How Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump Retaliated Against Salma Hayek
After not getting their way with the ‘Desperado’ actress, these two powerful accused sexual predators lashed out against her in different, disturbing ways.
In a searing New York Times op-ed, Hayek wrote the untold story behind a career triumph. According to the actress, the set of 2002’s Frida, a biopic about the life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, went from a dream project to a personal and professional hell thanks to Weinstein, who Hayek describes as a bully and a master manipulator. Every recently unleashed story of sexual harassment or assault is a nightmare—for women and survivors, they evoke some of our worst memories or greatest fears. But Hayek’s testimony is sinister in its own specific way: It’s a story about a woman who found herself professionally tied to an abuser—her abuser—a man who proceeded to use various escalating tactics of intimidation, retribution, and sabotage.
The cruelty that Hayek chronicles took place after Weinstein’s sexual advances—ranging from requesting that she take a shower with him to asking if he could perform oral sex—and as a direct result of her resistance. She writes, “I don’t think he hated anything more than the word ‘no’… And with every refusal came Harvey’s Machiavellian rage.” At first, Hayek recalls, Weinstein attempted to distance himself “when he was finally convinced that I was not going to earn the movie the way he had expected,” offering the part she had worked on for years to another actress. When Hayek resorted to legal measures, Weinstein replied with what she describes as “a list of impossible tasks,” including $10 million in financing, an A-list director, and several big-name co-stars.
When Hayek met these demands—a massive triumph—she was able to move forward with the project. Unfortunately, she was now wedded to Weinstein, who “was not only rejected but also about to do a movie he did not want to do.” It was a perfect storm that she alleges resulted in escalating emotional abuse and downright cruelty. Hayek’s story is a horrifying reminder that, in an industry in which Weinstein wielded so much power, inappropriate sexual overtures were often just the beginning. In this way, Hayek’s op-ed is an illuminating entry in the stack of Weinstein testimonies, shining a light on the hideous aftermath of a Weinstein run-in.
Hayek’s accusations are highly disturbing. She writes that Weinstein’s “persuasion tactics” spanned from sweet-talking to fury; that once, in a rage, he declared, “I will kill you, don’t think I can’t.” On set, he allegedly complained about Frida’s “unibrow” and criticized Hayek’s performance.
According to Hayek, “He told me that the only thing I had going for me was my sex appeal and that there was none of that in this movie. So he told me he was going to shut down the film because no one would want to see me in that role.”
In one of the most painful portions of the piece, Hayek describes how Weinstein insisted that “he would let me finish the film” only on the condition of a sex scene with her co-star Ashley Judd. After dedicating years of her life and persuading others to contribute their time and talent, she felt that she had no choice but to agree to Weinstein’s terms. When Hayek arrived on set to shoot the “senseless scene,” she experienced a full-body panic attack. “Since those around me had no knowledge of my history of Harvey, they were very surprised by my struggle that morning,” Hayek writes. “It was not because I would be naked with another woman. It was because I would be naked with her for Harvey Weinstein. But I could not tell them then.”
“My mind understood that I had to do it, but my body wouldn’t stop crying and convulsing,” she continues. “At that point, I started throwing up while a set frozen still waited to shoot. I had to take a tranquilizer, which eventually stopped the crying but made the vomiting worse. As you can imagine, this was not sexy, but it was the only way I could get through the scene.”
Even after the film was finished, Weinstein allegedly continued to undermine Hayek and her colleagues’ work, calling the Oscar-winning film “not good enough for a theatrical release” and fighting Hayek every step of the way. In the op-ed, Hayek beautifully articulates the many strains of Weinstein’s abuse, including his refusal to acknowledge her various contributions to the film, which went far beyond her performance (or her sex appeal): “In his eyes, I was not an artist. I wasn’t even a person. I was a thing: not a nobody, but a body.”
Hayek looked to Weinstein, an established and respected tastemaker, for artistic validation, only to face continuous emotional abuse and sexual objectification. What Hayek’s describing is an ongoing campaign to dismiss her professional worth; a misogynistic effort that didn’t end at nonconsensual acts or advances. This systematic belittling was legitimized by Weinstein’s widely accepted vision and status. As Hayek notes, “It was soul crushing because, I confess, lost in the fog of a sort of Stockholm syndrome, I wanted him to see me as an artist: not only as a capable actress but also as somebody who could identify a compelling story and had the vision to tell it in an original way.”
Hayek’s story is illustrative not just of the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and misconduct, but the various ways that powerful men work to retaliate against their victims. These efforts range from public smears to psychological warfare; violent threats and insidious comments working in tandem to silence and shame. Hayek has unfortunately experienced these manipulative tactics from two separate Bad Men: Harvey Weinstein and President Donald Trump.
