Content Warning: This article contains mentions of sexual assault.
Based on the book of the same name by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, “She Said” tackles the true account of how these two investigative journalists, played by Carrie Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) and Zoe Kazan (“The Big Sick”) uncovered and wrote a story that would dismantle the power of a serial sex offender and set the #MeToo movement in motion.
The film finds Twohey and Kantor working at the New York Times in 2016 as they investigate Harvey Weinstein (“Shakespeare in Love”) — formerly one of Hollywood’s most powerful and successful film producers — and the allegations against him of sexual misconduct in the workplace.
In 2020, the New York justice system convicted Weinstein of two counts of rape and sexual assault and sentenced him to 23 years in prison. Two years into his sentence, Weinstein now stands for a second criminal trial in Los Angeles. He has pleaded not guilty to all seven charges against him: two counts of rape and five counts of sexual assault. If convicted, Weinstein faces a sentence of up to 135 years in prison. “She Said” — released on Nov. 18, 2022, just over a month after the trial was officially underway — brings attention to a story that revolutionized the conversation on sexual harassment in the workplace.
The trial and the horrific testimonies that accompany it represent much more than Weinstein. “She Said” understands this — the most Weinstein himself physically contributes is his voice and the back of his head. The correct choice, without question. The true story of how the king of Miramax Films (and of Hollywood, for that matter) abused his power for decades without consequence is symbolic of a system that protects abusers and silences victims in the workplace. “She Said” takes a stand against all the Weinsteins of the world and the institutions that tend to shield them from the consequences of their guilty actions.
The film’s opening sequence follows Twohey as she publishes a story exposing sexual misconduct by former President Donald Trump ahead of the 2016 presidential election with a named source, which led to the firing of political commentator Bill O’Reilly at Fox News after misconduct allegations against him surfaced. This serves as the prelude to the film’s central story and begs the question, asked by Times editor Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson, “Sharp Objects”), “Why is sexual harassment so pervasive and so hard to address?”
“She Said” dials in on the grueling process of chasing leads, approaching sources, minding the law, toeing the line of ethics and pulling thread after thread. By following the nearly impossible operation of breaking a story of this magnitude, with no shortage of intimidated and legally gagged sources, we see just how easy it would have been for Weinstein’s behavior to never come to light. The film is slow and methodical. It shares its naturalistic, procedural cinematic approach with Tom McCarthy’s 2015 “Spotlight,” which followed The Boston Globe’s operation to expose the cover-up of child sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church. Both films are sobering, as they keenly observe the thrill and drama of all-consuming investigations into corrupt systems of deceit and intimidation. Mulligan and Kazan honor Twohey and Kantor with memorable performances, their emotional vulnerability expressing just how passionate and personal reporting can get.
Despite its principled motives, it’s hard to ignore the somewhat paradoxical nature of this film. At first glance, it’s as if Hollywood is saying: “Hey, look at us! We’re repenting! You’re seeing this, right?”, as if producing a biographical drama absolves Hollywood of their own complacency and habitual enablement of sexual predators. It doesn’t.
That said, the irony is not lost on “She Said.” Rather than positioning Weinstein as the story’s sole villain, the film depicts Hollywood studios, film executives and the press’s complicity in the decades-long cover-up. The film’s critique of its own industry is able to escape self-contradiction by remaining loyal to its subject matter and prioritizing transparent accountability without thought to whom it may be displeasing. The fact-based content of “She Said” is striking and upsetting, driven by the testimonies of Weinstein’s victims that exclude no guilty parties from the blame.
Ashley Judd (“A Time to Kill”), who bravely plays herself in the film, shares the story of her encounter with Weinstein, which led to the industry blacklisting her. Before speaking with the Times, Judd discussed her story publicly without naming Weinstein. She claimed that, despite his anonymity, anyone who had been in the industry for long enough knew who she was speaking of. Yet the silence remained loud and steady.
The press, including the Times, is held accountable in “She Said” for their silence, bought easily by exclusive access to Hollywood stars. When Kantor contacts one of Weinstein’s victims, the woman says she had spoken to the Times before but is hesitant to do so again after they put her story in the Style section. These cases are often dismissed as “he said, she said” situations, but “She Said” rids the narrative of Weinstein and those who sneered at his victims, leading with the testimonies from the women, just as the film’s protagonists do. This film, as well as the true story it depicts, is about giving women a voice — victims who are unable to use their own, victims fearful of judgment and journalists bound to report the truth. Five years following the breaking of the Weinstein story, the exigence of these stories still reverberates today.
Daily Arts Writer Maya Ruder can be reached at email@example.com.