Salma Hayek is the latest high profile actress to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. Her story — presented in the form of a New York Times op-ed — stands out, as it goes beyond a singular incident to reveal the systemic power Weinstein allegedly wielded in order to intimidate and coerce her. According to Hayek, Weinstein resorted to death threats, verbal abuse, and professional gaslighting when it became clear that she would not acquiesce to his sexual desires during the making of the 2002 film, Frida. Something else that sets this accusation apart from the dozens of others that have come forth about Weinstein is that it garnered a rare response from Weinstein himself in which he denies the allegations. Over 80 women have come forward with accounts against Weinstein, and he has only publicly issued statements in response to a few, including the allegations made by Hayek and Lupita Nyong’o — both women of colour.
Unfortunately, this has been the trend for women of colour who dare to add their names to the list of people willing to say “#MeToo.” The conversation about sexual assault that has transpired over the past few months has been very white. It began with a surge of white women sounding the alarm on Hollywood’s toxic rape culture. Then, a group of white men voiced their support of the movement. People of colour were largely silent on the issues with only a few exceptions. Obviously, the stakes are higher for people of colour in an industry that has already made it difficult for them to gain access to the same opportunities as everyone else. And the stark difference in how women of colour’s claims are treated is the final shred of evidence that victimhood is only for the privileged.
Lena Dunham recently referred to Aurora Perrineau's claim that Girls writer Murray Miller sexually assaulted her when she was 17 as one of the "3% of assault cases that are misreported every year." Murray also suggested Perrineau made monetary demands before coming forward and denied her accusations, and then recanted that statement as well. Dunham has since apologised for her words, but the fact that her position on believing women shifted at the expense of women of colour is notable.
It seems that for Black women, specifically, it’s even worse. Consider the fact that R. Kelly remains relatively unscathed save for a bad reputation as a result of decades of alleged sexual misconduct, in some cases with minors. In the wake of his recent rape accusations, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons stepped down from the head of his companies to focus on his spiritual growth, a longtime hobby of his. With what can almost be categorised as nonchalance, Simmons stated that his memories of moments where he was accused of rape are different than his accusers. More denial. And Tavis Smiley has insisted that he is going to fight back against an investigation into sexual misconduct that got him suspended from PBS.
And this brings me back to Hayek. Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Times reported on how the veteran actress dismissed and victim-blamed Jessica Williams when the latter spoke out about the specific ways in which Black women are ignored. It was a moment that once again exhibited how anti-Blackness moves in pro-women spaces. I don’t bring this up to invalidate the pain and torment that Weinstein caused Hayek. But dismantling rape culture means calling power into question. There are many different systems of power that leave women vulnerable to men like Weinstein, and sexism isn’t the only one. Race, class, ability, and a host of other systems all make people vulnerable to sexualised power and violence. If we can’t have a conversation about sexual misconduct that also acknowledges these, we’re not going to make much progress at all.