Harvey Weinstein expected to be cleared of sex crimes, telling friends: “I pray the tides are turning.” But today he’s a convicted rapist—and faces 25 years in jail.
in New York
February 25, 2020
When Jessica Mann was invited to Harvey Weinstein’s Manhattan hotel room in November 2016, the aspiring actress believed she was there to provide a shoulder to cry on following Weinstein’s mother’s death.
She, too, had recently lost her father, and so would understand his grief, he said.
Instead, she found Weinstein lying naked on the bed, wanting to do ‘something sexual’, she told a court this month.
What sort of a man would exploit his mother’s death so cynically for sexual gratification?
The same man who was yesterday found guilty of raping Mann in 2013 and sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006.
The movie mogul’s conviction on two out of the five charges he faced came after a landmark three-week trial that was part circus and part freak show.
Shivering journalists and the public had queued from long before dawn each day for a seat at New York’s most hotly anticipated trial for decades — and they weren’t disappointed as lurid claims of Weinstein’s deformed private parts and depraved sexual habits were aired.
For his victims, it was retribution indeed to witness both the humiliation of the brutish former Hollywood power broker — nicknamed ‘The Punisher’ — and his punishment.
The man who once swaggered in black tie on red carpets around the world had shuffled to and from the courtroom each day pushing a walking frame (his lawyers insisted he has back problems), a shrunken husk of his once 21st bulk, in an ill-fitting suit and unironed shirt.
He’d hung his head in shame as images of his bloated, naked torso were passed among jurors as proof that his accusers were telling the truth about his anatomy and its ‘heavily-scarred’ state. And the shocks kept coming as Weinstein’s accusers went into excruciating detail about his behaviour.
At the same time, the defence made good on its promise to challenge the assumption that his accusers were all simply victims, producing emails to show that some had carried on friendly relationships with him after he allegedly assaulted them.
The shadow of Hollywood’s casting couch has loomed large over the trial and may help explain why the jury’s decision was only a partial victory for the prosecution.
That’s scant consolation for Weinstein, whose career notched up 300 Oscar nominations for films such as Shakespeare In Love and The King’s Speech.
His career and personal life are in ruins; Miramax, the company he founded with his brother Bob and named after their parents, is no more, and his second marriage to British designer Georgina Chapman, mother of two of his five children, foundered in the wake of the allegations.Prior to his trial, Weinstein was already damned in the court of public opinion.
The assumption was that this was an open-and-shut case offering no new insights into the vile behaviour that kick-started the #MeToo movement — how wrong that assumption was.
More than 90 women have accused Weinstein of harassment, assault or rape, many recounting a familiar horror story of going to discuss business in his hotel room only for him to greet them wearing just a bathrobe.
Some of the tales were truly stomach-churning, such as journalist Lauren Sivan who said he once masturbated into a potted plant in front of her in a deserted restaurant.
During the trial, six accusers — two whose allegations were the basis of the criminal charges against him and four who were allowed to testify to prove a pattern of ‘prior bad acts’ by Weinstein — gave often startlingly similar accounts of the way he would trick and trap them.
Four of the women admitted to staying on friendly terms with Weinstein after the alleged assaults, so bolstering the defence case that his behaviour was the norm in Tinseltown.
In response, prosecutors called an expert witness who warned that the psychology of abuse victims is complicated, and they may continue to associate with their abuser as if nothing has happened.
The testimony of Jessica Mann, both the strongest and weakest witness, was both compelling and puzzling in this respect.
Ms Mann, 34, a highly emotional witness at times, had an on-off five-year relationship with Weinstein. They met at a party in 2012 shortly after the aspiring young actress arrived in Los Angeles.
Raised in an abusive home in Washington state, she had fallen on hard times and at one point had to sleep in her car. When Weinstein showed an interest in her, Ms Mann (pictured) thought he was a ‘blessing’ from God.
It proved not much of a blessing when Weinstein started grooming her, she said, breaking down her reserve by initially just asking for a massage. She agreed to knead his ‘blackspot-covered’ back in his hotel suite.
Within a month, they were meeting again at a Beverly Hills hotel with Weinstein telling Ms Mann and another woman that he was considering them for lead roles in a vampire film.
He invited them up to his suite to read scripts. ‘I am a harmless old man,’ he said when Ms Mann expressed reservations.
In the suite, Weinstein separated the two women and pulled Ms Mann into the bedroom.
‘You accepted my invitations to parties. You aren’t leaving until I do something for you,’ he allegedly told her.
Fighting back tears, she claims she sat on the bed as Weinstein committed a sex act on her by force.
‘I sort of ‘locked up’ and got really quiet,’ she said. ‘I was worried about my friend out there by herself. I faked an orgasm to get out of it. He asked me how it was, if I liked it. I was nervous, so I told him it was the best I ever had.’
Although she felt ‘horrified and confused’, Ms Mann said she decided to have a relationship with Weinstein, naively convinced it would be ‘real’. Instead, she said, it was ‘extremely degrading from that point on’.
Weinstein would ‘talk very dirty to me about fantasies and compared me to other actresses he said were doing kinky and dirty things’, the court heard.
