Weinstein used Hollywood power to assault women, court hears

Prosecution says he exploited physical size and position as 'king' of film industry to attack victims in hotel rooms

Opening statements were made on Monday in the disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein's Los Angeles assault trial.  Invision / AP
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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 on Monday.

Weinstein, now 70, used 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.

Mr 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, including how they begged Weinstein to stop, but that he persisted in forcing them to perform sex acts.

Showing a picture of him and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Mr Thompson said the Hollywood producer wielded "power with presidential contenders".

He played jurors quotes from the alleged victims who described 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," another 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," yet another said.

In common with most victims of sexual assault, the women in the case are being referred to as "Jane Doe", to preserve their anonymity.

But one has been publicly identified as Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the wife of Californian governor Gavin Newsom.

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 sex crimes.

He now faces 11 more charges from crimes 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 more years behind bars.

Widespread sexual abuse and harassment allegations against Weinstein began 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 also 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.

He says that all his sexual encounters were consensual, and his lawyer previously said the Los Angeles accusations "stem from many years ago" and cannot "be substantiated or corroborated by any forensic evidence" or "credible witnesses".

Before the allegations against him emerged, the producer and his brother Bob were Hollywood's ultimate power players.

They co-founded Miramax Films, a distribution company named after their mother Miriam and father Max, in 1979. It was sold to Disney in 1993.

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 US.

Updated: October 25, 2022, 1:42 PM