Weinstein and lawyers who kept abuse secret
As pressure mounts on A-list stars to denounce ‘sex pest’ producer
‘Turning a blind eye enables this behaviour’
EVEN by the standards of Hollywood, it has been a spectacular fall from grace. After nearly three decades of artistic and commercial triumph, the reputation of film producer Harvey Weinstein lies in ruins – mired in sleazy claims that at least eight women have been paid hush money to silence their accounts of his sexual harassment.
And today another of Weinstein’s alleged victims, British producer Zelda Perkins – a former Weinstein employee who bravely confronted the mogul about his treatment of women – breaks a 20-year silence, alleging that Hollywood and the world of showbusiness perpetuate sexual abuse by allowing rich and powerful men to pay off their accusers.
‘This is a system which silences victims of all types of misconduct, protects the powerful and perpetuates abuse,’ she told The Mail on Sunday. ‘That cannot be right.’
Perkins is seen as a potentially key witness and her intervention will increase the pressure on the multi-millionaire producer, who has admitted behaving inappropriately and claims to be seeking professional help.
Last night, Weinstein was dumped by his legal adviser, highprofile feminist lawyer Lisa Bloom, who had been under mounting criticism for siding with the beleaguered studio chief. And three of the nineman board of The Weinstein Company resigned.
There are growing calls, too, for the many leading figures who have supported Weinstein in the past – including Hillary Clinton – to condemn his behaviour publicly.
Some of Hollywood’s most famous names owe their success, or part of it at least, to the patronage of Weinstein, including Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare In Love) Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting), Jessica Alba (Sin City), and Sienna Miller (Factory Girl).
Often seen as the most powerful man in the film industry, his world came crashing down last week, when The New York Times revealed that eight women have been paid hush money to silence claims that he sexually harassed them.
Two actresses, Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan have given excruciating testimony about how Weinstein pestered them for massages and sexual favours.
Zelda Perkins, now 44, was named in the investigation. She had been a young production assistant at Weinstein’s Miramax film company when she confronted the studio boss in the autumn of 1998.
It is understood that a Miramax lawyer was immediately dispatched to London to negotiate a settlement with a strict confidentiality clause – and since then she has kept her counsel.
Approached by this newspaper at her home in the UK, however, she agreed finally to talk, attacking the culture of secrecy surrounding highlevel sex abuse scandals.
‘Having read the New York Times article, I can only say that my interest is not in Harvey Weinstein. Nor the story of rich and powerful men abusing their positions,’ she said. ‘This is a well-documented reality.
‘It seems to me that we should be looking at the system itself – the lawyers and law firms that profit from drawing up non-disclosure agreements and the top-level executives who turn a blind eye, thus enabling this behaviour.’
According to the New York Times investigation, Perkins and several female colleagues were regularly subjected to inappropriate requests or comments in hotel rooms.
Weinstein’s typical modus operandi, the newspaper said, was to summon young staff members to hotel rooms before making inappropriate suggestions and promises of career advancement.
Former colleagues revealed that Perkins was particularly concerned
about the treatment of a woman colleague and told Weinstein that if he did not stop, she would start legal action or, even worse, go public.
Responding to the cluster of allegations, Weinstein issued a bizarre statement of mea culpa, saying he was seeking help for his demons.
But he has also denied some of the allegations and later announced he was suing the New York Times for $50m, accusing the paper of ‘reckless reporting’.
It is no surprise that there is an international dimension to the career-long sex scandal around Weinstein, who has taken indefinite leave from The Weinstein Company – the production house he founded with his brother Bob after leaving Miramax – pending an investigation into the allegations. Weinstein, now 65, has traditionally turned to cultures on both sides of the Atlantic for highbrow projects that would add to his professional prestige. He won an Oscar for producing Shakespeare In Love, which featured Joseph Fiennes, Judi Dench and Colin Firth. And other hits have included The Crying Game, Iris, Scandal, The English Patient and Paddington.
Father-of-five Weinstein is married to Englishwoman Georgina Chapman, founder of the Marchesa fashion label, whom he says is standing by him.
His status as a high-profile champion of liberal causes – he is a major donor to Democratic politicians including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – is under notable threat as more women come forward to allege lewd and inappropriate behaviour.
For the Democrats, the link to Weinstein is particularly embarrassing. Mr. Weinstein has given more than $1.4m to candidates, parties and political action committees since 1990.
Among his biggest beneficiaries is Barack Obama, whose daughter was an intern with Mr Weinstein’s company this year.
At a schoolchildren’s career workshop at the White House, Michelle Obama called him ‘a wonderful human being, a good friend and just a powerhouse’.
Weinstein is a long-time friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, to whose 2016 presidential campaign he was a major contributor, even holding a fundraiser in his home. Already some Democratic politicians have pledged either to give the money back or donate it to women’s charities in an attempt to stave off what is already being seen as a public relations disaster, highlighting the breathtaking hypocrisy of what Donald Trump has reviled as the liberal elite.
The unveiling of Weinstein’s alleged sexual misdemeanours will also come as a huge embarrassment to the film world, where rumours about the allegation are said to have circulated for years.
Most studios and leading film industry figures have remained strictly silent about Weinstein – and indeed the ‘casting couch’ culture that has bedevilled Tinseltown for decades.
But actress Rose McGowan, who appeared in the Weinstein Company’s Scream films and reportedly settled a lawsuit with Weinstein several years ago, fired off a series of tweets about female empowerment. One read: ‘Women fight on. And to the men out there, stand up. We need you as allies. #bebrave.’
Weinstein paid Ms McGowan a $100,000 settlement in 1997 after an episode in a hotel room during the Sundance Film Festival.
The payment was ‘not to be construed as an admission’ by Mr Weinstein, but intended to ‘avoid litigation and buy peace’, according to the settlement document.
The most high-profile star to accuse Weinstein of sexual harassment is actress Ashley Judd who told The New York Times that Weinstein made approaches to her during the filming of the 1997 thriller Kiss The Girls.
She said he had invited her to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel for what she expected to be a business breakfast meeting.
Instead, he had her sent up to his room, where he appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower.
‘I said no, a lot of ways, a lot of times, and he always came back at me with some new ask,’ Ms Judd said. ‘It was all this bargaining, this coercive bargaining.’
As recently as March 2015, Weinstein invited Ambra Battilana, an Italian model and aspiring actress, to his New York office to discuss her career.
Within hours, she called the police, complaining Weinstein had grabbed her breasts after asking if they were real and put his hands up her skirt, the police report says.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office later declined to bring charges and the incident was closed after a confidential payment was made to the alleged victim.
The scandal now raises huge questions about whether more of the stars Weinstein has worked with and helped make famous will come forward with allegations.
Probably the biggest star to have collaborated with Weinstein is Gwyneth Paltrow, who – like him – won an Oscar for Shakespeare In Love.
But in a 1990s New York magazine profile of Weinstein, she claimed he called in some uncomfortable favours, including asking her to pose in an S&M outfit for Talk magazine.
‘There were certain favours that he asked me to do that I felt were not exploitive but not necessarily as great for me as they were for him,’ Paltrow told the magazine. ‘I brought this to his attention and he said: “I will never do that again.” And he’s been true to his word.’
Whatever settlement is reached by the lawyers, the damage to Weinstein’s reputation, in an industry in which appearance is everything, seems incalculable.
‘A huge embarrassment to the film world’ He asked if she would watch him shower
ACCUSED: Harvey Weinstein with actress Jennifer Lawrence
SPEAKING OUT: Zelda Perkins