Harvey Weinstein set to go on trial today

Harvey Weinstein, with the aid of a walker, leaving court following a hearing in New York last month.
Harvey Weinstein, with the aid of a walker, leaving court following a hearing in New York last month. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK • For decades, he was untouchable, lording it over Hollywood as the powerful producer Meryl Streep famously called "God".

But since October 2017, Harvey Weinstein has been a pariah, a sexual predator in the eyes of a public that will forever associate him with the #MeToo movement.

Today, Weinstein, 67, is set to go on trial in New York, more than two years after The New York Times and The New Yorker accused him of a litany of sexual abuse and rape.

If convicted on charges of rape and sexual assault, the Oscar-winning movie mogul could be jailed for life.

But even if he is cleared, his career is already dead.

Nearly 90 women, including Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek, have come forward alleging 40 years of vile predatory behaviour by Weinstein.

The accusations sparked a sexual harassment watershed that ended the careers of several powerful men as tens of thousands of women shared their stories of abuse online under the #MeToo hashtag.

Weinstein apologised yet appeared to justify his behaviour as "the culture then" in a statement soon after the scandal blew up.

"I came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, when all the rules about behaviour and workplaces were different," he said.

Once the darling of film festivals such as Cannes and Sundance, he was quickly expelled from the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, the institution that awards the Oscars.

He disappeared from public life, surfacing occasionally from reported sex addiction treatment.

Then on May 25, 2018, he was charged with predatory sexual assault.

Images of him handcuffed were beamed around the world.

He has denied charges that he raped a woman in 2013 and forcibly performed oral sex on another in 2006.

Out on US$2-million (S$2.7-million) bail and wearing an electronic tag, he has rarely spoken publicly since his initial response to the scandal.

But he sparked an outcry last month when he expressed no remorse in an interview with The New York Post, complaining that the world had forgotten how he "pioneered" women-led films.

"I made more movies directed by women and about women than any film-maker and I'm talking about 30 years ago," he noted.

Twenty-three accusers, including actresses Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan, responded by assuring him he would be remembered "as a sexual predator and an unrepentant abuser".

Weinstein once had a personal fortune estimated at US$150 million, but it has rapidly disappeared following his fall from grace.

The Weinstein Company was declared bankrupt last year under an avalanche of lawsuits related to sexual misconduct claims.

Last month, he reached a US$25-million settlement with more than 30 actresses and former employees who sued him.

Prosecutors said he has sold five properties totalling US$60 million in the last two years to pay legal fees and support his two ex-wives.

The second, English fashion designer Georgina Chapman, divorced him following the scandal.

Weinstein now lives in relative obscurity in a rented home in a New York suburb close to the two young children he has with Chapman.

Leaving the house is a risky business. In October, several women were thrown out of a bar in Manhattan after they spotted Weinstein and confronted him.

Weinstein appeared pale and frail as he shuffled into a pre-trial court hearing using a walking frame last month.

He has since undergone surgery to relieve back pain caused by a car crash in August.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2020, with the headline 'Harvey Weinstein set to go on trial today'. Print Edition | Subscribe