In her gripping exposure of Harvey Weinstein, outlined in a recent New York Times opinion piece, actress Salma Hayek has unraveled one of Hollywood’s most cherished myths: that sexual content in movies is necessary for “art.”
Sex, they say, is part of life, and it is necessary to show it to depict the fullness of the human experience in certain stories. And if you object, if you suggest that perhaps great storytellers of old (and those restricted by decency codes imposed on Hollywood after the roaring twenties) managed to tell great stories, stories that did not scrimp in their understanding of life, without graphic sexual content, you’re dismissed as a prude. If you dare to hint that perhaps the point of such content is not art, but to draw the pruriently curious to the box office, well—it’s you who’ve got the dirty mind.
Turns out, it’s Harvey Weinstein who does.
The fall of Weinstein, a revered Hollywood mogul whose films were often critically acclaimed and Oscars darlings, has revealed myriad details about his creepiness and alleged—but credibly so—sexual misconduct, including accusations of rape.
Now, Hayek, an Oscar nominee, has written an incredibly compelling first-hand account of what Weinstein’s actions did to her. Hayek worked with Weinstein to get her beloved project, a movie about Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, made—but at a steep personal cost.
In the Times, Hayek recounts how she had to rebuff Weinstein repeatedly: “No to me taking a shower with him. No to letting him watch me take a shower. No to letting him give me a massage. No to letting a naked friend of his give me a massage. No to letting him give me oral sex. No to my getting naked with another woman.”
Overcoming a series of hurdles launched by an aggrieved Weinstein, Hayek was finally filming Frida when Weinstein gave her an ultimatum. He told Hayek—who would go on to receive a best actress nomination for her role in the film—that “the only thing I had going for me was my sex appeal and that there was none of that in this movie,” she recalled.
“He offered me one option to continue,” Hayek wrote. “He would let me finish the film if I agreed to do a sex scene with another woman. And he demanded full-frontal nudity.”
So, to recap, when Weinstein was unable to get Hayek to agree to “getting naked with another woman,” he demanded she do it on film to complete her movie.
Describing what it was like the harrowing day she shot the scene, Hayek wrote:
For the first and last time in my career, I had a nervous breakdown: My body began to shake uncontrollably, my breath was short and I began to cry and cry, unable to stop, as if I were throwing up tears. Since those around me had no knowledge of my history of Harvey, they were very surprised by my struggle that morning. It was not because I would be naked with another woman. It was because I would be naked with her for Harvey Weinstein.
Hayek began vomiting, and then to calm down, took a tranquilizer, which helped her cease weeping, but increased her vomiting. Finally, she managed to shoot the scene—which she, who cared passionately about telling well the story of Kahlo, described as “senseless.”
So much for art.
I have no doubt that some moviemakers sincerely feel that sexual content is sometimes necessary to tell their stories. But the fact that Weinstein pushed like this suggests that Hollywood power-brokers are often promoting mere titillation in the name of art. Weinstein, after all, was hardly some sleazy filmmaker; he was well respected, someone who “has overseen campaigns that have resulted in more than 300 Academy Award nominations and best-picture Oscars,” according to an October report in the New York Times.
As Hollywood grapples with Weinstein’s legacy and his influence on movies and the filmmaking industry more broadly, here’s an idea: Don’t ask women or men who aren’t trying to be adult stars to do graphic sexual content. Don’t reduce women like Hayek to nothing more than their sex appeal. Find a way to tell stories that honor the full, complex humanity of actresses and actors, not just ones that highlight their physical attractiveness.
The fall of Weinstein has renewed the age-old debate about whether it’s possible to separate art from its maker. Sometimes that might be possible, but Hayek’s story makes it clear that sometimes the maker’s perversions drive the art. As Hollywood (hopefully) cleans up its act, let’s also hope the town remembers that it’s not just employment policies that should be reexamined, but also the methods and types of storytelling that predators like Weinstein elevated.