The headline was clear, concise and damning: “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades.” The story, written by New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor and published on Oct. 5, 2017, detailed how the powerful producer and Miramax co-founder swatted away allegations of sexual assault and harassment for decades. They spoke to his former assistants, prominent actresses and other film industry people to figure out the constellation of lawyers, employees and advisors who protected the Hollywood mogul. Twohey and Kantor’s reporting not only aided Weinstein survivors seeking redress; it also helped ignite a percolating movement.
Maria Schrader’s She Said dramatizes Twohey and Kantor’s investigative process, sensitively portraying the lengths the reporters went to in order to expose one of the most harrowing cases of workplace abuse, power and coercion in memory. (I was an employee at the Times during this period but had no relationship to either person, or anyone, portrayed.) The film — based on their book of the same title — is sensible, dutiful and, thanks to key performances, more engaging than the average newsroom procedural.
The Bottom Line
Sensible and engaging.
Following in the tradition of its genre forebears (most recently, Tom McCarthy’s Oscar winner Spotlight), She Said wraps the rush of toiling away at groundbreaking stories in the unglamorous affairs of everyday living. It also pokes at but can’t fully unravel a darker thesis: how intertwined and complicit many of us are in the systems that keep abusive men in power. (Brad Pitt, who recently had allegations leveled against him, is an executive producer.) Bringing justice requires a radical refocus and starting anew.
Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Kantor (Zoe Kazan) are at the center of She Said, but their story is anchored by vignettes previewing the lives of the women who become their sources. The film opens in Ireland, 1992, with a scene of Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle), one of the first women to go on the record about Weinstein, happening upon a shoot for a Miramax film. She joins the production company soon after, and in the next scene we see her running through the streets — tears in her eyes, a distressed look on her face. The moment connects the past to the present and establishes one of the film’s most affecting threads: a generation of women forced to abandon their dreams and live alone with their nightmares.
When She Said settles into the recent present — five months after Election Day 2016 — we have a firm understanding of the reporters behind the story. Jodi, whose previous work focused on labor and Amazon, is trying to materialize a story out of rumors she’s heard about Weinstein. Tracking down and trying to speak to some of the higher-profile women — like Rose McGowan, for example — is a consuming task, pulling her away from time with her husband and daughters. Megan, who broke some of the earliest reports of the sexual assault allegations against Trump, has just returned to work after giving birth to her first child. Postpartum depression plagues her, and she finds reprieve from the overwhelming demands of motherhood by throwing herself into a new project.
The decision for the two women to collaborate is an unfussy one: Their editor, Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson), pairs them and puts them to work. The investigation takes Megan and Jodi, whose differing personalities become clearer over the course of the film, around New York and the world. Megan, a steely force unafraid of confrontation, tries to find lower-profile women who might want to go on the record. She travels to Queens to locate one of Weinstein’s former assistants and negotiates with Lance Maerov (Sean Cullen), a former board member for the Weinstein Company, to get him to confirm the exact number of settlements the producer paid. Mulligan delivers a strong turn, conveying Megan’s struggle to balance competing obligations and attempts to stave off depression. The reporter’s drive provides the foundation of Mulligan’s performance, which the actress imbues with dry humor and an admirable sense of ruthlessness.
Jodi employs mellower tactics — at one point Megan describes her as “less intimidating.” She travels to London, California and Wales in an attempt to get former assistants to tell her their stories. Kazan channels her character’s strength through concerned gazes — furrowed brows, teary eyes — and understanding pleas. Jodi is persistent in her pursuit of getting at least one woman on the record.
Incomparable, however, is Samantha Morton as Zelda Perkins, a former Weinstein employee bound by the terms of a smothering NDA. In her brief scene, as Zelda sits in a London café with Jodi, she gives a performance both transfixing in its truthfulness and lacerating in its impact. Zelda tells the journalist about how another assistant’s assault activated her desire to fight the Weinstein company. She — and that assistant, Rowena Chiu (Angela Yeoh) — tried to face the company, to make demands that Harvey’s behavior be taken seriously, that the board act instead of ignore. Their efforts did not do much in the end, but that didn’t stop Zelda from trying to get the story out. In the end, she hands Jodi papers that bolster Jodi and Megan’s investigation.
At the heart of She Said, which moves at a leisurely pace that sometimes makes the film’s more-than-two-hour runtime drag, are the testimonies of these women. Instead of depicting any assault, Schrader (I’m Your Man), working with DP Natasha Braier, creates audio-visual montages: A recording of Harvey (portrayed briefly from behind, but otherwise unseen) trying to coerce a woman into his room plays as the camera observes an ornately decorated hotel corridor; while Laura recounts the story of her rape, the film cuts from her seated on the beach with Jodi to a nondescript hotel room where women’s lingerie has been strewn on the ground and the shower runs in the bathroom.
These moments offer a kind of reclamation for the women whose stories went unheard for decades. But they also make the testimonies we still don’t hear even more glaring in their absence. Five years after the peak of #MeToo, initiated by activist Tarana Burke, dozens of stories like Twohey and Kantor’s have been published, helping to change how we talk about sexual harassment in the workplace and beyond. Despite the fact that the movement was started by a Black woman survivor, mainstream portrayals and sympathies revolve around the experiences of white women. There’s no expectation that She Said address that concerning reality, but as the film inevitably moves into the canon of historical and biographical dramatizations, there’s a hope that it will revitalize the discourse and invite conversations about why — years later — certain testimonies seem to hold more weight than others.