JANUARY 2020, NEW YORK CITY: By past accounts, it was Harvey Weinstein’s physical stature which emphasised the vast gulf in power between him and the women he assaulted. But as the former kingmaker arrives at a Manhattan courthouse on January 6 – one located on the aptly named Worth Street and nicknamed “Avenue Of The Strongest” – Weinstein, in the flesh and one foot away, doesn’t intimidate me.
Instead, he sheepishly peers out of the passenger door of his black Escalade before stepping his worn navy slippers onto the derelict pavements of FiDi. With heavy jowls, wispy hair and a greying complexion, the ex-mogul half smiles as he is passed a steel framed walker from his head attorney, an immaculately-dressed Donna Rotunno.
Once feted by the media at film festivals and premieres and once one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, reporters simply fell silent this morning – eerily so – as the Oscar-winning mogul hunched over the rattling walker. If there ever was a single something to mark Weinstein’s great fall from grace, it’s the neon glow of the tennis balls used to pad the walker’s legs.
For decades, the now 68-year-old’s wealth and power effectively rendered him untouchable and yet today, I am within arm’s reach of him. While it’s not particularly frightening, it’s chilling and stomach-churning to be so close to a person accused of unthinkable acts. Every morning of the trial – 40 days – I made it my ritual to go the gym, grab an almond latte with honey and – rain, snow or shine – walk the 11 blocks to visit Harvey. Each night – 40 nights – I’d research the day’s coverage and document a couple of lines about my morning on the street named Worth.
On this day, Weinstein thought he’d get away with it. We all did.
But my first experience with the former movie producer was a little different from Zoë Brock’s. The New-Zealand born model, actor and writer met Weinstein at a fancy dinner at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998. The beautiful then-23-year-old was seated next to Weinstein, a seemingly strange seat allocation given the power suits at that table.
“I felt kind of sorry for him,” Brock tells me. “I didn’t know who he was but based on his physicality, I had compassion for him. I assumed because I’d met so many up-and-coming producers trying to get their movies made that he was another one. I kind of felt like I wanted to entertain him and make him feel good.”
Brock and Weinstein got along very well that night in ‘98. They had a mutual friend in common which made the young model feel more at ease – and having been around predatory men in the industry since she was 16, she could definitely hold her own. It wasn’t until later during the meal that Brock asked which production company Weinstein worked for.
“Miramax,” he replied.
After dinner Brock, Weinstein, his entourage and some decorative models rolled out into the Cannes night. “My group was ushered into one car and I was somehow separated from them and told to get into another car with Harvey and his two friends,” recalls Brock. “Stupidly, I obliged. I was told we were all going to the same place.”
After they started driving, Brock was told there was a change of plans and everybody was headed to the famous Hotel Du Cap-Eden-Roc to party. Brock’s carload of people headed up to Weinstein’s room to open the champagne and wait for the others. But the gang never arrived.
After the other men exited the room to “make phone calls,” Brock was left with just Weinstein and says she immediately felt uncomfortable.
Weinstein left the room only to come back a couple of minutes later – naked, and asking for a massage. In her original account, Brock says she wondered how much she needed to placate the Hollywood power broker in order to protect herself and get out of there. It’s this part of her story that really landed with me. Was the primal urge to placate him because she felt physically powerless? Was it a fight or flight response?
“The walls were thick, there was no one there and I had been abandoned. It was very discombobulating,” recalls Brock. “You go into a panic and you don’t know if you’re going to be a fighter, a freezer, a fleer or – in women’s cases when it comes to sexual assault – a fawner, which is something that only women go through when a flood of oxytocin is released through their body and they lie down.”
Brock ran into the bathroom and locked the door. Weinstein raced after her.
DAY 6: WHO CAN REMAIN IMPARTIAL?
Weinstein is late. It’s two degrees Celsius and my leather boots and gloves are doing absolutely nothing for the icicles that have now replaced my limbs. “Where is he?” I mused. In that second, Gigi Hadid – head down and in a pinstripe boyfriend blazer and jeans – is ushered past me. The 24-year-old supermodel has been called as a potential juror, a process that requires her to answer questions about her background and if she is able to remain impartial, ignore media coverage and deliver a verdict based only on the evidence presented in court.
