Who Is Harvey Weinstein?
Harvey Weinstein is a former movie producer who established the Miramax Films Corporation with his brother, Bob, in 1979. Miramax went on to produce critical and commercial hits like Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare In Love, and the brothers found more success after launching The Weinstein Company in 2005. Weinstein's reputation was severely damaged after reports surfaced in October 2017 of his alleged sexual harassment of women, resulting in his expulsion from The Weinstein Company and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as well as a series of criminal and civil lawsuits.
Harvey Weinstein was born on March 19, 1952, in Queens, New York, the older son of Max and Miriam Weinstein. Harvey and his brother, Bob, developed their business sense from Max, a diamond cutter, along with a love of the movies shaped through Saturday afternoons together at the theater.
After graduating from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1973, Weinstein remained in the area to launch a concert promotion business. He purchased a theater in downtown Buffalo, where he began airing concert films.
In 1979, Harvey and Bob founded the Miramax Films Corporation, named after their parents. Initially designed to distribute small, art-house-type films, Miramax soon developed into a major player in the industry. Within a decade, the studio had released such critical successes as My Left Foot (1989) and Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989), with Harvey serving as the outspoken face of the company.
Even after the Walt Disney Company acquired Miramax in 1993, the Weinsteins oversaw a string of acclaimed releases. Pulp Fiction (1994) and Good Will Hunting (1997) struck box office gold, and The English Patient (1996), Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Chicago (2002) all took home the top Oscar prize of Best Picture.
The brothers departed Miramax in 2005 to found The Weinstein Company, a new venture that produced similar results. The King's Speech (2010) and The Artist (2011) both claimed Best Picture honors at the Academy Awards, while Silver Linings Playbook (2012), The Butler (2013) and Lion (2016) also found receptive audiences.
In late 2013, Harvey and Bob reunited with Miramax through a co-production and co-distribution deal.
As he rose to the top of the Hollywood food chain, Weinstein fashioned himself as a champion of progressive causes. He has been a top supporter of Democratic presidential candidates in recent election cycles, hosting fundraisers for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Additionally, he was among the backers of a Rutgers University faculty chair named for feminist icon Gloria Steinem.
Sexual Harassment Scandal
Weinstein suddenly found himself in an unfavorable spotlight in October 2017, following a report in The New York Times about his alleged history of sexual harassment. According to the Times, Weinstein had made unwelcome advances on numerous women, including actress Ashley Judd, quietly reaching settlements with at least eight of them. The story gained steam with a subsequent report in The New Yorker, which offered an account of Weinstein's predatory behavior from Italian actress Asia Argento.
Weinstein, who initially threatened to sue the Times, brought in a team of lawyers to combat the charges. Among them was Lisa Bloom, daughter of Gloria Allred, who rejected many of the claims as "patently false," but also referred to the studio head as "an old dinosaur learning new ways." Bloom resigned as Weinstein's adviser days after the scandal broke.
Weinstein said in his defense, “I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then. I have since learned it is not an excuse."
He added he would take a leave of absence from his studio, and a corresponding statement from The Weinstein Company stated that its troubled co-founder would seek professional help as the board launched an investigation into the matter. However, amid growing accusations of alleged sexual misconduct, the board on October 8 fired Weinstein from the company; although he technically remained a board member, he later resigned from that post.
As Weinstein reportedly headed off to an Arizona rehab facility for sex addiction treatment, the dominoes continued to fall in his professional and personal lives. Famed actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie also came forward to reveal their experiences with the former studio chief, and on October 10, his wife of 10 years, designer Georgina Chapman, announced she was leaving her husband.
On October 14, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences board of governors convened for an emergency session and voted to expel Weinstein from its ranks. Meanwhile, police in New York and London raised the possibility of criminal charges with the news that they were investigating some of the harassment claims.
On October 30, another Times article brought forth a new round of accusers, some of whom recalled Weinstein forcing himself on them during his days as a concert promoter in the 1970s. On November 7, the same publication reported that Weinstein had gone to great lengths to try to prevent both the Times and The New Yorker from publishing the articles that first revealed his damaging history of allegations. His efforts involved hiring a team of detectives, lawyers and undercover agents, at least one of whom attempted to ingratiate herself with one of Weinstein's most outspoken accusers, Rose McGowan.
On November 27, British actress Kadian Noble filed a civil suit in New York alleging that Weinstein forced her into sexual acts at his hotel room during the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Because another producer from the company allegedly told Noble to be "a good girl and do whatever [Weinstein] wished," the suit also accused The Weinstein Company of violating federal sex trafficking law "by benefiting from, and knowingly facilitating" its founder's habit of using foreign business travels as an opportunity to coerce women into sexual activity through the promise of film roles.
