Dozens of women have come forward in recent weeks with claims against Harvey Weinstein, accusing the veteran film mogul of sexual assault, harassment, misconduct and rape. Many of their stories carry the same details — from hotel rooms and manipulative behavior to intimidation tactics and aggressive cover-ups — while provoking the same questions: How much did his assistants know, how tightly wound were their nondisclosure agreements, and where are they now?
Zelda Perkins, who worked for Weinstein during his tenure running Miramax Films, has just answered all three in a bombshell of an interview with Financial Times. In doing so, Perkins becomes the first former staffer to come forward and publicly renounce an NDA, shedding light on how Weinstein relied on a network of lawyers to help prevent staffers from speaking out about his alleged bad behavior. She also claims that there were clauses in her contract that could have led to Weinstein’s dismissal nearly two decades ago.
The report comes just days after members of The Weinstein Co. staff released a statement requesting that they be let out of their NDAs “so we may speak openly, and get to the origins of what happened here, and how.”
“I want to publicly break my non-disclosure agreement,” Perkins says in the interview. “Unless somebody does this there won’t be a debate about how egregious these agreements are and the amount of duress that victims are put under. My entire world fell in because I thought the law was there to protect those who abided by it. I discovered that it had nothing to do with right and wrong and everything to do with money and power.”
Perkins story in FT begins 19 years ago when she walked out of Miramax’s London office “for the last time” to see a lawyer with a female colleague. According to the newspaper, Perkins endured sexual harassment while working as Weinstein’s assistant, but her ultimate exit came after an unnamed female colleague told her that Weinstein had sexually assaulted her.
Perkins landed at Miramax’s London office after being introduced to Donna Gigliotti, who worked for Miramax (and later Weinstein Co.). She started in script development, the story says, but later ended up assisting Weinstein when one of his London-based assistants left their post without explanation. She would go on to be his permanent assistant with a front-row seat to what she described as questionable behavior.
Perkins claims that Weinstein exposed himself to her, asked her for massages and requested she watch him bathe. “This was his behavior on every occasion I was alone with him. I often had to wake him up in the hotel in the mornings and he would try to pull me into bed,” she claims.
Her breaking point came when her colleague was assaulted during the Venice Film Festival in 1998. “She was white as a sheet and shaking and in a very bad emotional state. She told me something terrible had happened. She was in shock and crying and finding it very hard to talk. I was furious, deeply upset and very shocked. I said: ‘We need to go to the police’ but she was too distressed. Neither of us knew what to do in a foreign environment,” she recalled.
The two sought counsel from London-based law firm Simons Muirhead & Burton. FT reports that the women were advised to seek a settlement claim and thus a negotiation began with international law firm Allen & Overy. The sides agreed upon a sum reported to be £250,000 that was to be split between the two women. They signed the contract in October 1998 and as a result, Perkins, who was 24 years old at the time, has not talked about Weinstein since, until she granted the interview to FT.
Perkins admits that as part of the agreement she was not allowed to keep a copy of her NDA, but she did turn over to FT the few pages she was allowed to keep, which detail efforts on behalf of the lawyers to limit or prohibit her participation in any investigations against Weinstein and the film company.
Perkins said her agreement included the creation of a complaints procedure at Miramax and for therapy for Weinstein that he would receive “for as long as his therapist deems necessary.” Further, the agreement called for the appointment of three “complaint handlers” who would be charged with investigating future harassment allegations. If complaints were lobbied against Weinstein within two years of Perkins’ contract and the complaints resulted in a settlement of either £35,000 or six months’ salary, Miramax must report the matter to the Walt Disney Co. (which owned Miramax at the time) or fire him.
She had originally intended to expose his misconduct, Perkins said, and hoped to go to Disney as part of that effort. “But the lawyers were reluctant. They said words to the effect of: ‘They are not going to take your word against his with no evidence,'” she remembered. “I was very upset because the whole point was that we had to stop him by exposing his behavior. I was warned that he and his lawyers would try to destroy my credibility if I went to court. They told me he would try to destroy me and my family.”
To avoid that, Perkins said she settled with the agreement as presented by the lawyers, but not before consulting a female American colleague in a senior position whom Perkins said was aware of Weinstein’s behavior. That colleague encouraged her to seek a higher sum. “At 24 years old in a room full of lawyers I felt unsupported by my legal team. Looking back I understand they were following correct practice but at the time I felt totally isolated.”
Perkins said she wants to shine a light on these types of agreements in which “the inequality of power is so stark and relies on money rather than morality.” She added: “I want other women who have been sidelined and who aren’t being allowed to own their own history or their trauma to be able to discuss what they have suffered. I want them to see that the sky won’t fall in.”
FT reported that Weinstein denied the accusations through a spokesperson: “The FT did not provide the identity of any individuals making these assertions. Any allegations of nonconsensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr Weinstein. Mr Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances.”