Actress and filmmaker Salma Hayek has added her voice to the chorus of women who have accused disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual and professional coercion. In an essay published in the New York Times on Wednesday, Hayek described the brutal, hard-fought process of making Frida, her 2002 biopic of the artist Frida Kahlo, which was produced by Miramax and ended up winning two Oscars—but not before Weinstein subjected Hayek to extensive emotional abuse, sexual harassment, and even a death threat in the course of producing the movie.
When Hayek secured a deal with Miramax to produce the film, which had already been in development for several years, she wrote that she was subsequently beset by Weinstein’s sexual advances. She said no, frequently and forcefully: “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,” she wrote. “And with each refusal came Harvey’s Machiavellian rage.”
That rage, which included dragging her forcefully from a red carpet to attend a private party with him, also resulted in Weinstein threatening to kill her: “I will kill you, don’t think I can’t,” Hayek, who has also discussed rejecting advances of another accused sexual predator, one Donald Trump, recalled him telling her in the essay.
But this, according to her op-ed, was before production had really gotten underway on Frida. For once Hayek made clear she would not submit to his unwanted sexual advances, Weinstein set about making her professional work as challenging as possible. He told her he had offered the part, and her script, to another actress; she tried to get out of her Miramax contract by resorting to legal action, and Weinstein responded by setting out a list of demands, including rewriting the script, raising $10 million, attracting a brand-name director, and casting brand-name actors in four smaller roles. If she succeeded, he said, he would release the film.
“Much to everyone’s amazement, not least my own, I delivered,” she wrote. “Ironically, once we started filming, the sexual harassment stopped but the rage escalated.” And, it seems, the sexual harassment didn’t entirely cease either: Weinstein appeared on set one day to criticize Hayek’s depiction of Kahlo—she famously had a unibrow and walked with a limp, the result of childhood polio and a bus collision as a teenager—and tell her “the only thing I had going for me was my sex appeal and that there was none of that in this movie,” she wrote. “He told me he was going to shut down the film because no one would want to see me in that role.”
He then presented her with one option: Filming could continue if she agreed to film a “sex scene with another woman,” she wrote. “And he demanded full-frontal nudity.” (Director Julie Taymor had already had to defuse a similar request, turning a demand for a sex scene between Hayek’s character and that of Ashley Judd into a kiss.) Hayek acquiesced, if only to keep the production moving forward for her collaborators (“How could I let their magnificent work go to waste?” she wrote), but once on set, suffered an emotional collapse and took tranquilizers in order to be able to film the scene. “It was not because I would be naked with another woman. It was because I would be naked with her for Harvey Weinstein,” she wrote.
When Hayek finally delivered the film from post-production, Weinstein told her he planned to release it direct-to-video. Taymor protested, asking for a screen test in front of an audience; if Frida earned more than an 80 (which, Hayek points out, few do), it would be released in theaters.
Frida scored an 85. And with its release, it went on to earn a worldwide gross of more than $50 million, six Oscar nominations and two Oscar wins—a genuinely touching conclusion to a story short on touching moments. Hayek, of course, earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for playing the famed painter, eventually married the French billionaire François-Henri Pinault, produced the popular sitcom Ugly Betty (for which she was nominated for Emmys for her guest-starring roles), and has continued to deliver acclaimed performances in film, including this year's indie Beatriz at Dinner, for which she is nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress.
But her testimony also serves to underline the obstacles a man in a position of authority—especially one of the towering stature of Harvey Weinstein—can throw in the way of a talented woman’s work.