In October 2016, Hayek, a vocal Hillary Clinton supporter, shared a story of her personal interactions with Donald Trump. During a radio interview, the actress recalled, “When I met that man, I had a boyfriend, and he tried to become his friend to get my home telephone number. He got my number and he would call me to invite me out.” She continued, “When I told him I wouldn’t go out with him even if I didn’t have a boyfriend [which he took as disrespectful], he called—well, he wouldn’t say he called, but someone told the National Enquirer—I’m not going to say who, because you know that whatever he wants to come out comes out in the National Enquirer. It said that he wouldn’t go out with me because I was too short.”
“Later, he called and left me a message. ‘Can you believe this? Who would say this? I don’t want people to think this about you,’” Hayek concluded. “He thought that I would try to go out with him so people wouldn’t think that’s why he wouldn’t go out with me.”
While the Trump anecdote is almost too absurd to be considered intimidation, his urge to humiliate Hayek and/or pressure her into going on a date is its own form of retaliation. Trump, like Weinstein, clearly hates to be told no; these men don’t seem to understand the concept. While Weinstein used his industry influence to attempt to control and even punish Hayek, Trump called on an ally—the National Enquirer—in an attempt to malign and ensnare his romantic mark.
The National Enquirer, helmed by recently accused editor Dylan Howard, is a “mutual friend” of Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump. This sinister association of Bad Men may sound like a conspiracy theory, but it’s very much substantiated. As The Washington Post noted, “The National Enquirer provided to Democrat Harvey Weinstein the same reputation-management services that it furnished to Republican Donald Trump.” The New Yorker reported: “A December 2016, email exchange between Weinstein and Dylan Howard, the chief content officer of American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer, shows that Howard shared with Weinstein material obtained by one of his reporters, as part of an effort to help Weinstein disprove [Rose] McGowan’s allegation of rape. In one email, Howard sent Weinstein a list of contacts. ‘Let’s discuss next steps on each,’ he wrote.”
Last year, The Wall Street Journal reported on an analogous silencing effort: “The company that owns the National Enquirer, a backer of Donald Trump, agreed to pay $150,000 to a former Playboy centerfold model for her story of an affair a decade ago with the Republican presidential nominee, but then didn’t publish it.”
In a conversation about retaliation, as well as within the context of the larger conversation surrounding sexual harassment and assault, it’s crucial to take race into account. In Hayek’s op-ed, she takes pains to place herself on a continuum of power, positing that Weinstein was well aware of what he could (and could not) get away with. She writes, “Knowing what I know now, I wonder if it wasn’t my friendship with them—and Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney—that saved me from being raped.” For certain women, whiteness, like famous friends or public acclaim, is its own source of power and protection. It elevates some victims above others, arguably leaving women of color more vulnerable to both physical and verbal attacks.
With Harvey Weinstein, we saw this racialized dynamic at play when Lupita Nyong’o came forward with her story. While Weinstein was, at that point, facing too many accusations to respond to every single one, he broke a pattern of silence to contest Nyong’o’s recollection. A Weinstein representative issued a statement, saying, “Mr. Weinstein has a different recollection of the events, but believes Lupita is a brilliant actress and a major force for the industry. Last year, she sent a personal invitation to Mr. Weinstein to see her in her Broadway show Eclipsed.” The Tempest posited, “Since she’s black, Weinstein and his reps think she has even less credibility than the dozens of white women who have accused him of sexual harassment, and therefore, her personal account is fair game for him to challenge and dismiss.”
Weinstein’s representation employed the same challenging-women-of-color tactic with Hayek, issuing a statement late Wednesday night reading, in part: “Mr. Weinstein does not recall pressuring Salma to do a gratuitous sex scene with a female co-star and he was not there for the filming. However, that was part of the story, as Frida Kahlo was bisexual and the more significant sex scene in the movie was choreographed by Ms. Hayek with Geoffrey Rush. The original uni-brow used was an issue because it diverted attention from the performances. All of the sexual allegations as portrayed by Salma are not accurate and others who witnessed the events have a different account of what transpired.”
For Hayek, her race and gender were both barriers to Hollywood legitimacy. “At the same time,” she writes, “it was unimaginable for a Mexican actress to aspire to a place in Hollywood.” Sexual harassment and emotional abuse aside, the fact that Hayek was all but mandated to align herself with a Powerful White Man in order to tell Frida Kahlo’s story is its own injustice. This is the other dimension of Hayek’s story: a testament to the countless hoops that women, particularly women of color, are forced to jump through in an industry where majority white men still act as artistic arbiters.
“Why do so many of us, as female artists, have to go to war to tell our stories when we have so much to offer?” she asks. “Why do we have to fight tooth and nail to maintain our dignity?” In the end, Hayek argues that only equality can make the entertainment industry inhospitable to predators. Until then, we owe a debt of gratitude to the survivors who are shining light on the many forms of abuse, even in the face of continued harassment and intimidation.