Lupita Nyong’o’s horrifying Weinstein encounter is one many women are too familiar with
She urges us to end the conspiracy of silence
by Jenn Ficarra
Lupita Nyong'o isn't just the latest celebrity to come forward with her own harrowing account of an encounter with Harvey Weinstein — she's also one of the first Black women to do so.
In a piece for The New York Times, Lupita details her experiences at the hands of Harvey Weinstein that she had kept silent about. Mostly, she had felt alone and, like many victims, blamed herself.
Lupita recounts her experiences with Harvey, saying that they met in 2011 in Berlin. She was told he was someone "to have in her corner" because he was a very powerful producer but he could also be a bully. Some time later, Harvey invited Lupita to his home in Connecticut.
At first, they were watching a movie with his children but then he invited her to his bedroom where Harvey asked to give her a massage. Thinking on her feet, Lupita decided it'd be better, and she'd have more control, if she gave him one.
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.
Lupita continues to say she "didn’t know how to proceed without jeopardizing [her] future." Later, Lupita details another encounter with Harvey where he seemed charming and affable at a dinner after a reading for Finding Neverland on Broadway. This encounter confused her, as it would many. Is it possible, perhaps, the massage wasn't all that weird?
Confident that perhaps new boundaries had been established, Lupita went to a screening she was invited to by Harvey a while later. The following occurred:
Afterward, as planned, his male assistant arranged for me to get to the Tribeca Grill, where Harvey would be joining us. I met a female assistant when I arrived there. I was expecting that it would be a group of us, as it had been for the reading, but she informed me it would just be Mr. Weinstein. She would sit with me until he arrived. She seemed on edge, but I could only imagine how stressful it was to work for a man who had so much going on.
Harvey arrived and the assistant immediately disappeared. We ordered drinks and starters. Again he was offended by my nonalcoholic beverage choice but he didn’t fight me on it as hard. Before the starters arrived, he announced: “Let’s cut to the chase. I have a private room upstairs where we can have the rest of our meal.” I was stunned. 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.
I was silent for a while before I mustered up the courage to politely decline his offer. “You have no idea what you are passing up,” he said. “With all due respect, I would not be able to sleep at night if I did what you are asking, so I must pass,” I replied.
His whole demeanor changed at that point. “Then I guess we are two ships passing in the night.” I had never heard that saying before, so I remember asking him what it meant. “It means just that,” he said. “We are two ships going in two different directions.”
“Yes, I guess we are.”
“So we are done here,” he said. “You can leave.”
Nervous that perhaps she had destroyed her chances in the business, Lupita asked Harvey if they were good. His reply? “I don’t know about your career, but you’ll be fine."
Again, Lupita goes on to detail another encounter with Harvey, this time after 12 Years a Slave where he seemingly apologized for treating her poorly in the past. She opens up about why she stayed silent and, ultimately that it's so important that we no longer stay silent about these sorts of crimes and injustices in the world. "The conspiracy of silence," as she says in the piece.
Lupita opening up brings to light more of Harvey's abusive and disgusting behavior but also sheds a light on something else — it's harder for Black women to come forward about sexual assault in general, but also in Hollywood.
It's easy to assume that women of color aren't being sexually assaulted or harassed because of the lack of accounts coming forward but it's quite the opposite.
In an industry where they're already struggling to gain a foothold they both A) don't have the opportunities that white women do to be alone in the room with someone like Harvey and B) to come forward would jeopardize any small chance they had. Which, is proven, in Lupita's statement repeatedly about how she was nervous she'd ruin her chances in the business. The same can be said for white women but, mostly, the stakes are higher and harder for women of color.
Lupita is right — there is a conspiracy of silence. There's a conspiracy of silence in Hollywood and in the rest of the world when it comes to sexual assault, especially when it comes to women of color and sexual assault.
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