‘The first time I saw him naked I thought he was deformed or intersex [a person born with sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of female or male],’ she said. ‘I didn’t know if he was a burns victim but it would make sense. He does not have testicles and it appears like he has a vagina.’
He also smelt rank, she added.
But Ms Mann didn’t just feel revulsion, she was ‘filled with compassion, absolute compassion,’ she testified. ‘It seemed his anger came from a place of pain.’
There was no physical attraction on her part, she admitted, although ‘his approval would have meant so much to me’.
In court when reading out an email to a former boyfriend in which she called Weinstein a father figure who ‘validated’ her Hollywood dreams, she started sobbing uncontrollably, left and was heard screaming in another room.
Later, she described how their sexual trysts became more humiliating. In 2013, Weinstein separately invited Ms Mann and Emanuela Postacchini, an aspiring Italian actress, to his Beverly Hills hotel suite and he told them he wanted a threesome, the court heard.
Weinstein ‘orchestrated’ events, told them to undress and then instructed them into what positions he wanted them to assume, said Ms Mann.
She said she fled in tears while Ms Postacchini, 28, testified that she’d been ‘tricked’ into the situation and had no idea another woman would be there.
A more degrading encounter took place in another LA hotel room. ‘He asked me to come into the shower and then he said to me, ‘Have you ever had a golden shower?’ ‘ Ms Mann testified. He performed a sex act on her. ‘I was in shock by it. It was gross,’ she said. ‘I turned into the corner of the shower and just looked away.’
Ms Mann said she didn’t dare break all contact with Weinstein for fear of what he might do to her and her family. In March 2013, she was due to have a breakfast meeting with Weinstein at a New York hotel but ‘panicked’ when she saw him booking a room.
When she asked why, he warned her not to embarrass him and to go upstairs. The night manager at the hotel that day testified that Ms Mann’s body language was so negative that he advised security to check on the room to ensure she was safe.
Up in the room, Weinstein allegedly told her to undress and blocked the door when she protested. Disappearing into the bathroom, he re-emerged naked.
He then raped her, she alleged. Later, she went into the bathroom and discovered a syringe in the bin which she later discovered was to boost erectile function.
Eight months later, Ms Mann said, when she was working as a hairdresser — a job Weinstein had got her — she visited him at his LA hotel and told him she had a boyfriend, a ‘well-known’ actor. Livid, Weinstein allegedly screamed: ‘You owe me one more time!’
He then dragged her into the bedroom, violently ripped off her clothes and raped her again, she said. She passed out and woke to find him performing a sex act on her that ‘choked’ her.
Weinstein apologised and told her: ‘I just find you so attractive I couldn’t resist.’
Despite this catalogue of demeaning abuse, the court heard she went to see him again in 2016 when he claimed to be mourning his mother.
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The defence cited friendly emails Mann sent Weinstein even after he allegedly assaulted her, including one just a month after the New York rape incident in which she gushed: ‘As always happy to see your smile and I hope to see you sooner than later. I hope some of your genius rubs off on me.’
For her part Mann explained she was ‘too scared to confront him’ and prosecutors argued she had ‘buried her trauma’ and was trying to navigate Weinstein’s powerful hold on her.
During the case, five more accusers painted a similarly damning portrait of him, although jurors rejected the predatory assault charges. In particular, the testimony of model Lauren Young echoed Jessica Mann’s claims about the producer’s physical and sexual deformities.
In February 2013, Ms Young (pictured below) claims Weinstein performed a sex act in front of her in an LA hotel bathroom.
Ms Young, 30, became tearful as she accused Weinstein’s friend, Mexican model Claudia Salinas, of closing the bathroom door and trapping her inside with him.
Ms Young protested but he told her: ‘This is what all actresses do to make it.’
As she laughed nervously (‘I was worried and scared that he was going to hurt me’) he unzipped her lace dress, groped her painfully and pleasured himself.
The following day Weinstein offered her a part in his TV reality show America’s Next Top Model, which she declined.
LD: Four other women gave testimony against Weinstein in court: Mimi Halevy (42), Annabella Sciorra (59), Tarale Wulff (43), and Dawn Dunning (40). The Hollywood stars whose careers Weinstein helped to promote include such celebrities as Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger, Uma Thurman, Judi Dench, Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller, Kate Beckinsale, Gwyneth Paltrow, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kate Winslet, Scarlet Johansson, Jennifer Lawrence, Amanda Seyfried, Julia Roberts, and Emma Watson. How many of these women were prepared to undergo the thrilling adventures of the casting couch to advance their glittering careers is of course a matter of pure speculation. [LD]
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Harvey Weinstein’s catastrophic fall from grace cements not only his shame but that of an industry that fawned over him, even though rumours of his rapacious sexual appetites were widespread.
Admired, feared and loathed in equal measure, he was notorious for his monstrous ego, and a volcanic and uncontrollable temper that could tip into physical violence. Stars chose to tolerate all this, largely because Weinstein won them the adulation they craved.
But in the end Weinstein found few rallying to his side when hit by an avalanche of accusations. In recent years he has cut a lonely and isolated figure.
Looking at up to 25 years in jail, Weinstein also faces another trial in LA and possible criminal charges in Britain and Ireland. His conviction yesterday may not bring his accusers the crushing penalty they hoped, but any dreams of a career comeback have been obliterated.