“Harvey Weinstein was a passionate cinephile, a risk taker, a patron of talent in film, a loving father and a monster.
“For years, he was my monster.”
So begins a riveting essay by immensely talented actress, Salma Hayek, in The New York Times Sunday Review (December 17, 2017, page 3) about her appalling experience with the disgraced man who had captivated Hollywood for decades. At least we thought he did!
Salma offers an answer to anyone who questions why sexually harassed women took so long to speak up: Only 4 percent of directors were female between 2007 and 2016, and 80 percent of those got the chance to make only one film, she reports. “And people wonder why you didn’t hear our voices sooner. I think the statistics are self-explanatory–our voices are not welcome. Until there is equality in our industry, with men and women having the same value in every aspect of it, our community will continue to be a fertile ground for predators,” Salma writes.
The Mexican actress came face to face with her “monster” when she was on a mission in the late 1990s to produce a movie about extraordinary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who struggled to make a living from her small, personal portrait paintings until she was about 40 years old, (she died at 47) and started seeing success. Miramax, Harvey’s company, was a perfect fit for Salma’s project because it “had become synonymous with quality, sophistication and risk taking–a haven for artists who were complex and defiant.” Miramax represented “everything that Frida was to me and everything I aspired to be,” Salma continues.
Although Miramax wouldn’t pay Salma for her role as a producer, “not that rare for a female producer in the 90s,” she was thrilled that Harvey had taken a chance on her. He had said “yes” to her, “a nobody.” And, we all well know, it isn’t that rare for a talented woman to think of herself as “a nobody.”
Seems that Harvey’s maniacal behavior reared its ugly head early on during work on the movie.
He asked Salma to shower with him, watch him take a shower, give him a massage, permit his naked friend to give her a massage, and give him oral sex! When she repeatedly rejected his revolting requests, he actually threatened to kill her. “Don’t think I can’t,” Salma recalls him saying in a rage. As a last resort to get her to bow down to his demands, literally and figuratively, Harvey told Salma he had offered the script and her role as Frida to another actress. “In his eyes, I was not an artist. I wasn’t even a person. I was a thing: not a nobody, but a body,” she wrote.
Salma called on a lawyer at this point, not to slap Harvey with a sexual harassment suit, but to claim “bad faith,” since she was convinced he wasn’t going to make the movie or sell it back to her. She was willing to sweep the harassment under the rug in an effort to see her project come to life. Horrendous Harvey retaliated by making impossible demands on Salma, including raising $10 million to finance the film, rewriting the script, and finding an A-list director. She did it all, and Harvey was backed into a corner, forced to make a film he no longer wanted to make, with a woman who had rejected him.
Although Salma claims the sexual harassment stopped, emotional abuse followed. Harvey told Salma her “sex appeal” was the only thing she had going for her, and threatened to shut down the film if she didn’t use it in the movie. Calling herself a victim of “a sort of Stockholm syndrome,” Salma still wanted Harvey to see her “not only as a capable actress but also as somebody who could identify a compelling story and had the vision to tell it in an original way.”
That wasn’t in the cards. Harvey only seemed to notice that Salma wasn’t sexy in the movie, and said he’d let her finish it only if she agreed “to do a sex scene with another woman.” In front of him, of course. He also demanded “full-frontal nudity.” Salma capitulated. “I had to say yes. So many years of my life had gone into this film,” she explains in her essay. Just like a woman who is up against a “powerful” man, but desperate to achieve something big. The day of the shoot, Salma’s body “wouldn’t stop crying and convulsing,” and she started throwing up. A tranquilizer helped her get through it, she says.
Salma did achieve something big. Frida was a box office success and won two Oscars. Harvey never offered her another starring role in a movie, but when she ran into him years later, he told her, “‘You did well with Frida; we did a beautiful movie.’” Those words meant a lot to Salma, she writes, even if they came out of the big mouth of a big man who had harassed her.
Just like a woman. Then. Not now. No. Definitely not now.