Lupita Nyong’o’s Weinstein Situation Reveals What Black Women Face Silently In Hollywood

It has been nearly two months since The New York Times published an article detailing sexual harassment and assault allegations against former film producer and executive Harvey Weinstein. Days after the New York Times story broke out, The New Yorker published an expansive account listing multiple allegations and accusations from women working as assistants for the Weinstein Company to famous Italian actresses who had won the Italian equivalent of the Oscars.

 

It is important to remember that rumors about Harvey Weinstein’s behavior have been circulating around Hollywood for a couple of years. Courtney Love warned women back in 2015 that “if Harvey Weinstein invites you to a private party in the Four Seasons, don’t go.” Since Oct. 5, many women, from Rose McGowan to Angelina Jolie, have come out and spoken about the ways in which Weinstein has come on to them inappropriately.

 

What can be seen ultimately is that Weinstein’s behavior is one that crosses all type of boundaries. His behavior is still deeply linked to the ways in which black actors, specifically black female actors, have been treated in Hollywood. It is no secret that black women – or any woman of color – who aspire to break into Hollywood have to work twice or even three times as hard as their Caucasian counterparts to receive half the recognition. The question of race in Hollywood or in society in general is already a conversation most people do not want to engage in but Lupita Nyong’o’s op-ed piece in The New York Times on Oct. 19 and Weinstein’s response to it requires a sense of acknowledgment of this problem.

 

 

In her op-ed, Nyong’o recounts the numerous times she felt harassed by Weinstein and the countless times he made her feel insecure about her career prospects due to her unwillingness to give in to his perverted desires.

 

Nyong'o recounts how she had “shelved her experience with Harvey far in the recesses of [her] mind.” When the stories of the women came out in the news, she felt like she had to tell her story, not because it was a “unique incident with [her], but rather [because it is part] of a sinister pattern of behavior.” Nyong’o goes into detail about a time when Weinstein invited her to his home in Connecticut for a screening of a film, and ended up inviting her up to his bedroom for a massage. She declined, as kindly as she could, and suggested she would give him a massage instead so that she would know “exactly where his hands were at all times.”

 

Although Nyong’o does not consider this an “overtly sexual experience,” the Oscar winner said that it was highly inappropriate and uncalled for. She also deepens her issue with Weinstein, recounting another time when she had drinks with him the NYC Tribeca neighborhood and Weinstein straightforwardly invited her up to his hotel room “where we can have the rest of our meal.” Nyong’o declined his advances but Weinstein warned her that sometimes to become an actress, she has to do “that sort of thing” – whatever he meant by that. Nyongo stood steadfast in her declining of his suggestion and Weinstein let her leave.

 

 

Nyong’o questions the gender dynamic in Hollywood, noting that “[she] wishes she had known that there were women in the business [she] could have talked to” and that this issue of being taken advantage of demeans women and figuratively silences them.

 

The question of power, as Nyong’o indicates, has importance, considering the fact that Weinstein’s legal team jumped at the chance to put out a statement saying that Weinstein had recalled his encounters with the Mexican-born Kenyan actress differently. What is particularly interesting about this is that even though Weinstein was accused by dozens of other women, he chose to particularly dispute Nyong’o’s claims.

 

Many have come out on Twitter accusing the former producer of simultaneously being racist and playing a victim-blaming game. This type of claim cannot be refuted immediately, given filmmaker Michael Caton-Jones’s claims on Buzzfeed News. In an interview, Caton-Jones said that Weinstein once recast African-British actress Sophie Okonedo because she didn’t arouse him the way Italian actress Asia Argento – who eventually got the role – did. (Ironically, Asia Argento is one of the women who have accused Weinstein of sexual assault.)

 

 

Since the beginning of Hollywood, black women have never been put on the same pedestal as their Caucasian counterparts, always gaining stereotypical roles such as the jezebel, the mammy, the maid, or the angry black woman. These characters are never the lead roles nor in charge of their own sexuality.

 

Only very few black women get to break away from these stereotypes and end up in leading roles, but again, because of Hollywood’s history of being predominantly white, a woman of color’s opportunities within the industry are sadly and unfortunately sometimes based on whether or not they are “desireable trophies,” states Bim Adewunmi in her Buzzfeed op-ed.

 

Lupita Nyong’o is one of the few women of color who have accused Weinstein of sexual harassment, with the majority of his accusers being Caucasian. Coming out and telling your story is incredibly brave, but we need to remember that Caucasian women have greater support systems than women of color. From Jamilah Hill of ESPN to Leslie Jones, when these women were getting attacked on Twitter by white men, very few white women came to their defense. This pattern should not come as a surprise but act as a wakeup call. A supportive system is key during allegations of sexual assault and harassment.

 

Sexual harassment and assault are always about exuding and obtaining power. Weinstein and other men like him, unfortunately, already have – or in Weinstein’s case had – the power of determining the fate of the actresses in Hollywood. This creates a Catch-22 situation for both African-American and Caucasian women, Adewumni notes. “Black women will constantly be excluded from getting leading roles if they do not fit the Eurocentric standard of attractiveness and white women who do fit that standard will continue to be in undesirable situations with men like Harvey Weinstein,” said Adewummi.

 

It seems that there is no win here for either side. However, what needs to happen is for both sides to realize that they suffer from the same misogynistic power rampant in Hollywood. It is time that some women, particularly those at a disadvantage due to their race in Hollywood, be given the space to know that it is alright to speak up, without having to worry about the fate of one’s career. And it is time for all women to back them up.

 

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