“I think I’m still able to keep an open mind on the facts,” Hadid tells Justice James Burke. But in the city of New York, when it comes to deciding the fate of the symbolic villain of the #MeToo movement, can anybody really remain impartial?
DAY 22: A QUESTION OF CREDIBILITY
Rotunno strides into court this morning. Weinstein faces felony charges relating to allegedly raping Jessica Mann inside a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and forcing a non-consensual sex act on Miriam Haley in 2006. The predatory sexual assault charge against Weinstein is especially significant as it carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. In New York, this charge is considered as serious as murder.
Mann today took the stand and was unwavering in testifying that Weinstein overpowered her in the hotel room. “I do want the jury to know that he is my rapist,” she says before Rotunno turns, accusing Mann of being a manipulative opportunist who had a long romantic relationship with Weinstein.
The thing about this case is both female accusers continued to have close contact with Weinstein after their respective attacks. In the past, this has been seen as too messy to secure a guilty verdict. But have the shifting sands of #MeToo, and this watershed trial, changed this?
The verdict is critical to informing how New York will sentence future predators.
DAY 26: A STARTLING CLAIM
The tennis balls on the bottom of Weinstein’s walker have begun to wear through, as has his legal team. Yesterday, Rotunno gave an unfavourable interview to the New York Times where she told reporter Megan Twohey that she would not put herself in a position to be sexually assaulted.
“Can I stop you there? You don’t even need to finish your question,” says Brock as I recite Rotunno’s quote.
“I guess Donna has never walked down the street, or left the house, or taken an Uber, or gotten on a plane, or gone to the store, or the bank, or sat on her uncle’s knee.”
“I guess Donna has never boarded a train early in the morning, or in the afternoon, or late at night. I guess she hasn’t gone to the supermarket, to a police station or to school. Because no matter where you are in the world, or what time of the day it is, women can be assaulted, raped, felt up, molested and harassed.”
“So, I guess Donna Rotunno lives in a padded room and she only comes out when it’s time to represent rapists,” Brock continues. “I would also like to say to Donna Rotunno that I hope to God that I get a chance to face her in court.”
DAY 29: CROCODILE TEARS
Three days later, Rotunno echoes this sentiment as she attempts to convince the jury – seven men and five women – of Weinstein’s innocence. “In the alternative universe that prosecutors have created for you, Harvey Weinstein is a monster,” Rotunno begins. “In their universe, women are not responsible for the parties they attend, the men they flirt with, the choices they make to further their own careers, the hotel invitations, the plane tickets they accept, the jobs they ask for help to obtain.”
Rotunno continues saying prosecutors are falsely pushing the theory that Weinstein “is so unattractive and large that no woman would want to sleep with him voluntarily.”
Brock remembers waiting in the bathroom that night in Cannes as Weinstein – on the other side of the door – begged her to come out. Eventually, she did and found Weinstein sitting on the bed, in a robe, crying. “You don’t like me because I’m fat,” he told her.
On both occasions – in life and in court – it would appear Weinstein’s weight and appearance has played a part in his defense. “Look, I’ve gone over this a bunch of times and a few people over the years have said to me, ‘Do you think that he was trying to make you feel sorry for him as a last ditch effort to get you into bed?’” Brock says. “But to me, it felt very real. Those were not crocodile tears.”
Giving Weinstein a piece of her mind, Brock was taken home. “Because he cried and because I got out of there, for all these years I haven’t known how dangerous he was. I didn’t know he was a rapist and I’m angry,” she says. “I’m angry that I didn’t know how bad it was, I’m angry that I didn’t go to the police. I’m angry that my agent didn’t take me to the police, I’m angry that they laughed at me.”
Brock wasn’t believed.
DAY 30: ALL THE KING’S MEN
“Do you think your meeting with Harvey was scripted? Was it set-up?” I ask Brock.
“I’ve gone back and thought, ‘Did Harvey go through the girls at my agency and decide who he wanted to come to Cannes? I don’t know,” muses Brock. “All I know is that I was sat next to him at that dinner and I’m sure that there were dozens of people who would have paid to sit next to Harvey Weinstein. And there I was. Why?”
As Weinstein exited the court today, I watched as he was smiling – laughing even – and likening Rotunno’s closing argument to the “Queen’s speech.”
