In 2017 a story broke in the New York Times that changed the landscape of the film industry forever.
Harvey Weinstein, producer, and co-founder of Indiewood juggernaut Miramax Pictures, was exposed as having sexually harassed and abused women from all sections of the industry over the majority of his career. The journalists that gave his victims their voice, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, are front and centre to the story of She Said, played by Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan respectively. She Said is directed by Maria Schrader with a screenplay written by Rebeccar Lenkiewicz, adapted from Kantor and Twohey’s 2011 book of the same name.
Opening with scenes of Twohey reporting on Donald Trump’s harassment scandals that surfaced during his 2016 presidential candidacy, She Said sets the tone extremely early; this is a David and Goliath story rooted in the systemic abuse of women and power.
The story really kicks off when Kantor is given a tip that actress Rose McGowan was sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein when she was 23. Kantor realises that she has inadvertently uncovered a string of assaults at the hands of Weinstein when she interviews actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd, but she’s unable to break the story and so she recruits Twohey to help with her investigation. Together they unravel a decades-long history of serial predation that had been covered up by Weinstein’s studio with ironclad NDAs and hush money payments.
It’s a disgustingly common story – a man in a position of authority takes advantage of a female co-worker or employee and rather than defend the rights and safety of those women, the corporations use what power they have to protect the perpetrator. Misogyny and sexism is so deeply institutionalised that companies like Miramax allowed Weinstein to devastate women in the industry for decades, in many cases completely derailing their lives and careers.
She Said often shows the great lengths that Twohey and Kantor went to in order to obtain these stories, showing how many victims either didn’t feel safe coming forward despite leaving the film industry, or legally couldn’t speak up because of the agreements they were made to sign. It was a true David and Goliath battle, with both women determined to give Weinstein’s victims their voices back. It was also truly heartwarming to see both women travelling across the country on the slim possibility that someone would be willing to talk to them.
The film balances the investigation work with Twohey and Kantor’s personal lives as they inevitably become consumed by the layers of the story. It candidly explores Twohey’s postpartum depression, Kantor’s home life with her two young children, and the everyday abuses they receive from critics and trolls due to them being somewhat public figures. The film also shows the ongoing support they receive from their husbands and editorial team, all of whom know that what they’re doing is essential work.
The nature of the stories being told to and through Twohey and Kantor are, of course, incredibly sensitive and Shrader handles them with delicacy, care, and compassion. As victims come forward with their stories, She Said makes no effort to re-enact them, simply allowing the dialogue to sit over stills of staged rooms and locations. Truthfully, these stories don’t need the pantomime in order to be impactful. Just hearing the conversations between Weinstein and his victims is enough to drive the point home, that he’s an aggressively predatory man incapable of seeing women as anything other than a tool for his sexual gratification.
Appropriately, Weinstein is only shown physically once. By omitting him from the film in a physical way, Shrader allows the victim’s stories to take up necessary space and prevents Weinstein from becoming central to the story. While he is the villain in their lives, lurking in the background like he does on film, he is only a symptom of a larger problem.
Twohey and Kantor were able to slay this particular demon and it’s foolish to think there aren’t more like him. We as moviegoers can only hope that there are others like these two incredible women who have the conviction to make them known.
She Said is now on digital streaming services and is available on Apple TV and Google Play Movies in Australia.