Predator or prey? Victimizer or victim? Rapist or philanderer?
These questions are at the heart of the closing arguments of the Harvey Weinstein trial and how the 12 member jury answers them will play a critical role in deciding whether or not the former movie mogul goes free or spends the rest of his life behind bars. What has emerged from two days of summations are starkly different portraits of Weinstein. They have also made it clear that not only is Weinstein on trial, but the #MeToo movement is being put to the test.
In fact, Donna Rotunno, the lead attorney for Weinstein, has gone so far as to label her client “the target of a cause and a movement.” It is, Rotunno argued this week and in a series of media appearances, a social justice push that has enabled women to evade responsibility for their actions, allowing them to retroactively decide that sexual encounters they regret have crossed the line into outright assault.
“In [prosecutors’] 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 room invitations, the plane tickets they accept, the jobs they ask for help to obtain,” Rotunno said.
Prosecutors have portrayed Weinstein as a serial rapist, one who used glitzy premieres and fancy dinners as a way to ensnare women. Later, they argue, he relied on the threat of career retribution as a way to frighten and intimidate them into staying silent. Over the course of the six-week long trial, prosecutors called six women to the stand to testify about alleged sexual assaults. However, the criminal charges that Weinstein faces stem from the allegations of just two of these women — Jessica Mann, an aspiring actress and hairdresser, who claims Weinstein raped her at the DoubleTree Hotel in 2013, and Miriam Haley, a former “Project Runway” production assistant, who alleges he forcibly performed oral sex on her at his Soho apartment in 2006. In her closing argument, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi called Weinstein “the master of his universe,” and described the six women who have accused him of rape and sexual assault as “ants that he could step on.”
“It is a complete dichotomy,” she continued. “Here is a defendant with everything, using and abusing people he knows have nothing.”
The defense hasn’t tried to make jurors like the indie film mogul, a lumbering, overweight man who, even when he was the toast of Hollywood, had a reputation for being emotionally abusive to movie stars and underlings alike. And they have acknowledged that Weinstein was a philanderer, who cheated on his wife with many different women.
“You don’t have to like Mr. Weinstein,” Rotunno said. “You have to remember we are not here to criminalize morality, and thank God.”
She went on to argue that Mann and Haley both hoped to use their connection to Weinstein to advance their careers, implying they hoped to exploit a sexual relationship to get ahead in a fiercely competitive industry. Rotunno zeroed in on Mann’s testimony – one that made headlines because of Mann’s descriptions of Weinstein as having poor hygiene and deformed genitalia.
“We know that Jessica is not telling Harvey, ‘I’m using you for your career,’ but we know that’s exactly what she was doing,” said Rotunno. “She was going to do anything that she had to do to get the career, and she was going to pretend to him that she was something else.”
“Whether she is attracted to him, whether she thinks he’s gross or smells or all the horrible things that she said during her testimony, she made a choice that she wanted to be in his world, she made a choice that she wanted the life that he could potentially provide her,” she added.
The defense has seized upon friendly email exchanges that both Mann and Haley had with Weinstein after their alleged assaults in an attempt to undermine their credibility. Prosecutors have taken a different view of these communications, arguing that it was part of a ploy by Weinstein to discredit any potential accusers.
“He made sure he had contact… to make sure that one day they wouldn’t call him for exactly what he was: an abusive rapist,” said Illuzzi.
Weinstein’s trial has captivated people in Hollywood and in New York, where he helped put the indie film scene on the map. That’s because so many of the social changes sweeping across the entertainment industry stem from bombshell claims in 2017 by dozens of women that Weinstein had used his status as the producer of Oscar-winning hits such as “Shakespeare in Love” and “The Artist” to abuse, harass, and rape women. Those allegations set off a tidal wave in the movie, television and media businesses, one that swept up power-brokers and entertainers such as CBS chief Leslie Moonves, Amazon Studios head Roy Price, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, director Brett Ratner, and many others who stood accused of sexual abuse.
On the first day of the trial, a group of Weinstein’s accusers that included Rosanna Arquette and Rose McGowan held a press conference right outside of the Manhattan courthouse. They came to demonstrate solidarity with the women whose allegations had formed the basis of the criminal complaints against Weinstein, while speaking hopefully that Weinstein’s fall would usher in a new era of accountability.
“Time’s up on sexual harassment in all workplaces,” Arquette said. “Time’s up on blaming survivors. Time’s up on empty apologies without consequences. And time’s up on the pervasive culture of silence that has enabled abusers like Weinstein.”
Weinstein will eventually pay for what he is alleged to have done, Arquette said, but she acknowledged that reckoning might not come in court.
“The truth will prevail,” she predicted. “And whether it is this trial or in the future, Harvey will be held accountable for his actions.”