His legal problems continuing to mount, on December 6, a group of six women announced they were taking legal action against Harvey and Bob Weinstein, The Weinstein Company, Miramax and other individuals, alleging they were subjected to unwanted sexual conduct and lived in fear of being blacklisted. "One thing is clear: to create a permanent change in the culture, we need to send a message to the powerful and wealthy individuals, companies and industries that feted their Harvey Weinsteins, instead of protecting the victims," said a joint statement released by the group.
Weinstein's lawyers later sought to have a judge dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that the alleged assaults took place too long ago and failed to offer facts to support claims of racketeering. The attorneys cited earlier comments from Meryl Streep about how Weinstein was always respectful in their relationship, a line of defense Streep called "pathetic and exploitative."
The disgraced mogul attempted to keep a low profile in the following months but was back in the tabloid headlines in January 2018. According to TMZ, Weinstein was eating dinner with his sobriety coach at the Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona, when he was approached by a fellow diner seeking a photograph. After being turned down, the inebriated patron returned later and twice slapped Weinstein in the face.
On January 25, a former Weinstein assistant named Sandeep Rehal filed a federal lawsuit against the disgraced producer. Along with accusing Weinstein of sexual harassment, Rehal alleged that she was required to facilitate his sexual encounters, including providing erectile dysfunction drugs and cleaning up semen from his couch. The suit also named as defendants Bob Weinstein, The Weinstein Company and its former human resources director Frank Gil.
On February 11, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against Weinstein and The Weinstein Company, saying in a release that the company "repeatedly broke New York law by failing to protect its employees from pervasive sexual harassment, intimidation and discrimination."
The attorney general's office said it filed the lawsuit partly due to reports of the company's imminent sale, saying it believed such a transaction would complicate matters for the victims involved. News of the legal action reportedly torpedoed a deal, with a group led by businesswoman Maria Contreras-Sweet said to be close to taking control of the studio's assets, before backing off.
After The Weinstein Company announced it would file for bankruptcy, negotiations were rekindled and a new arrangement was reached with Contreras-Sweet's group at the beginning of March. However, the on-again, off-again deal soon fell through one more time, after the buying group discovered at least $50 million in undisclosed liabilities. The Weinstein Company subsequently went through with its bankruptcy filing later in the month, with Lantern Capital eventually emerging as the winning bidder for its assets.
On April 30, Weinstein's legal woes thickened again when he was named in a Los Angeles County Superior Court lawsuit filed by Judd. The suit claimed that the studio head had torpedoed her career after she refused to accept his sexual advances by spreading lies about her professionalism. Director Peter Jackson had previously offered his account of the situation, saying he decided against casting the actress in his blockbuster Lord of the Rings trilogy after Weinstein called her a "nightmare" to work with.
A spokesman for the producer disputed that claim, insisting that Weinstein "not only championed [Judd's] work but also repeatedly approved her casting for two of his movies over the next decade.”
A judge dismissed Judd's sexual harassment claims in January 2019, ruling that she had failed to adequately support her case under the existing civil code at the time her suit was filed. However, the judge added that the actress could move forward with her defamation case against the producer.
On May 25, 2018, Weinstein turned himself into the NYPD and was arrested and charged with rape, committing a criminal sex act, sexual abuse and sexual misconduct. Still under investigation in L.A. and London for alleged sex crimes, he paid $1 million in cash to post bail, surrendered his passport and was issued an ankle monitor.
Days later, a New York City Grand Jury indicted the producer on charges of rape in the first and third degrees and a first-degree criminal sexual act. His lawyer said Weinstein would plead not guilty and "vigorously defend against these unsupported allegations that he strongly denies."
On July 2, 2018, Weinstein was indicted with three additional felony sex charges arising from an 2006 incident involving a third woman. Weinstein was indicted on one count of criminal sexual act in the first degree, and two counts of predatory sexual assault. They carry the potential of 10 years to life in prison.
In August, a German actress filed a federal lawsuit in Los Angeles, alleging that Weinstein had raped her during the Cannes Film Festival in 2006. According to CNN, she was suing the producer for violation of human trafficking laws, assault, battery and false imprisonment.
Civil Settlement and New Charges
On May 23, 2019, Weinstein's lawyers announced that they had reached a tentative $44 million settlement to resolve civil lawsuits over his alleged sexual misconduct, although negotiations ultimately fell apart. In December, reports of a new $25 million settlement emerged, a sum that would be paid to the alleged victims by the insurance companies representing The Weinstein Company. Additionally, the terms of the agreement precluded Weinstein from having to admit to any wrongdoing.
On January 6, 2020, as Weinstein's trial on rape and sexual assault charges was set to begin in a New York City courthouse, the producer was charged with four new felony counts of sexual assault in Los Angeles County. L.A. District Attorney Jackie Lacey said she expected Weinstein to face the charges in California following the conclusion of his New York trial.
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