We­in­stein’s Brit vic­tim: I blame the lawyers who keep Hol­ly­wood abuse se­cret

The Mail on Sunday - - Comment - by Nick Con­sta­ble

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 i nter­ven­tion will i ncrease the pres­sure on the multi-mil­lion­aire pro­ducer, who has ad­mit­ted be­hav­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ately and claims to be seek­ing pro­fes­sional help.

Last ni ght , 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 f a mous n a mes o we 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 Wilt­shire, 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

‘Turn­ing a blind eye en­ables this be­hav­iour’

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 £40 mil­lion, ac­cus­ing the pa­per of ‘reck­less re­port­ing’.

It is no sur­prise that there is a Bri­tish di­men­sion to the ca­reer­long 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, is an An­glophile who has tra­di­tion­ally re­garded Lon­don as a fer­tile hunt­ing ground for high­brow projects that add to his pro­fes­sional pres- tige. In­deed, he won an Os­car for pro­duc­ing Shake­speare In Love, which fea­tured a galaxy of Bri­tish stars, in­clud­ing Joseph Fi­ennes, Judi Dench, Colin Firth and Martin Clunes. His Mi­ra­max com­pany was launched on the suc­cess of the Bri­tish film The Se­cret Po­lice- men’s Other Ball and other hits have in­cluded The Cry­ing Game, Iris, Scan­dal, The English Pa­tient and Padding­ton. We­in­stein was even awarded an hon­orary OBE for ser­vices to the Bri­tish film in­dus­try in 2004.

Fa­ther-of-five We­in­stein also has a Bri­tish wife 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 $1.4 mil­lion 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 PR 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 Miss 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

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