By RUME OYITSO
Oscar-winning actor, Lupita Nyong’o, has also accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, saying she was forced to flee a hotel room when he allegedly tried taking his pants off and wanted to get intimate.
In an emotional op-ed published in The New York Times Thursday, the actress details a series of alleged uncomfortable encounters with the disgraced mogul dating back to her days at the Yale School of Drama.
She says she first met Weinstein while at a 2011 awards ceremony in Berlin while she was still a student. The two were introduced through an intermediary, according to Nyong’o, who says in their first encounter she found him to be “very direct and authoritative, but also charming.”
Shortly after their first meeting, the actress says she received an invitation to a film screening at his family’s home in Westport, Conn., which was not far from where she was living at the time. Nyong’o claims she met Weinstein’s driver in the town of Westport, and was informed that she and the producer would be having lunch at a restaurant before the screening. “I did not think much of this,” she says.
When they arrived, Nyong’o says she sat down with Weinstein, who allegedly became frustrated with her when she declined to order an alcoholic beverage. She claims the producer ordered a vodka and diet soda for himself and urged her to do the same. When she declined, she says he forced the waiter to bring the drink anyway, and when it arrived, “Harvey told me that I needed to drink.” The two continued to have a back-and-forth about the drink until Nyong’o says Weinstein eventually gave up, calling her “stubborn.”
“Harvey led me into a bedroom — his bedroom — and announced that he wanted to give me a massage,” she claims. “I thought he was joking at first. He was not. For the first time since I met him, I felt unsafe. I panicked a little and thought quickly to offer to give him one instead: It would allow me to be in control physically, to know exactly where his hands were at all times.”
Nyong’o writes that she rationalized the situation because at her drama school, it was not unusual for actors to give each other massages as a technique “to understand the connection between body, mind and emotion.”
She says she then began to rub his back in order to “buy myself time to figure out how to extricate myself from this undesirable situation.” But, she writes, “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. He got up anyway to do so and I headed for the door, saying that I was not at all comfortable with that.”
Weinstein allegedly relented, once again calling her stubborn, and Nyong’o says she did her best to laugh off the incident but still felt uneasy. “I was after all on his premises, and the members of his household, the potential witnesses, were all (strategically, it seems to me now) in a soundproof room,” she explains.
Before leaving that day, Nyong’o says Weinstein gifted her with a boxed collection of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, an HBO show he allegedly told her she would be “right for.” But, she writes, “I later found out that the show had not been on the air for some time.”
Nyong’o says she didn’t initially know “how to process” the massage. “I reasoned that it had been inappropriate and uncalled-for, but not overtly sexual,” she explains. “I was entering into a business where the intimate is often professional and so the lines are blurred. I was in an educational program where I was giving massages to my classmates and colleagues every day. Though the incident with Harvey had made me uncomfortable, I was able to explain and justify it to myself, and shelve it as an awkward moment.”
Interested in the chance at starring on the HBO show, and hoping to get their relationship back on professional grounds, Nyong’o says she later invited Weinstein to a school production. “Perhaps that way he would really see what I had to offer, and he would see my colleagues, too,” she explains. Weinstein initially accepted the invitation, according to the actress, who says he ultimately ended up canceling last minute.
To make up for canceling, Nyong’o says Weinstein invited her, along with some male friends, to a reading of his Broadway play Finding Neverland. After the reading, the actress, her friends and Weinstein went to dinner but didn’t stay long. “He was definitely a bully, but he could be really charming, which was disarming and confusing,” she says. “I left feeling that perhaps he had learned my boundaries and was going to respect them.”
But a few months later, she says Weinstein invited her to another screening, and when they went to dinner afterwards at the Tribeca Grill, the producer allegedly gave her an ultimatum for sex. At first, Nyong’o, who was expecting it to be a group dinner, says she was met at the restaurant by a female assistant. But when Weinstein arrived, the woman “immediately disappeared.”
Before their food arrived, Nyong’o says Weinstein “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.”
When she declined, Nyong’o says Weinstein replied, “You have no idea what you are passing up.” She says she answered, “With all due respect, I would not be able to sleep at night if I did what you are asking, so I must pass.”
At this point, she says, “His whole demeanor changed.” Then she says Weinstein told her they were “two ships passing in the night,” before adding, “So we are done here. You can leave.”
Without eating, Nyong’o says Weinstein escorted her to a taxi. Before leaving, she asked if they were still “good,” to which she says he replied, “I don’t know about your career, but you’ll be fine.” Nyong’o writes “It felt like both a threat and a reassurance at the same time; of what, I couldn’t be sure.”
Nyong’o says they did not see each other again until Sept. 2013 when she was in Toronoto for the premiere of 12 Years a Slave, her first film. “He said he couldn’t believe how fast I had gotten to where I was, and that he had treated me so badly in the past,” she writes. “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.”
After winning her Oscar in 2014, she says she received an offer to play a small role in a Weinstein film. “I turned down the role, but Harvey would not take no for an answer,” she says. They later met in person at Cannes, according to Nyong’o, who says her agent was present at the time. Again, she turned down the role. “He said he was open to making it bigger, more significant, maybe they could add a love scene,” she writes. “He said if I did this one for him, he would do another one for me — basically guaranteeing backing a star-vehicle film for me.”
Finally, Nyong’o says she became so exasperated that she “just kept quiet.” She claims Weinstein eventually accepted her position, saying he hoped they could work together at some point. “’Thank you, I hope so,’ I lied,” she writes.
The actress writes she stayed silent about the encounters because, “I did not know that things could change. I did not know that anybody wanted things to change. So my survival plan was to avoid Harvey and men like him at all costs, and I did not know that I had allies in this.”
Now, she says, “I am most interested in now is combating the shame we go through that keeps us isolated and allows for harm to continue to be done. 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. 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.”
She adds, “Now that we are speaking, let us never shut up about this kind of thing. I speak up to make certain that this is not the kind of misconduct that deserves a second chance. I speak up to contribute to the end of the conspiracy of silence.”