Asia Argento looks pensive in the photo she posted to Instagram in May, 2013. Taken in Marina del Rey, California, it shows the Italian actress and director snuggling into a young man, arms wrapped around each other’s necks.
“My son, my love,” wrote Argento.
The young actor with her in the photo is Jimmy Bennett, who had turned 17 two months earlier. In 2004, as a seven-year-old child star, he played Argento’s son in the movie The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things.
After bombshell events this week, he’s now played a leading role in a Hollywood sexual abuse scandal that has seen Argento accused of both assault and of dealing a staggering blow to the credibility of the ‘Me Too’ movement of which she was a leading voice.
One of the earliest accusers of notoriously predatory Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, Argento’s most recent Instagram post – a July 24 selfie in a rock t shirt – now has an endless scroll of rage-filled trolling that includes claims she will soon be in prison.
“You are a pedophile and child rapist,” said one of her 445k followers. Another called her a “disgusting animal.”
“Weinstein and yourself are equally despicable,” a third said.
Argento’s fellow Weinstein accusers also weighed in.
“We hold any and every abuser accountable, regardless of their gender, race, socioeconomic status, public visibility or popularity,” said actress Ashley Judd.
“Child sexual assault is a heinous crime and is against all that I and the ‘Me Too’ movement stands for,” said Oscar winner Mira Sorvino.
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It was a different story on May 19, when a fist-pumping Argento took centre stage at the the Cannes Film Festival to denounce Hollywood’s sexual predators.
“Even tonight, sitting among you, there are those who have still not been called to account for their conduct, for disgusting behaviour,” the star, 42, said.
“You know who you are.”
Her words have come back to haunt Argento. Behind the scenes, in the months after her revelations about disgraced movie boss Weinstein last October, she paid $520,277 to her own accuser – Jimmy Bennett.
Now a 22-year-old actor and musician, Bennett had contacted Argento via lawyers after she went public with her own accusations.
He alleged he was sexually assaulted by his onetime screen mother at a Marina del Rey hotel in May, 2013. She was 37. He was still legally a child under California law, which sets the age of consent at 18.
According to documents seen by The New York Times, which broke the story on August 19, Bennett said the alleged sexual encounter with Argento left him feeling “extremely confused, mortified and disgusted.”
After initial silence, a “deeply shocked and hurt” Argento denied the allegations to the Huffington Post: “I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett”.
She did acknowledge payment was made, but claimed it was her celebrity chef boyfriend Anthony Bourdain – who committed suicide in June – who paid the hush money to fend off “negative publicity.”
But TMZ had their own exclusive, publishing a photo of Argento and Bennett lying in bed, heads pressed together and arms entwined.
“The selfie was shot by Jimmy after the two had sex,” said TMZ, which said the photo was taken on May 9, 2013.
“Jimmy claimed Asia liquored him up, began kissing him, pushed him onto the bed, performed oral sex on him and then climbed on top of him and had intercourse,” said TMZ.
The site also published text exchanges they said were between Argento and an unnamed friend, during which she allegedly admitted to the sexual encounter with Bennett – but blamed him.
“I had sex with him, it felt weird. I didn’t know he was a minor until the shakedown letter,” said one text.
“The horny kid jumped me.”
“[I] wasn’t raped but I was frozen,” another text read. “He was on top of me. After, he told me I had been his sexual fantasy since 12.”
She also also sent a photo of a loving note signed “Jimmy” and written on stationery from the Ritz-Carlton, where the rendezvous reportedly took place.
She added that he “kept sending me unsolicited nudes all these years up until 2 weeks before the attorney’s letter.”
Bennett told The New York Times he hadn’t spoken out earlier because he was “ashamed” but approached Argento when his “trauma resurfaced” when she came out as a victim herself.
“I didn’t think that people would understand the event that took place from the eyes of a teenage boy,” Bennett said.
Amid reports the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department is trying to determine if a criminal investigation will follow, fallout has been fast.
Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer, Ben Brafman, lashed out, saying, “This development reveals a stunning level of hypocrisy by Asia Argento.”
Actress Alyssa Milano, speaking on Good Morning America on August 23, said she didn’t believe the accusations against Argento would impact the ‘Me Too’ movement.
“People who have been abused can also be abusers. And that’s a sad fact,” Milano said.