Harvey Weinstein wants you to believe he wasn’t actually powerful

Weinstein, once among Hollywood's most important producers, has a bizarre defense: He wasn't important enough for his actions to matter.

CREDIT: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images/Art by Adam Peck
CREDIT: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images/Art by Adam Peck

Harvey Weinstein was powerful.

Yes, that’s past-tense. Was powerful. Now he is a sad pariah awaiting his rape trial. But not too long ago, he was among the most important producers in Hollywood — a status he seemed to relish, and a reputation about which he relentlessly bragged.

Now, for the first time in his public life, Weinstein would like everyone to see him as a weak man in need of nothing more than mercy, a creative soul whose life has been upended by forces far stronger than he. His perp-walk aesthetic is that of a helpless, befuddled librarian.

But Harvey Weinstein was powerful. In fact, his ability to manifest and wield power is really the crux of his entire career in Hollywood. He cannot act. He can’t direct. Lest there were any doubt about this before his incoherent non-apology statement was published by the New York Times last October, he has little-to-no writing talent, either. And though, of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder it seems fair to suggest that Harvey Weinstein is not, shall we say, classically handsome.

How does such a person make it in the movie business? You make yourself powerful.

This is where Weinstein really excelled. As a producer, he amassed might and influence on a mammoth scale. He controlled where money went and where it didn’t, who got “discovered” and who went ignored, who became a movie star and who kept waiting tables, who skipped (or tripped) up the steps to the Oscar podium and who stayed firmly in their seats, clapping politely and grimacing through fake smiles.

Weinstein was the architect of the awards campaign as we know it: the elaborate narrative-crafting and strategic-shmoozing and the over-the-top advertising — plus the threatening, and the bullying, and the terrorizing. All the ugliness behind the glamour, that was his specialty, and it is crucial to recall that he luxuriated in this and relied upon it, his power to make or break other human beings and their dreams.


Why is it critical to keep all this in mind? Because Weinstein has quite the convoluted legal defense. In addition to the boilerplate denial of all the allegations against him, Weinstein’s legal team is offering up the unlikeliest of stories: Harvey Weinstein wasn’t actually that big a deal.

As if anyone at Miramax could possibly have done anything at all, let alone anything as significant as blacklist an A-list actress, without the explicit direction or approval of Harvey himself.

The latest entry in this series: Wednesday, Weinstein’s team filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit from Ashley Judd. Judd sued Weinstein for “sabotaging” her career after, she says, he tricked her into coming to what she thought was a business meeting in his private hotel suite, where he tried to force her to massage him, pick out his clothes, and watch him shower.

Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson corroborated Judd’s suspicions, saying in an interview that he’d been considering both Judd and Mira Sorvino for roles in the Rings franchise. “I recall Miramax telling us they were a nightmare to work with and we should avoid them at all costs,” he remembered. “In hindsight, I realize that this was very likely the Miramax smear campaign in full swing.

As CNN reports, “Weinstein’s attorney argues that Jackson stated it was the studio ‘Miramax, not Weinstein’ that purportedly told him to ‘steer clear’ of Judd.”


Which is to say, Weinstein didn’t actually have control over Miramax. Miramax, the production company that he founded, along with his brother, and over which Harvey Weinstein reigned for decades. Even after Miramax was acquired by the Walt Disney Company in 1993, the Weinsteins maintained a degree of creative and financial autonomy that was all but unheard of in the house of Mickey Mouse.

As if anyone at Miramax could possibly have done anything at all, let alone anything as significant as blacklist an A-list actress, without the explicit direction or approval of Harvey himself.

The word on Miramax, from the people who worked there, is that defying Weinstein was not an option — that he created “an atmosphere of psychological abuse and bullying at his film studio, enabling his behavior at the firm to go unchallenged for decades.” Paul Webster, who was head of production at Miramax between 1995 and 1997, told the Guardian

“Miramax was absolutely a cult, the cult of Harvey, and that’s how he got away with his behavior for so long. It was crude but very effective. People became brainwashed, some people had nervous breakdowns. People would be hired and then destroyed for no apparent reason, and then their careers and lives would be in tatters.”

He added: “Everything Harvey did was all about manipulation and fear. He was a massive bully. He would flatter people, get the best out of them and then dump on them really, really hard to destroy them. It was this whole thing of breaking people down so you could build them up in your own image.”

Weinstein’s attorneys, who have consistently endeavored to undercut the idea that their client wielded enormous influence, made the same argument in July, also about Judd, claiming that even if he did say she was “a nightmare to work with,” well, that “was an opinion and is therefore not defamatory.” Judd’s lawsuit, meanwhile, argues that “even a few false statements from Mr. Weinstein could destroy potentially career-changing professional opportunities.”

Weinstein’s team played a similar card against Kadian Noble, who sued Weinstein last fall. Noble alleges that Weinstein molested her and forced her into a bathroom to watch him masturbate after she and Weinstein watched her demo reel in a hotel room in Cannes, France, back in 2014.

According to Weinstein’s lawyers, “nothing of value was exchanged” between Noble and Weinstein. That is, a meeting with Weinstein was not, in and of itself, valuable — even though much of Weinstein’s career and power was predicated on the fact that a meeting with him carried tremendous value. Even though he allegedly used his reputation as someone worth meeting to coerce women into being alone with him, where he could sexually harass or assault them.


The judge rejected Weinstein’s arguments in Noble’s case, writing that “for an aspiring actress, meeting a world-renowned film producer carries value, in and of itself.” Whether or not the meeting alone were sufficient, Noble’s “reasonable expectation” of receiving job opportunities from Weinstein in the future, “based on Harvey’s repeated representations that she would, is sufficient.”

As Judge Sweet wrote, “the contention… that Noble was given nothing of value — that the expectation of a film role, of a modeling meeting, of ‘his people’ being ‘in touch with her’ had no value — does not reflect modern reality.”

Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to six felony sex crimes, stemming from three women’s allegations: Two counts of rape, two counts of predatory sexual assault, one first-degree criminal sex act charge, and one criminal sex act.

Keep an eye out for this tactic — claiming retroactively that he wasn’t calling the shots, after spending decades building a reputation as the greatest shot-caller of them all — as the Weinstein case progresses.