Harvey Weinstein, the brash outsider from Queens who upended Hollywood, has always liked to think of himself as an underdog. So there may have been no prouder moment for him than the night of March 21, 1999, when he stood on the stage at the Academy Awards accepting the best picture Oscar for “Shakespeare in Love,” which had won in a stunning upset over Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan.”
As his fellow producer Donna Gigliotti thanked him for “having the guts, the courage, the commitment to make this picture,” Weinstein beamed, soaking in the cheers from the crowd. He was at the peak of his power. Running Miramax with his brother Bob, he could turn art-house fare into mainstream hits, mint award nominations at an unprecedented clip and make or break careers. A 2015 survey of nearly 1,400 Oscar acceptance speeches by the website Vocativ found that Weinstein was thanked more frequently than God.
Yet some of the applause that night came from people who secretly — or not-so-secretly — rooted against him. Many in Hollywood felt the victory for “Shakespeare in Love” was as much a credit to Weinstein’s costly and bitterly fought Oscar campaign as to the film’s merits.