Actress, writer and director Asia Argento said the months since she stepped forward to detail sexual abuse and harassment by Harvey Weinstein have been a time of redemption and relief but also painful disappointment.
Detailing her experience to New Yorker contributor Ronan Farrow, who moderated the panel “#MeToo Outrage From Europe” at Tina Brown’s 9th annual Women in the World conference, Argento described a fierce backlash against her. Critics and skeptics, especially in her native Italy, painted her as an opportunist or worse. saying that she deserved the treatment she got from Weinstein.
“The backlash was fuel that they threw into my fire,” Argento said, her voice rising. “This fire, this martyrdom of being misunderstood made me a warrior all the more.” Addressing the repeated claims that she had been in a long-term relationship with Weinstein (as if that would somehow excuse anything), she added, “I never had a 5-year relationship. I never woke up next to him. He was never my boyfriend,”
Also on the panel were Laura Boldrini, an ardently feminist member of Italy’s parliament, and Ambra Battilana Guttierez, the model who recorded Weinstein’s alternately pleading and coercive behavior trying to get her into his New York hotel room in 2015.
The secret recording Guttierez made in co-operation with authorities was a wrenching part of online readers of Farrow’s devastating early take-down of Weinstein. It was played on the PA system as the panelists took the Lincoln Center stage, but Guttierez did not end up revisiting her dealings with Weinstein during the discussion. Instead, she related the ordeal (also recounted in Farrow’s New Yorker coverage) of being brought to one of Silvio Berlusconi’s “Bunga Bunga” sex parties when she was an 18-year-old model. “I was just following dreams,” she said. “I did not expect that.” Like Argento, Guttierez has been tarred since coming forward about Weinstein but also about what she witnessed at Berlusconi’s house, especially because he casts such a long media show.
The hostility toward #MeToo in Italy and the reactions of so many men in power (along with many women), Farrow said, “are a microcosm” of what women everywhere face. “The stakes are so high,” he added, that Americans need to grapple with the varied responses to #MeToo around the world.
“The system did not break” in Italy, Argento said. “I wish it did. What chance does a victim have to speak out against a predator? Zero.”
Boldrini shared her fellow panelists’ dismay but as a politician she also stressed the need to take action to try to change the culture. A video was shown of her filling the Italian parliament building with 1,400 survivors of sexual abuse and violence, upending the normal look of a chamber occupied for decades by mostly men. “They gave us advice about legislation. It was an extraordinary day.”
She added that she has urged Argento to remain in Italy to lend her effort to the cause. Farrow said his first thought when he was learning about the backlash against Argento was to tell her, “Get out of there! Save yourself.” Argento nodded and Boldrini said she understood that reaction. “But you have to stay and fight. Together. And we will win. I know it.”