What was the Harvey Weinstein scandal? How did it break and who was involved?
The Harvey Weinstein scandal was brought to light by Ronan Farrow, a former investigative reporter at NBC News. Farrow spoke to several of Harvey Weinstein’s victims, some of whom agreed to come forward and share their stories.
Read more about the Harvey Weinstein scandal and his victims’ accounts of what happened behind the closed doors of his hotel suite.
The Harvey Weinstein Scandal Run-Through
The Harvey Weinstein scandal broke when The New Yorker and The New York Times published an expose on Harvey Weinstein, detailing decades of sexual assault allegations against the Hollywood mogul.
After the stories came out, many more women have come forward with their own accounts of sexual abuse. The stories had the same elements in common—promises from Weinstein to advance their careers and make them into stars; a “meeting” scheduled; the time and location of the “meeting” being changed at the last minute from a day meeting in a hotel lobby to a night meeting in a hotel suite; and the violent assault that would follow when he lured his victims into his private room. The common threads running through each of these stories lent credibility to all of them. It was clearly a pattern of practiced, rehearsed predation.
Weinstein was brazen in his conduct, with his predation an open secret. Many employees were complicit in Weinstein’s crimes, helping him procure victims and arranging his liaisons with them, knowing full well what their boss’ intentions were. The abuse was systematic and routine—trusted assistants were even made to keep track of all the women Weinstein had assaulted.
During the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, McGowan had a meeting with Weinstein that had initially been scheduled at a restaurant. In what Farrow would later learn was his modus operandi for committing sexual assault, the location of the meeting was abruptly changed from the restaurant to Weinstein’s hotel suite. It was at this meeting (which McGowan quickly realized was not a professional meeting at all) that Weinstein raped her.
Disturbingly, when McGowan shared her story with a criminal attorney, she was told that she was not a credible accuser because she had done sex scenes in her film work. McGowan was advised not to press charges. This attorney instead brokered a deal with Weinstein whereby the actress was paid $100,000 in exchange for signing an NDA which forbade her to talk about her ordeal and which prohibited her from ever suing him. If she were to speak about her experience and violate this NDA, McGowan would open herself up to a financially ruinous breach of contract lawsuit from Weinstein.
(Shortform note: In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and other #MeToo scandals in which abusers used NDAs to silence their victims, several jurisdictions are seeking to curtail the practice. As of 2019, in New York, NDAs are only legal if they come at the request of the victim; in September 2018, California governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that prohibits nondisclosure provisions in cases involving sexual assault.)
New Revelations About the Harvey Weinstein Scandal
In September, Farrow made contact with actress Mira Sorvino. Like McGowan, she had been a rising film star in the 1990s, only to see her career suddenly and curiously derailed. Her history with Weinstein explained why.
In 1995, while she was in Toronto promoting a film distributed by Weinstein, Sorvino found herself alone in a hotel room with Weinstein. He made a move on her, massaging her shoulders and chasing her around the room trying to kiss her. On another occasion a few weeks later, he suddenly showed up at her New York apartment in the middle of the night. He only backed off when Sorvino told him that her boyfriend was on his way. She knew that her career had paid a hefty price for rejecting him—her part in the smash hit Lord of the Rings trilogy was later snatched away after Miramax placed a call to the director, telling him that Sorvino was difficult to work with.
Shortly after contacting Sorvino, Farrow got in touch with the actress Rosanna Arquette. She told him that in the early 1990s, Weinstein had summoned her up to his suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel. When she arrived, he was wearing nothing but a bathrobe and insisted that she give him a massage. When she refused, he violently grabbed her hand and placed it toward his exposed and erect penis. Terrified, she ran out of the room and told Weinstein, “I’ll never be that girl.” It fit the pattern of the other Weinstein assaults: an ostensible business meeting, a sudden change of venue to an upstairs hotel suite, request for a massage, and sexual assault.
Farrow then spoke to Italian actress Asia Argento. She shared that, in 1997, the head of Miramax Italy had brokered what she thought was going to be a professional meeting with Weinstein. She didn’t know that “head of Miramax Italy” really meant “pimp” in Weinstein’s world. The meeting was no meeting at all, but instead, a liaison with Weinstein at his hotel room.
When Argento got to the room, Weinstein demanded a massage from her, to which she reluctantly agreed. He then pulled her skirt up and forcibly performed oral sex on her while she told him to stop, with the assault only ending when she feigned orgasm. But the sexual abuse continued for years thereafter, as Weinstein exploited the power dynamic between himself (a powerful Hollywood producer) and Argento (an actress who relied on kingpins like Weinstein for acting jobs). She also agreed to go on the record with Farrow.
One final source who came to Farrow was a marketing consultant named Lucia Evans, who had met Weinstein in 2004 at a Manhattan club. He lured her to his offices with promises of casting her on Project Runway, a show he helped produce. At the office, he sexually assaulted her, taking his penis out, pushing her head down, and forcing her to perform oral sex on him. Evans noted to Farrow that the whole ordeal had a routine and streamlined quality to it, as though he’d done it countless times before.
One former employee who’d documented Weinstein’s pattern of verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse put it succinctly, declaring, “I am a 28-year-old woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64-year-old world-famous man and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.”
The Harvey Weinstein scandal was by far one of the biggest scandals to ever rock the media and the entertainment world. However, it was not so easy to bring it to light. Farrow overcame surveillance, intimidation, blackmail, and even the resistance of his employers at NBC to break the Harvey Weinstein scandal into press. You can read about the events that have led up to the exposé in his book Catch and Kill or our condensed summary.
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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Ronan Farrow's "Catch and Kill" at Shortform.
Here's what you'll find in our full Catch and Kill summary:
- How Ronan Farrow uncovered rampant sexual abuse and assault by Harvey Weinstein
- How NBC tried to intimidate Farrow into killing the Weinstein story
- How the media and legal systems let Weinstein's abuse continue for decades