Harvey Weinstein used his power and influence in Hollywood to rape women, leaving them terrified for their careers if they stood up to him, a court in Los Angeles heard Monday.
The movie mogul exploited both his physical size and his position as “king” of the film industry to attack his victims in hotel rooms, the prosecution said, as a two-month trial began to hear evidence.
“They feared that he could crush their careers if they reported what he had done,” Deputy District Attorney Paul Thompson told the packed courtroom.
Thompson said jurors would hear from eight women who were sexually assaulted by the “Pulp Fiction” producer, who is credited with making the careers of some of the movie industry’s biggest names, including Quentin Tarantino, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Gwyneth Paltrow.
“Each of these women came forward independent of each other, and none of them knew one another,” he said.
The jury will hear testimony from these women, he said, including how they begged the now-70-year-old to stop, but that he persisted in raping them, forcing them to perform oral sex on him, or making them watch him masturbate.
Weinstein, who produced “The English Patient” and “Good Will Hunting,” is already serving 23 years in jail in New York after being convicted there of a series of sex crimes.
He now faces 11 more charges, including sexual battery by restraint, forcible rape, and forcible oral copulation against women in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles hotels between 2004 and 2013.
If convicted, Weinstein—who has pleaded not guilty to all counts—could be sentenced to more than 100 additional years behind bars.
Thompson played jurors a series of quotes from the alleged victims, describing Weinstein as “the most powerful person in the industry,” and “the king.”
“Part of me was thinking should I just make a run for it, but he’s a big guy,” one of the women told investigators.
“He’s big. He’s broad. He’s overweight. He’s domineering,” one said.
“I still wanted to work in Hollywood so I was afraid to do anything because of that,” one woman said.
“I was scared that if I didn’t play nice something could happen in the room or out of the room because of his power in the industry,” another woman said.
In common with most victims of sexual assault, the women in the case are being referred to as “Jane Doe,” in order to preserve their anonymity, but one has been publicly identified as Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the wife of California governor Gavin Newsom.
Defending, Mark Werksman said the prosecution’s case was one of quantity, not quality, and driven by emotion, not reason.
He said sex in Hollywood was a commodity, and that this was all exploded by the advent of the #MeToo movement.
“It was transactional sex. It may have been unpleasant, and embarrassing… but it was consensual.
“It was the casting couch. Everyone did it. He did it. They did it. Because each wanted something from another,” Werksman said.
“Look at him. He’s not Brad Pitt or George Clooney. Do you think those beautiful women had sex with him because he’s hot? No. They did it because he was powerful.”
“An asteroid called the #MeToo movement hit earth with such ferocity that everything changed overnight. And Mr. Weinstein became the epicenter.
“The accusers in this case, women who willingly played the game by the rules that applied back then, they will come into this courtroom now… and claim they were raped and sexually assaulted,” Werksman said.
Widespread sexual abuse and harassment allegations against Weinstein exploded in October 2017, and his conviction in New York in 2020 was a landmark in the #MeToo movement.
In June, he lost a bid to have that sex crimes conviction overturned. He has been separately charged by British prosecutors with the 1996 indecent assault of a woman in London.
In total, nearly 90 women, including Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Salma Hayek, have accused Weinstein of harassment or assault.
Before the allegations emerged, he and his brother Bob were Hollywood’s ultimate power players.
Their hits included 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love,” for which Weinstein shared a best picture Oscar. Over the years, Weinstein’s films received more than 300 Oscar nominations and 81 statuettes.
“She Said,” a film about the 2017 newspaper investigation into Weinstein that sparked the demise of his movie empire, is set for wide release on November 18 in the United States.