Untouchable: The Rise and Fall of Harvey Weinstein review – Harrowing BBC documentary captures the complexities around sexual assault

Weinstein spent nearly three decades paying off women who had accused him of sexual abuse – many are sharing their stories on camera for the first time

Olivia Petter@oliviapetter1
Sunday 01 September 2019 14:00
Untouchable: The Rise and Fall of Harvey Weinstein

“I said no and I pushed him away, more than once. And then I just stopped.” The women in Untouchable: The Rise and Fall of Harvey Weinstein (BBC2) don’t cry. Decades after allegedly suffering sexual assault at the hands of one of Hollywood’s most powerful moguls, they are still numb.

This documentary comes nearly two years after allegations against Harvey Weinstein emerged and began to metastasise. In October 2017, The New York Times reported that the Pulp Fiction and The English Patient producer had spent nearly three decades paying off women who had accused him of sexual abuse. Many are sharing their stories on camera for the first time; it’s harrowing to watch.

We first hear from Hope D’Amore, who claims Weinstein raped her in a hotel room in Buffalo, New York, when she worked for his concert promotion company during the Seventies. “I thought if I just shut up, it’ll be over in a few minutes,” she says. D’Amore didn’t report Weinstein because his influence outweighed her trauma (“nobody would’ve believed anything I said”). This narrative recurs throughout the documentary. According to the accusations, Weinstein picks a young woman, usually an aspiring actor or assistant, invites her to his hotel room, strips down and demands a massage. When the woman declines, Weinstein threatens career damage and flaunts his power (“don’t you know who I am?”). The woman either then escapes, or Weinstein assaults them. Some victims go quietly, and the ones who don’t are handed non-disclosure agreements and hefty settlements. Weinstein denies all allegations of sexual misconduct and maintains that any sexual activity he has engaged in was consensual.

The other women we hear from – including actors Rosanna Arquette and Caitlin Dulany – confess to being both seduced and silenced by Weinstein’s power. The prospect of having a career like Gwyneth Paltrow’s (who claims she rejected unwanted sexual advances from Weinstein) was enough to lure them into a room alone with him, maybe even to reluctantly submit to a massage. But when things escalated to an uncomfortable or abusive degree, fears of being personally and professionally tarnished rendered them mute. “I felt like it was something you did,” says actor Paz de la Huerta, who alleges Weinstein raped her twice in her New York home in 2010.

Given that many of these claims have already been made in print, Untouchable has limitations as an exposé. There’s also an absence of key players, including Rose McGowan and Asia Argento, two of the earliest and most vehement of Weinstein’s accusers. But the aggregate of the accounts we do hear, paired with recollections of Weinstein’s bullishness from former colleagues, makes for compelling viewing. He was “a monster that you wouldn’t want to cross”, one says. It’s also the first time that some of the less famous accusers’ names have been given faces. And those faces say more than words ever could.

Where Untouchable excels, though, is in capturing the complexities surrounding sexual assault. “When you read about rape, the girl kicks and screams, but that’s not exactly right,” says Huerta, explaining how she froze under Weinstein’s overpowering physicality. Like the others, the actor claims her paralysis and dissociation thwarted any possibility of self-defence.

Instead of concluding with an update on Weinstein’s ongoing criminal trials, director Ursula Macfarlane cleverly draws attention to the wider problem his case illustrates. We see flashes of #MeToo protests, while participants drive home the crucial – but incredibly bleak – point: that locking up one individual will not fix a broken system, one that enables abusers to go on untouched. Because, as journalist Ronan Farrow puts it in the documentary’s final moments, “there is a Harvey Weinstein in every industry”.

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