Lupita Nyong'o on Harvey Weinstein: The Difference in a Black Woman's No
This week, actress Lupita Nyong’o added her name to the growing list of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault victims. While each of the startling accounts from over fifty women about the producer’s misdeeds has been relevant, Nyong’o’s inclusion and Weinstein’s response have shifted discussions from simply women to women of color, and what the different implications are.
In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, Nyong’o details the pattern of sexual harassment and advances she’s experienced from the famous producer since 2011. She describes one such experience in the following words:
“Harvey led me into a bedroom — his bedroom — and announced that he wanted to give me a massage. 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.
Part of our drama school curriculum at Yale included body work, using massage techniques on one another to understand the connection between body, mind and emotion, and so I felt I could rationalize giving him one and keep a semblance of professionalism in spite of the bizarre circumstance. He agreed to this and lay on the bed. I began to massage his back to buy myself time to figure out how to extricate myself from this undesirable situation. 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. “If we’re not going to watch the film, I really should head back to school,” I said.”
Throughout their many encounters, he continued to be authoritative and threatening, attempting to use his power in the Hollywood industry to coerce her either implicitly or explicitly, even going so far as to say that “if (you) want to be an actress, (you) have to be willing to do this sort of thing.” She continued to deny and evade him, but often tried to excuse his behavior out of fear for her then budding career. Many other actresses, the ranks of which include Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevingne, and Gwyneth Paltrow, have described similar experiences of feeling helpless if they wanted to be successful.
What is particularly unique about Lupita Nyong’o’s account, however, is Harvey Weinstein’s response to it. He has responded in a general sense to the allegations against him, and, very early on, gave a disagreement to a claim made by Ashley Judd. The only account that he has directly and specifically refuted is the only account given by a Black woman.
“Mr. Weinstein has a different recollection of the events, but believes Lupita is a brilliant actress and a major force for the industry. Last year, she sent a personal invitation to Mr. Weinstein to see her in her Broadway show Eclipsed,” a Weinstein representative told E! News in a statement.
Why is it that as soon as a black woman comes forward, he must address it? What makes her claim so different than the host of overwhelmingly white women that have accused him in the past few weeks? This speaks to the distinction between women and women of color. Weinstein has a past of preference for white women, and so does Hollywood.
Lack of representation for women of color, especially Black and Latina women can be attributed to this distortion of their sexuality and attractiveness, or their “fuckability” as Weinstein would say. It’s a vicious cycle, because the more Hollywood promotes this Euro-centric ideal and limitation on the appeal of non-European features, the more society adjusts to it. Then, when movie casters look at what the audience wants to see, they actually see the results of ideals which media has ingrained in people’s minds.
Furthermore, the notion that Weinstein must go out of his way to say he didn’t assault a Black woman, versus letting generalities cover everyone else, speaks to the idea of black women being a step down, or the act of being sexual with one as a dirtier, more degrading act than with a white woman. His flagrant disregard for her consent, and blatant astonishment at her later success is another demonstration of this hierarchy between white men and black women.
The Weinstein narrative that is playing out exposes the societal ideal that a woman’s no is not as powerful as a man’s no. Lupita Nyong’o’s story has shown that a black woman’s no holds even less power.