Lupita Nyong’o ,Harvey Weinstein and the Sensationalization of Sexual Violence in the Kenyan Press.
The almost too shocking to be true story of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual abuse of women in the film industry for over 3 decades was first reported on the 5th of October by The New York Times magazine under the headline “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades”. The article started by outlining an experience of Ashley Judd’s with Weinstein 20 years ago and continues to share the stories of other women who had come forward.
It was largely ignored in our Kenyan circles until The New York Times published a follow up article in which Lupita Nyong’o outlines her own experiences with Weinstein on the 20th of October. This story turned up on my Facebook time line with two almost concurrent posts. What struck me was the headlines on both stories.
The first story was a share of a link with a preview of the original New York Times article with the headline Lupita Nyong’o: Speaking Out About Harvey Weinstein.
Citizentv.co.ke’s headline, shared by a different friend had the headline Lupita was sexually assaulted by ‘The most powerful producer in Hollywood’
So what is my problem right? Both headlines say the same thing don’t they?
No they don’t. The New York Times article headline of Lupita’s interview is very fact oriented. Lupita Nyong’o Speaking out on Harvey Weinstein. You know that the she must have been targeted by Weinstein because why else would she be speaking out on him for. But you also get the feel that there is more to the story than a retelling of her assault.
And there is. Lupita not only narrates the separate instances that Weinstein maneuvers himself to try get her into compromising situations that eerily match the reports from other victims, she shows how she uses her voice saying no, her training as an actress and her friends to stand up to Weinstein.
Looking first at the Citizen story I am quickly disappointed. Here is a strong powerful Kenyan woman speaking out about a quiet, insidious form of abuse that countless Kenyan women and men endure on a daily basis. And instead of reporting this, Citizen and in fact multiple news sources including nation.co.ke- Lupita among women harassed by producer Weinstein, monitor.co.ug- I was harassed by Harvey Weinstein — Lupita Nyong’o made the story about the ‘Harassment’. They chose to write Lupita off as a victim.
None of the local stories tell the full story. The story is truncated cutting out important details like why she decides to give him (Weinstein) a massage. How she manages to insulate herself by making sure she then meets him with 2 male friends at a dinner after which he stops soliciting her and her decision to never work with Weinstein that she follows through on even after he offers her a role.
How Lupita’s story is told right from the get go is geared to get more eyeballs on the stories. Yes she was sexually harassed, yes she speaks openly about it but our journalists choose to push the sensational angle. Granted sexual harassment and assault are sensational in their own right. And maintaining the balance while reporting these stories is difficult, but our journalists are dropping the ball pushing the sensational aspects of sexual assault stories without giving the survivors a voice.
The citientv.co.ke story describes the survivors and their experiences with this quote which I think is meant to poignant “Behind the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, is a dark and lonely alley of women who carry emotional scars that they cannot share for fear of victimization or losing a job.” This statement while true takes away from the courage of Women like Lupita who stand up to Weinstein, Angelina Jolie who not only turned Weinstein down but proceeded to warn other women through the years as she herself refused to work with him.
The local articles fail to mention that Harvey Weinstein was fired by the Board of The Weinstein Company, and that the organization behind the Oscars -The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted to expel Weinstein following the allegations saying “What’s at issue here is a deeply troubling problem that has no place in our society.”
No mention is made about the consequences of his actions, the bravery of women who came forward. No research was done into the background of this story which would have shown how difficult it was to publish this story. Harvey Weinstein had been trailed by rumors of sexual harassment and assault for over 20 years according to this article by the New Yorker but the story could not be published because the story “fell short of the demands of journalistic evidence. Too few people were willing to speak, much less allow a reporter to use their names, and Weinstein and his associates used nondisclosure agreements, payoffs, and legal threats to suppress their accounts”.
By choosing to concentrate only on the parts of Lupita’s story that detail the assault; we as Kenyans have been given a very small but very sensational part of the story. And now when we speak of this story we won’t learn how Lupita talked herself out of awkward situations. We will not discuss the effects of sexual assault on its victims and the bravery of the women who stood up to Weinstein. We won’t even talk about the consequences of his actions or the underhanded tactics he used to put women in compromising situations and assaulted them even though we could all learn from them since they are tactics used by sexual predators in positions of power.
No we will be outraged and ask how Weinstein could harass our Lupita, we will dissect this little aspect of the story and while we do so a woman will walk into a meeting somewhere in Kenya with a sexual predator and the pattern will repeat itself.
At the end of the New York Times interview Lupita says “ Now that we are speaking, let us never shut up about this kind of thing. I speak up to make certain that this is not the kind of misconduct that deserves a second chance. I speak up to contribute to the end of the conspiracy of silence.”
In a country where 9 out of 10 women face sexual harassment in the workplace according to a BBC story from 2004 that references a study by the International Labour Rights Fund (ILRF), maybe we shouldn’t be contributing to the conspiracy of silence by merely sensationalizing sexual harassment stories, but report them in a way that acknowledges the Survivors, gives hope and courage to others in the same situation and give pause to Sexual Predators before they go after another victim. Not just try and get more traffic on our sites.
I hope we can form a community where a woman can speak up about abuse and not suffer another abuse by not being believed and instead being ridiculed. That’s why we don’t speak up — for fear of suffering twice, and for fear of being labeled and characterized by our moment of powerlessness. Lupita Nyong’o