Of the multitude of despicable, stomach-churning acts Harvey Weinstein has been accused of committing — coercion, bullying, harassment, assault, rape, insisting Shakespeare in Love win best picture — one of his more insidious reported crimes is the defamation and subsequent career-derailment of actresses who refused his sexual advances.
Weinstein was a man who famously delighted in his status as one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers, who was named in Oscar acceptance speeches with a frequency so high it was bested only by God. And yet, now that there are women saying Weinstein’s vengeful smear campaigns against them resulted directly in harm to their careers — that Weinstein deliberately halted the ascendance of women he wanted and could not have — Weinstein’s attorneys are claiming that Weinstein was not so powerful after all.
He is now trying to get one of his accusers’s lawsuits thrown out, saying that he did not sexually harass her because the incident in question does not meet the “severe and pervasive” threshold, and that even if he did call her “a nightmare,” well, that’s just his opinion, man, and it has no power whatsoever.
Ashley Judd claims Weinstein tricked her into attending what she thought was a business meeting in his private hotel suite, then tried to force her to massage him, pick out his clothes, and watch him shower. She says she made a “mock bargain” with Weinstein so she could escape from the room before he raped her, telling him she would only let him touch her after she won an Academy Award for one of his movies. (He allegedly countered, saying she owed him after a nomination; she didn’t budge.)
Last December, Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson gave an interview to New Zealand publication Stuff in which he said that he’d been considering both Judd and Mira Sorvino — who also accused Weinstein of sexual harassment — for roles in the franchise, but was warned away from hiring them by Weinstein’s company, Miramax (emphasis added):
“I recall Miramax telling us they were a nightmare to work with and we should avoid them at all costs. This was probably in 1998.
At the time, we had no reason to question what these guys were telling us – but in hindsight, I realize that this was very likely the Miramax smear campaign in full swing.
I now suspect we were fed false information about both of these talented women – and as a direct result their names were removed from our casting list.“
Judd and Sorvino both thanked Jackson for confirming suspicions they’d both long held about the turns their careers took after their encounters with Weinstein. Four months after Jackson’s interview came out, Judd sued Weinstein, accusing him of smearing her reputation as retaliation for rejecting him and, in doing so, “torpedo[ing her] incredible professional opportunity.”
“As my experience and the experience of others shows, even a few false statements from Mr. Weinstein could destroy potentially career-changing professional opportunities,” Judd said in a statement. “It’s time that Mr. Weinstein be held accountable for that conduct and for the ways in which he’s damaged careers.”
One month later, Weinstein was arrested and charged with rape. He denies all allegations of non-consensual sexual contact.
On Tuesday, Weinstein filed a motion to dismiss Judd’s lawsuit. As Variety reports, “Weinstein’s attorneys, Phyllis Kupferstein and Cynthia L. Zedalis, argue that even if Weinstein did say that Judd was a ‘nightmare,’ it was an opinion and is therefore not defamatory.” In footnotes, they refer to other stories about Judd allegedly being “difficult” on set.
“Plaintiff may dispute she was difficult to work with but, like beauty, the experience is in the eye of the beholder. Unlike statements that a particular actor could not remember his or her lines, would be late to set, or required many takes — all of which are susceptible to proof — describing Plaintiff as a ‘nightmare’ and cautioning others to ‘avoid’ her does not support a defamation claim.”
Weinstein’s attorneys also insist that Judd’s experience with Weinstein wasn’t “severe or pervasive” enough to constitute sexual harassment, because the “alleged unwanted sexual advances occurred on a single day.” And they also say that Weinstein’s efforts to keep up his end of the “bargain” by attempting to get Judd cast in Oscar-caliber roles are proof that he didn’t try to wreck her acting career.
On Wednesday, Theodore Boutrous, Judd’s attorney, called Weinstein’s assertions “baseless” and “offensive.”
In addition to the rape charges Weinstein faces in New York, criminal investigations into Weinstein are underway in London and Los Angeles.