Early on a late May morning in 2018, Harvey Weinstein shuffled into a downtown Manhattan police precinct. The disgraced mogul was turning himself in to the NYPD for a litany of sex crimes, including rape, a criminal sex act, sex abuse, and sexual misconduct. Hours later, he was arraigned in Manhattan’s Supreme Court. For many people in attendance (including this writer) and for those watching the events unfold from afar, it was a landmark event — the first time Weinstein was forced to publicly face the charges against him from numerous victims. It felt like justice.
But over 18 months later, Weinstein still hasn’t been tried, and last week the New York Times reported that Weinstein and the board of the bankrupt Weinstein Company reached a tentative $25 million settlement with dozens of the women who accused him of sexual assault. If the settlement goes through, it would effectively end the majority of lawsuits leveled against him and the company since 2017. The deal would not require Weinstein to admit any wrongdoing, or pay anything out of his own pocket; instead, insurance companies representing TWC would be on the hook for the millions.
Two years after Weinstein’s supposed reckoning, it’s hard not to feel as if he’s continuing to evade true justice. And if he does, who else will be able to get off so easily?
However, there’s reason to believe that this is not the end of the story. Some of Weinstein’s most high-profile accusers — including Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, and Salma Hayek — are not part of this claim. Neither is Ashley Judd, who has expressed her own desire to take Weinstein to trial. Nor does the settlement include two outstanding criminal cases, including the one that first brought him to court in May 2018.
The settlement is a complex shared payout to more than 30 actresses and former Weinstein employees who have accused the disgraced mogul of hundreds of sexually based crimes, from harassment to rape. Financial settlements can perpetuate the idea that accusers are looking to cash in on accusations, but the truth is when criminal charges aren’t possible, or are prohibitively expensive, the only recourse can be their assailants’ pocketbooks.
However, it’s still galling that Weinstein would personally pay nothing, admit no wrongdoing, and not have to worry about future repercussions for the dozens and dozens of criminal acts.
When Weinstein was outed in October 2017, the impact altered the zeitgeist. Soon, a slew of other heavy-hitters became exiles — Brett Ratner, Kevin Spacey, John Lasseter, Bryan Singer — as they faced their own exposés.
The response in Hollywood, especially among the industry’s most empowered women, was just as seismic. Within days of the first Weinstein stories, the hashtag #MeToo was retrofitted for women abused by the entertainment elite before it circled back to founder Tarana Burke’s original intention to shine a light on all stories of sexual abuse. Other outspoken talents created the Time’s Up campaign to deal with workplace sexual assault, harassment, and inequality — first for Hollywood, and then for other industries.
Weinstein appeared in court this week looking feeble. However, he spent the summer appearing around New York City, including a dinner at Cipriani (the location of at least one of his accused sexual assaults) and attending at least two artist events at a Manhattan bar (where he was infamously heckled by a female performer) — all without the assistance of a walker or a cane. Two handlers navigated him into the courtroom and if it was a bid for pity, it didn’t work: His bail was raised to $5 million after he was accused of “mishandling his ankle monitor.”
There is still the possibility of a real legal reckoning, the kind of due process that has yet to truly hit the #MeToo movement. And no matter what happens, the movement goes far beyond just one man and his alleged crimes and punishments that may or may not ever come.
Two years ago, there was a cultural shift that forced greater awareness of sexual harassment and assault throughout the industry and well beyond it. The revolution might not be here yet, but the conversations continue and show no signs of letting up. Even if Weinstein wins one battle, he’s already lost the war.