The scariest monsters are the ones who wear a smile.
Harvey Weinstein handed himself over to authorities Friday morning to be arrested on rape, criminal sex act, sex abuse, and sexual misconduct charges for acts against two women.
It was the New York Police Department’s 1st Precinct in Tribeca, a poetic backdrop for the Hollywood mogul whose reign of terror often sought out film festivals as his playground. A year ago, it would be a familiar sight, Weinstein walking through a swarm of reporters and photographers shouting his name. He would’ve been down the street walking the red carpet for a Tribeca Film Festival premiere of one of his films, or two blocks away at the Roxy Hotel (formerly the Tribeca Grand), dodging paparazzi.
And he would have been wearing that same smile.
It’s a chilling image. Flanked by SVU detectives, his hands cuffed behind his back and dressed smartly in a fitted black suit—as tailored as fabric can be around the bulbous shape of evil bile—over a light blue sweater, Weinstein marched out of the precinct for his arraignment, a shit-eating grin plastered on his face.
Weinstein is the master of spin, of manipulating the media in his self-interest. What is the end game here, Harvey?
Is he smiling because he thinks he’ll still get away with it all? Is he smiling to intimidate, to telegraph to his victims that, yes, he is that diabolical? Or is he smiling cynically; did he know that this would be an iconic image?
It has been 231 days since The New York Times broke the story that, paired with investigations from The New Yorker, opened a floodgate of sexual assault allegations against Weinstein and lit the spark plug of a #MeToo and Time’s Up movement that has felled the careers of dozens of abusive powerful men.
The allegations were the opening salvo of justice for the victims, who not only had their dignity preyed on by these men who assaulted, harassed, and abused them, but also saw their careers and earning potential in some cases extinguished, be it by their vengeful predators or by the emotional trauma of the incidents.
It’s understandable, given how defeated and resigned so many had become to the repercussionless status quo, that many assumed these monsters would never be caged. The number of news stories staging paths to comebacks for men egregiously outnumbered those detailing the criminal charges, the trials, or the jail time they would be punished with. But finally here we are. Bill Cosby is going to jail, the first major conviction of the #MeToo era. Now, Harvey Weinstein could be, too.
Rose McGowan, one of Weinstein’s alleged victims, said in an ABC interview Friday, "I have to admit I didn't think I would see the day that he would have handcuffs on him ... I have a visceral need for him to have handcuffs on."
One of the cases Weinstein is being charged for involves Lucia Evans, who says that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex. (Weinstein has denied all accusations of nonconsensual sex acts.) In her description of the encounter to The New Yorker, she recalled, “I said over and over, ‘I don’t want to do this, stop, don’t.' He’s a big guy. He overpowered me.” She’s not, however, the first accuser to have sought justice through the New York City police department.
In 2015, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez was allegedly groped by Weinstein. After apologizing, he invited her to his room. This time she had coordinated with the NYPD and wore a wire. He preyed on her again, and the detectives had a case. But as The Daily Beast’s Michael Daly reported, Battilana became victim to gross opposition research, investigated more harshly than Weinstein himself. A bigshot media mogul and New York power player, he was never prosecuted.
She’s waited years to see that perp walk. Other victims of Weinstein have waited even longer. The cliché would be to say that one can’t even imagine the gratification and vindication those victims must feel seeing it, but the truth is that so many, too many, identify as or with those victims.
But that smile.
“Wipe that smile off your face, you fucking monster,” actress Asia Argento tweeted at the moment Weinstein marched past the press. Argento alleges that Weinstein sexually assaulted her in the '90s. Did Weinstein mean to trigger his victims with the sinister grin, an attempt to belittle their moment of justice? If so, it didn’t work. “Harvey Weinstein ain’t smiling now,” she later tweeted.
“To see him in cuffs on the way out, whether he smiled or not, that’s a very good feeling,” McGowan said in a separate interview with Megyn Kelly Friday morning.
It’s true that the most disturbing villains grin through their terror. Some of it is a means to end, a tool to unsettle their targets. Some of it is sociopathy, a reflex of delight in wielding their violence. The villain’s cackling laugh is a trope because only the most frightening among us would take pleasure in others’ pain.
It might be fitting to point out the pop culture parallels to Weinstein’s grinning mug, given his industry. Or it might be reductive. Nonetheless, it’s impossible to see that image of his cheesing perp walk and not think of Heath Ledger’s Joker, Pennywise the Clown, Inglourious Basterds’ Hans Landa, or any number of movie villains.
Maybe it’s not even just pop culture that makes Weinstein’s smile so triggering. Is there anything more chilling than a criminal suspect’s smiling mugshot? When there is such lack of remorse that they’re even glad to know what they’ve done?
These villains are supposed to be the stuff of nightmares. But, grin as he might, not Harvey.
“Predators eat people, and he ate a lot of my life and I want my life back,” McGowan told Kelly. “Since the news broke, even though his face is everywhere, I haven’t had a single nightmare for the first time.”