Movie producer Harvey Weinstein is on trial again

The conviction of the former Hollywood star was seen as a success for the #Metoo movement. But suddenly things could have turned out completely differently.

Film producer Harvey Weinstein arrives at a courthouse in Manhattan in 2020. He is currently on trial in Los Angeles.

John Minchillo / AP

Harvey Weinstein, who for years determined who played what role in Hollywood, has lost his power. He finds himself once again in a role he never wanted: that of the accused.

The trial against the now 70-year-old movie mogul is underway in Los Angeles. Five women have accused him of sexual assaults that allegedly took place between 2004 and 2013, mostly at hotels in Beverly Hills.

The trial is almost continuing: in 2020, a court in New York sentenced him to 23 years in prison for serious sexual assault and rape.

Eleven counts, many witnesses

In a place where he was once celebrated as a producer, Weinstein now seems like a broken old man. He is charged with eleven counts. As if to make up for years of industry silence, the details of the alleged attacks have now been discussed for weeks. According to media reports, around 80 people are scheduled to testify in Los Angeles, including celebrities such as action star Mel Gibson and Jennifer Siebel Newsom, a former actress, filmmaker and wife of the California governor.

Weinstein masturbated in front of the women, molested them and forced them to perform oral sex, Paul Thompson said at the start of the trial. The plaintiff relies on the victims’ testimony, which mostly paint the same picture: Weinstein met with them in a hotel room, allegedly over offers of roles. Instead, he forced her to perform sexual acts.

Harvey Weinstein's lawyers Alan Jackson (left), Mark Werksman (center) and Jacqueline Sparagna arrive in court in Los Angeles on October 24, 2022.

Harvey Weinstein’s lawyers Alan Jackson (left), Mark Werksman (center) and Jacqueline Sparagna arrive in court in Los Angeles on October 24, 2022.

Marcio José Sanchez/AP

The sex was consensual, Weinstein’s lawyer Mark Werksman countered in his opening statement in late October. Women would hope for a career jump in Hollywood. “Look at him,” the lawyer said, looking at Weinstein. “He’s not Brad Pitt or George Clooney. Who thinks these beautiful women are having sex with him because he is so attractive? No, they did it because he was powerful.”

The statements illustrate the impact of the #Metoo movement. In the meantime, it would be hard for anyone to get rid of an industry in which “casting couch” and “exchange sex” are part of normal daily work. Weinstein’s lawyers are trying to take advantage of exactly that. In her portrayal, Harvey Weinstein has only been seen as monstrous since #Metoo raised social awareness of the lines between sexism and assault. Or to put it another way: you measure your old deeds with new standards. Since there is usually no evidence of sex crimes and, more importantly, the credibility of the victims, his defenders try to question the integrity of the witnesses.

Could Weinstein have been fired?

In New York, a well-known film producer did not go through with this argument. His conviction two years ago was symbolic: Even the influential and supposedly untouchable must pay for their transgressions, so many interpreted the sign. The United Nations has even spoken of a “turning point” in dealing with victims of sexual violence.

If convicted again in Los Angeles, Weinstein faces life in prison. But it can also turn out completely differently.

The New York Supreme Court allowed him to appeal the first verdict at the end of August. This gives Weinstein a second chance to convince a New York jury of his innocence. A local appeals court is expected to hear the case in 2023.

The decision came as a surprise to many. “It is disturbing and shocking that Harvey Weinstein has been allowed to continue his challenge in New York, and that is why we – survivors and supporters – are watching the trial in Los Angeles with great attention,” Caitlin Dulany told the New York Times. The actress accuses Weinstein of sexually harassing and assaulting her in the mid-1990s.

Because with the New York Court of Appeals’ permission to challenge the conviction, the California case suddenly takes on much more significance. It may no longer be just an extra loop in which Weinstein gets a few more years in prison, but decisive for his future. If Weinstein is indeed released on the East Coast, the nine men and three women on the West Coast jury will decide whether he remains incarcerated or is released from prison anyway.

#Metoo activists fear the acquittal could send a signal: If Weinstein, who has been accused by 90 women of sexual misconduct, will not be held accountable for his actions, who will?

From the courtroom to the cinema

It is unclear when the ruling will be handed down in California. The process is expected to take six to eight weeks and could stretch into December, according to observers.

The meeting thus coincides with the release of the film “She Said” in cinemas. German director Maria Schrader brings to the screen the research of two “New York Times” reporters who started the Weinstein scandal in 2017. The strip about the decline of a once-powerful film producer is already being marketed as another Oscar winner.

A judge in Los Angeles denied a defense request to delay the trial until after the theatrical release. But during the ongoing trial, she warned that the jury should not watch the trailer. Weinstein’s lawyers fear the film adaptation could sway the jury.

Because in a movie, the outcome of the story is certain. Not in real life. Both worlds revolve around the question: Who does the audience believe?

After being released in theaters in mid-November in the US, the film “She Said” should also come to German cinemas in December.

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