05:47, January 06 300 0 theguardian.com

2020-01-06 05:47:04
Weinstein trial: new chapter in #MeToo movement with high stakes for many

The rape trial of the fallen movie mogul Harvey Weinstein begins on Monday in a Manhattan courtroom, opening a critical new chapter in the #MeToo movement that seeks justice for victims of alleged sexual assault at the hands of powerful men.

Weinstein, 67, has pleaded not guilty to five counts that include raping a woman in a New York hotel room in 2013 and forcing another woman to engage in oral sexual conduct in 2006. The most serious charge, to which the film producer has also pleaded not guilty, is predatory sexual assault, carrying a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The trial is likely to be one of the most high-profile judicial events of the century, given a cast of characters drawn from Hollywood’s high table. It also comes with huge stakes for so many people.

They include more than 80 women who have lined up to accuse Weinstein of sexual misconduct allegedly occurring over decades, including the actors Rosanna Arquette, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan and Gwyneth Paltrow. The case is also of intimate importance to the wider community of those who have endured sexual harassment in the workplace.

For them, the #MeToo movement triggered by the Weinstein revelations that emerged in October 2017 has become a driving force for change. The trial will be closely watched by thousands as a sign of the enduring strength – or otherwise – of their fledgling cause.

For Weinstein, too, the stakes could not be higher. Though his fall has been dramatic since the publication of the first women’s stories by the New York Times and the New Yorker two years ago, he has so far avoided any personal punishment accruing from the many civil lawsuits that have been launched against him.

Last month a $25m settlement was reached involving more than 30 women. But to the dismay of some of the women, the deal did not touch Weinstein’s own money or require him to admit guilt.

The most perilous charge for Weinstein is predatory sexual assault. For that to secure a guilty verdict, the prosecutors will have to convince the jury the movie producer engaged in a pattern of sexual crimes over time.

As part of the evidence on that count, the judge in the New York county supreme court, James Burke, has indicated he will allow three other women to testify including Sopranos actor Annabella Sciorra who alleges Weinstein sexually assaulted her in her apartment in 1993. Though that incident is beyond the statute of limitations and cannot be prosecuted in itself, it can be presented as evidence of alleged predatory behavior.

The trial will begin with several days of jury selection. To the public, this phony-war stage of the proceedings, which could last as long as two weeks, will provide little information of interest. But it could be vital to both defense and prosecution parties.

Weinstein’s lawyers, who tried unsuccessfully to have the trial moved out of New York on grounds that America’s media capital could not guarantee him a fair hearing given his hostile representation in the press, will be looking to weed out from the final jury anyone who harbors #MeToo feelings of revenge towards the defendant.

Prosecutors will be scouring the social media histories of potential jurors to filter out anyone with prejudged opinions that #MeToo has gone too far or that it is subjecting men to unfair treatment.

Each side will be able to remove up to three potential jurors without giving any reason – a system known as “preemptory strikes”.

As the backdrop to the trial, the unspoken element in the courtroom will be the epic figure that Weinstein once presented as one of the titans of modern independent film-making. The production company he formed with his brother Bob Weinstein, Miramax (later the Weinstein Company), has legendary titles in its back catalogue such as Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare in Love.

Another element in the courtroom will be the many actors whose careers and fortunes Weinstein helped to forge. For the women among them, a question that is certain to be raised in trial proceedings is whether their stellar promotion by Weinstein and all the fame and riches it brought them came at a terrible price.