Harvey Weinstein arrived at court to face the biggest trial of the #MeToo era, with opening statements soon to start in the rape case seen as a symbol of a global reckoning with sexual misconduct by powerful men.
Weinstein, 67, walked past a phalanx of cameras and reporters as he arrived at a Manhattan courthouse, guided by aides and lawyers but not using the walker he has been using lately after a summer car crash and subsequent back surgery.
He told reporters he was feeling better.
Asked whether he believed he would have a fair trial, he said yes: “I have good lawyers.”
More than two years after allegations against the former movie magnate sparked an outcry that mushroomed into the #MeToo movement, the trial is a landmark moment for activists demands for accountability, victims’ empowerment and frank confrontation with power dynamics in workplaces from Hollywood Boulevard to Main Street.
Weinstein’s accusers include some well-known actresses who plan to give evidence or attend the trial and others who are looking to the New York case for a form of justice because their allegations have not resulted in criminal charges.
“This trial is so important because the enormity of Harvey Weinstein’s international power and fame offers an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the rampant abuse of power that permeates our culture on a global level,” actress Jessica Barth said.
“Not only the outcome of this trial, but the trial as a whole, is precedent setting,” said Ms Barth, a star of the Ted films who says Weinstein once invited her to his hotel suite and demanded a naked massage.
The once-powerful Pulp Fiction producer, who denies any non-consensual encounters, faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.
Once trailed by whispers in Hollywood circles, Weinstein was met with an explosion of allegations from dozens of women after The New York Times and The New Yorker published separate exposes about his behaviour in October 2017.
The New York charges, however, are limited to two allegations: that Weinstein raped a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and sexually assaulted a different woman in his Manhattan apartment in 2006.
Backed by expected evidence from four other accusers, prosecutors will attempt to portray Weinstein as a monster who used his power to ingratiate himself with women, sometimes promising a film role or other career advancement, before sexually assaulting or raping them.
Weinstein’s lawyers plan to go on the offensive, pointing to “dozens and dozens and dozens of loving emails to Mr Weinstein” they say show he and some of his accusers were in consenting relationships.
Defence lawyer Damon Cheronis has said some of the women “also bragged about being in a sexual relationship with him.”
After opening statements, prosecutors are expected to call a former member of the board of directors at Weinstein’s old movie studio to give evidence about how the company handled allegations against him.
Weinstein’s trial could take more than a month, Judge James Burke said.
Judging from an arduous two-week jury selection that netted a panel of seven men and five women, it could be a hotbed of protests and intense media coverage.
In a failed last-minute push to get the trial moved, Weinstein’s lawyers said a flash mob’s chanting “the rapist is you!” at street level could be heard in the courtroom, 15 floors above.
One issue that has remained unresolved in the trial is the defence’s objection to a juror who wrote an upcoming novel about young women that includes, according to the book’s publicity materials, descriptions of their relationships with predatory older men.
If she is removed and replaced as a juror, that will leave just two remaining alternates for the trial.
Once the New York trial is over, Weinstein faces additional rape and sexual assault charges in Los Angeles.
Those charges were filed this month as jury selection in his New York trial was getting under way.