We’ve all heard of the #MeToo movement of 2017, the culmination of years of pent-up, neglected, and silenced sexual abuse stories bubbling over. For women who were in the entertainment industry, or who had at one point aspired to become a part of it, this movement signified opportunity: the chance to link arms with other women who had suffered from the sexual abuse that plagued the industry and hold one monster in particular accountable. These cases of abuse most often weren’t committed by a plethora of perpetrators, nor were they isolated incidents. Most followed a similar pattern and originated with one man who could make or break anyone’s career with a snap of his fingers. As he undertakes even more civil cases while living out 23 years behind bars, I want to take a look at this mogul’s skyrocket to fame and his well-deserved, long-overdue downfall.
On March 19th, 1952, Harvey Weinstein was born in a lower-middle-class, two-bedroom apartment in the Electchester housing project, a group of small brick buildings in Flushing, Queens to parents Max and Miriam Weinstein. Harvey’s younger brother, Bob Weinstein, was born two years later. Growing up, the two boys developed a keen sense for business and a passion for movies from their father: a stern, reserved man who emphasized the importance of brotherhood and wasn’t afraid to spank them when things got too out of hand. Their mother was a shrill, controlling, and berating woman who always spoke her mind.
Max Weinstein worked as hard as he could to provide for his family. He opened two jewel shops that failed within a couple of years, putting his family in a constant state of economic uncertainty throughout Harvey’s childhood. Their Uncle Sallbarry Greenblatt (affectionately known as Uncle Shimmy) was another influential figure in Harvey’s early, impressionable years. Uncle Shimmy was a salesman who owned a store that sold refrigerators, washing machines, and electronics. But his most lucrative asset was his knack for ripping people off. Because Harvey didn’t particularly respect his father, Shimmy became Harvey’s principal role model. Harvey learned the importance of making a profit, perhaps placing more importance on that than remaining honest, an enduring lesson. Thinking of his Uncle, Harvey obtained a boy scout uniform and, with a friend, traveled door-to-door selling cookies, making a dollar off of every box as opposed to 39 cents, funneling the $800 profit straight into his own pocket.
Harvey Weinstein went to school at John Browne High School with 1,000 other students in his year. He wasn’t athletic, but what he lacked in that department he made up for in his academic pursuits: joining the school newspaper, participating in Student Council, and contributing to the radio club. Many of the people who knew him in his childhood mentioned repeatedly how Harvey was haunted by his appearance; pale, acne-ridden, and overweight, he tried to be involved in everything he could to compensate for what he had decided he was lacking. Harvey eventually matriculated to the State University of New York at Buffalo, dropping out in 1973 to start Harvey and Corky Present, a concert promotion company, with his friend Horace “Corky” Burger.
After gaining some success with the business, Harvey, along with his brother, launched the record-breaking, industry-transforming Miramax Films Corporation which was named after their parents. Within a decade, Miramax became the most dominant company in the industry, producing hits such as My Left Foot (1989) and Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989). With Harvey at the helm of the business, the Walt Disney Company eventually purchased Miramax for $60 million in 2003, allowing the brothers to continue managing the firm. They went on to garner even more fame, releasing Pulp Fiction (1994) and Good Will Hunting (1997), The English Patient (1996), Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Chicago (2002). But it wasn’t all fat stacks of cash and Oscar nominations for Weinstein. As whispers of sexual abuse eventually found its way into Disney offices, the brothers went their separate ways from Miramax in 2005, only to immediately found the comparable Weinstein Company, which delivered critically-acclaimed films The King’s Speech (2010) and The Artist (2011) both claimed Best Picture honors at the Academy Awards. Silver Linings Playbook (2012), The Butler (2013), and Lion (2016) were also very well-recognized and took the film industry by storm.
In October of 2017, Harvey’s efforts to silence his victims by paying them off or threatening them was blown open by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey from The New York Times. In the article, they gave a platform for the voices of numerous Harvey Weinstein survivors (some of whom remained anonymous). The stories are eerily similar: how he invited them to his hotel room to conduct business, how he appeared unexpectedly naked and asked them to give him a massage, assuring them that many successful women had done the same, implying that if they didn’t cooperate, they would never meet the same fate. Shortly after the news broke, Harvey issued an apology and took a break from the Weinstein Company to work with a therapist. Just three days after the initial article was released, Harvey was fired by the board of the company. A Pulitzer-prize winning article by Ronan Farrow was then published in The New Yorker on October 10th, detailing the experiences of thirteen more women who were willing to come forward with their identities. From then on, everything started to spiral away from Harvey’s control as dozens more women, including some very famous ones, started to come forward and support the testimonies of others. Virtually every day resulted in another accusation until the zenith of the outcries on May 31st, 2018, when the New York grand jury indicted Weinstein. The trial began on January 6th, 2020 and lasted until the 24th when Harvey was convicted of two counts of third-degree sexual assault concerning former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and the rape of ex-actress Jessica Mann in 2013. He was acquitted of two counts of predatory sexual assault. On March 11th, he was sentenced to 23 years in prison at the age of 67, most likely a life sentence.
As Harvey Weinstein continues to be accused to this day of varying degrees of sexual abuse (dating all the way back to 1984) while he serves his time behind bars, it’s as good of a time as any to pause and reflect on what Harvey’s sentencing means for women and, on a larger scale, for society. The #MeToo movement brought forth countless women and exhibited their bravery. Coming forward could have ruined their careers, and quite possibly, their lives. They imagined a world where women take back control over their own bodies and one where the importance of the word “no” might ring truer and louder than ever before. Doing so created a bond that must not be forgotten, starting a new culture that chooses to believe women as opposed to doubting them. Even if they weren’t raped at gunpoint in a dark alley (as stereotypically believed as the only way rape can look, known as “blitz rape”), even if some of them maintained relationships with Harvey after their alleged attacks, even if this was the first time they had mentioned the abuse that many still suffer from to this day, we are now inching closer to becoming the type of society that listens, takes action, and holds someone accountable.