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Harvey Weinstein and Lupita Nyong'o: An Act of Victim Blaming and White Privilege

Sabina Topol

October 24th, 2017

Over the past month, more and more has emerged surrounding the sexual assault scandal of famous film producer Harvey Weinstein; as of now, he has been accused of sexual assault and harassment by over 40 women. The list continues to grow and includes famous actresses like Ashley Judd, Cara Delevingne, Angelina Jolie, and, most recently, Lupita Nyong'o. Many of these actresses say that Weinstein invited them to his hotel room or another private place. Under the impression that they would be having a business meeting, they were instead met with requests of massages or were ordered to perform other sexual acts.

 

Nyong'o’s account of the events spans over three years. According to the New York Times, she met Weinstein in 2011 at an awards ceremony in Berlin. At the time, she was a student at the Yale School of Drama and wanted to get a chance to introduce herself to the famous man. She exchanged contacts with him, and soon after he invited her to his home to watch a movie with him and his children. While she was there, he asked first for her to go with him into his bedroom and then to give her a massage. She felt uncomfortable, so offered to give him a massage instead, but when he wanted to take off his pants, she left. She did not want to jeopardize her future, so she invited him to a production she was in. He accepted, but then canceled last minute. He later invited her to a production of Finding Neverland on Broadway. She brought along two male friends who attended the production and then the dinner afterwards. Nyong'o hoped that he would respect her boundaries after previous experiences, but soon after he invited her again to dinner and while there asked her to go upstairs. When she refused, he said she had to be “willing to do this sort of thing” if she wanted to be an actress. She felt uncomfortable, declined, and left, not seeing him again until 2013 at a film festival where he apologized for his actions. The last of her encounters with Harvey Weinstein was in 2014, at the Cannes Film Festival, where he offered her a job in a movie. She refused the offer-- she did not want to work with him -- and he eventually accepted her position.

 

However, Weinstein has responded to Nyong'o’s accounts of Weinstein’s harassment and assault. According to the Washington Post, a representative of Weinstein said that “Mr. Weinstein has a different recollection of the events, but believes Lupita is a brilliant actress and a major force for the industry. Last year, she sent a personal invitation to Mr. Weinstein to see her in her Broadway show Eclipsed.” This statement is the only personal one the Weinstein team has made towards his accusers, besides insinuating that Ashley Judd was “going through a tough time” when she made sexual assault allegations against Weinstein (which, according to them, is why she made these accusations against Weinstein). The statement seems to blame Nyong'o for her actions by implying that Weinstein should not be viewed as the one who is at fault in the situation. If Lupita had really been threatened by him, why would she have invited him to see her in Broadway show? That suggestion is not only degrading to Nyong'o, but also degrades millions of other women who have experienced sexual assault or harassment and undermines the legitimacy of each woman’s accusations. Saying that the victim is at fault is extremely common in society today, with victims of sexual assault being slut shamed for what they were wearing, how much they drank, or what they did to “initiate” sexual assault. The victim is never at fault. Sexual assault and harassment is the fault of the sexual predator and no one else.

 

The statement from the Weinstein team not only victim blames but also seems like a suspicious choice; Nyong'o is the only black woman who has so far accused him of sexual harassment. The fact that the only woman who Weinstein has so far called out is black women seems strange and, potentially, on purpose. Weinstein is a white male, while Nyong'o is a black female-- these two people are very far away on the privilege spectrum, with Weinstein much better off. Based on this fact, did Weinstein think he could get away with the victim blaming? Was this statement put out in order to slut shame a woman of color? Black women and other women of color are often sexualized by the media and by society and consequently slut shamed. This statement insinuates that Nyong'o is at fault, further perpetuating these stereotypes. Weinstein seems to be taking advantage of the biases and prejudices of today’s society to shift the story in his favor and make him seem like a victim, while in reality he is the ultimate predator. This statement is disgusting, and it needs to be recognized as the victim blaming that it is.