Hollywood rarely gives audiences stories about women working together toward a common goal. However, the newly released She Said is an anomaly that gets it just right.
The movie, which is a fictionalization, not a documentary, takes us back to the 2017 New York Times’ investigation into Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predation of women in the film industry. She Said depicts investigative reporters Megan Twohey, played by Carey Mulligan and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) trying to persuade Weinstein’s victims to talk to them. They also attempt to expose a larger system designed to protect abusers by silencing female victims. The movie is based on Kantor and Twohey’s 2019 book, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement.
Even though She Said is a fictionalization, it sticks fairly closely to Kantor and Twohey’s riveting story. In an article the pair published in Vogue in October, they said the film “depicts so much of what we witnessed and experienced, including the takeout, that late-night cab ride, and a few personal truths we’ve never shared before. In fact certain details are shown precisely as they were, down to the font on an incriminating document one of the victims read to us.” They also wrote that the movie includes “differences, compressed chronologies, [and] a couple of completely invented scenes.”
She Said opens in Ireland in 1992 with Laura Madden, the first of Weinstein’s victims to eventually go on the record for Twohey and Kantor, and takes us through the story up to the moment the reporters publish their Weinstein article. It depicts them uncovering decades’ worth of the serial sexual predator’s secret payouts and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) over his abuse of women. The film is straightforward about its women’s rights focus. As Kantor says to American actress Rose McGowan, another survivor, over the phone, “I’m investigating systemic sexism in Hollywood.”
Maria Schrader and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, the director and screenwriter respectively, show consideration to the female audience at every turn. For instance, unlike so many of Hollywood’s one-dimensional female characters, She Said’s are well developed and realistic.
"He built the silence, and people complied"
Moreover, unlike countless other filmmakers, She Said’s creators avoid depicting graphic scenes of sexual abuse and harassment. They deftly allude to the violence, such as by showing Weinstein’s victims confiding in each other about their experiences or showing women’s clothing abandoned next to a hotel bed. Instead of traumatizing their female audiences with violent scenes, they present the consequences, for example Weinstein’s victims fleeing and crying. Kantor wrote in her Vogue article, “The film’s portrayal of the victims is not about replaying stories of abuse, but showing these women as individuals working through a choice—they didn’t do anything to cause the predation, so why was it on them to risk helping us?”
She Said doesn’t only shine light on Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behaviour or the system protecting abusers. It also brings attention to the sad fact that women who speak out against sexual predators often become targets of verbal abuse and threats. For example, in an early scene, following an article Twohey publishes about Donald Trump’s sexual predation of women, a man who does not identify himself on the phone tells her he will rape and murder her, then dump her body in the river. The victims who refuse to be silenced are labeled “crazy,” just as when a lawyer counselling Weinstein calls McGowan a “disturbed, pathological liar.” The movie shows that the investigation has its toll on the reporters’ mental health. As just one example, Kantor and Twohey discuss the resulting nightmares they are having.
The demoralizing aspects of the story are counterbalanced by the reporters’ supportive environments both at work and at home. Their husbands are depicted doing most of the childcare; the NY Times Executive Editor supports Twohey and Kantor by standing up to Weinstein; Rebecca Corbett, Twohey and Kantor’s editor, shows concern for Twohey when she returns to work after her maternity leave. Unlike many feature films that pit its female characters against each other, She Said is also full of congeniality and affectionate relationships between women, including intergenerational.
Female viewers will likely be uplifted to see Kantor and Twohey, with the brave women who speak up about their experiences, expose the system that silences women. One woman says to Kantor about Weinstein, “He built the silence, and people complied.” Kantor and Twohey speak to and confront various male and female employees (current and former) of firms owned by Weinstein (Miramax and The Weinstein Company). When Kantor travels to the UK to meet with women who worked for Miramax’ London office and Zelda Perkins—another Weinstein victim—tells her: “This is bigger than Weinstein. This is about the system protecting abusers,” it feels empowering rather than demoralizing. After all, the first step to solving a problem is exposing it, which is what these women are doing.
To break this crucial story, women needed to trust each other, work together, and go out on a limb. The fact that they did changed the world, including the film industry, making it a little easier for women to come forward about workplace sexual harassment.
She Said, produced by Annapurna Pictures and Plan B Entertainment, is a brilliant effort to restore the voices of women silenced following Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predation of them.
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