborative projects, there was creative friction on Frida, but it served to drive the project to perfection.”
But if Hayek’s account is to be believed — and there is little reason to suggest it shouldn’t, given what we know of Weinstein’s alleged pattern of behavior and the anger problem he’s admitted to having — this supposedly mercurial savant wasn’t a boon to the film he was overseeing, but a real threat. The movie didn’t come together because of Weinstein; it came together in spite of him.
Read Hayek’s full account at the New York Times.