On this day, Weinstein thought he’d get away with it. We all did.
DAY 33: THE PAINFUL WAIT
The jury is still out. I ask Brock how she’s doing.
“Oh my god. Do you know no one has ever asked me that? I’m struggling,” she begins, her voice shaking.
“I haven’t slept for two nights in a row because I’m triggered. I have a really bad case of PTSD which just generally makes life pretty difficult. I’m not talking to anyone I’m just trying to maintain as much composure as I can so that I can be a half-way decent mom to a toddler and I’m waiting.
“I’m waiting because this is important and on behalf on anyone of any gender or any age who was ever been assaulted – who is right now waiting to see what the verdict is – and is thinking ‘Is it worth coming forward?’ ‘Is there any point?’ This verdict means everything.
“But you don’t think he’ll get off, do you?” Brock asks.
“I don’t,” I respond.
“But life is fleeting and you are powerful,” I start again. “No matter which way this falls, it goes down in history as an example of women not tolerating this behaviour anymore.”
“I’m really scared of how I’m going to feel if he gets off,” she says.
“Zoë, he hasn’t got away with it,” I respond. “He has lost his family, he’s lost his reputation, he is spat on in restaurants, he is done in Hollywood. To see him in person, that once powerful figure, bent over a walker with tennis balls on the bottom… I’m not going to say you’ve won because you haven’t; you’ve lived with this since you were 23 years old. But I will say you’ve altered the narrative around how we see sexual abusers. Whichever way it goes, your decision to share your story was not in vain. You have done a really important thing and you should be incredibly proud of yourself and your baby should be so proud of you.”
“Thank you,” Brock replies.
Brock is crying. I’m pretending I’m not.
On this day, Weinstein thought he’d get away with it. We all did.
I didn’t expect this morning’s Harvey-drive-by to be my last. At 11:30am on February 25, I received a text message from our editor Isabelle Truman in London informing me Weinstein had been found guilty of criminal sexual assault in the first degree and rape in the third degree. He was acquitted of three other charges including predatory sexual assault.
Weinstein was cuffed and sent to jail to await his sentencing which will see him go away for anywhere between five and 29 years. It’s unbelievable.
Bolting back down to the courthouse, I stop amid the press chaos to text Brock. “HARVEY WEINSTEIN FOUND GUILTY.”
“F*** YEAH” she replies.
Back in Cannes, Weinstein had sent Brock flowers the following day apologising for his behaviour. Miramax had organised a private screening of a film that night and as Brock sat in her seat, she felt the presence of a man sit behind her. She knew who it was.
“If I had turned around and said ‘Hi Harvey! Thanks for the flowers’ I’m sure my life might have been very different,” Brock says. “He might have gotten me an agent, he might have brought me handbags and shoes and an apartment. But as it was, I was frozen. I was more terrified than I was the night before.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
The Avenue of The Strongest took on new meaning today. On the very first day of the trial, I watched Rose McGowan – cloaked in revolutionary red – give a press conference across the road from the courthouse. “This trial is critical to show that predators everywhere will be held accountable and that speaking up can bring about real change,” she said.
She’s right. The case’s guilty verdict will have a huge impact on the way future sex crimes are prosecuted. “No matter how powerful a person is, no matter how much mud or dirt may be flung at those who have the courage to come forward, we are in a new time. The #MeToo era has thankfully started to unmask these systems of abuse of power, and now women can be heard and believed,” Michelle Simpson Tuegel, an attorney representing victims of sexual assault, told The Guardian.
Brock hopes this case emboldens more women to come forward. It also shows that a jury can understand that you can be in a consensual relationship with someone – and still be raped. And that the state of New York will not tolerate it.
“The industry has already changed drastically since the House Of Cards [and Kevin Spacey] came crumbling down,” another victim of Weinstein’s, actress Marisa Coughlan, tells me over email. “The fact that so many powerful men were finally outed for the cycle of abuse they were perpetuating has made it a safer place for women in film/journalism and hopefully in the workplace in general. It’s certainly still a huge issue, but this trial’s guilty verdict has seen our culture finally call time on turning a blind eye. It’s a huge step in the right direction.”
On the day of print, Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison. He didn’t get away with it. And justice finally prevailed.
40 Days and 40 Nights is a Miramax film.