Lupita Nyong’o is the latest actress to come forward with sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein, penning an op-ed for the New York Times in which she details her interactions with the producer over the course of several years, beginning when she was a student at the Yale School of Drama. The results are heartbreaking, revealing, and ultimately, empowering.
After meeting her through a mutual acquaintance at an awards ceremony, Weinstein pursued Nyong’o—as he did so many other young actresses—using vague promises of discussions about potential roles as bait. He invited her to screen a film in his Westport, Connecticut home, attempted to give her a massage, and tried to take his pants off in front of her. Thankfully, Nyong’o was able to extricate herself from the situation, but found herself, like so many sexual assault victims, wondering if perhaps she had overreacted to the encounter. Months later, Weinstein flat-out propositioned Nyong’o over dinner. She writes:
“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.”
Weinstein then told Nyong’o that, basically, if she wasn’t going to sleep with him, she should leave the restaurant. He paid for her cab, and when she said “I just want to know that we are good,” he replied: “I don’t know about your career, but you’ll be fine.”
But then, something awesome happened. Nyong’o was cast in 12 Years a Slave, the film she won an Academy Award for in 2014. At an afterparty for the film’s Toronto premiere, Weinstein found her and apologized for his actions. “He was ashamed of his actions and he promised to respect me moving forward. I said thank you and left it at that. But I made a quiet promise to myself to never ever work with Harvey Weinstein,” she writes. She later declined an offer to star in one of his movies.
Like so many women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted by a powerful man, Nyong’o felt she couldn’t come forward about her experiences because no one would have cared. “I wish I had known that there were women in the business I could have talked to. I wish I had known that there were ears to hear me,” she says. “That justice could be served. There is clearly power in numbers. I thank the women who have spoken up and given me the strength to revisit this unfortunate moment in my past.”
Nyong’o’s story, as well as those by Weinstein’s other accusers, speaks to just how entrenched this kind of sexist, predatory behavior is in our society. But it also asserts that we are at the dawn of a new era, one where women aren’t kept silent and there are swift and harsh consequences for Weinstein-esque behavior. Most of all, one where women are free to pursue their dreams without fear.