When New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor walked out onto the stage of the Michigan Theater, the crowd of more than 1,100 Ann Arborites erupted into applause. It’s not often that journalists are met with such fanfare, but this was different: The work of these women inspired a movement.
The Wallace House’s special screening of Maria Schrader’s 2022 film “She Said” had just concluded, and it was time for the Q&A with the women at the center of the film. Based on Kantor and Twohey’s 2019 novel of the same name, “She Said” depicts how the two NYT reporters broke the story of disgraced media mogul Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual harassment allegations in 2017. The movie is a powerful portrayal of the laborious investigative process and the courage of sexual assault survivors who push on in spite of the trauma they may face. Kantor and Twohey were there to help the audience unpack that.
And the audience came ready for a conversation with the journalists. In spite of the film’s heavy subject matter, the atmosphere in the crowd was relaxed, with audience members clapping when sources for the Weinstein story decided to speak up and cheering when the movie ended. It was clear how much of an impact the Weinstein story and the work of the reporters and survivors had on audience members. Several audience members described how inspired the movie made them feel, whether as survivors or as budding journalists.
For their part, Kantor and Twohey proved to be provocative conversationalists, as each answer they gave was thoughtful and nuanced. When asked what they hoped the film would portray, Twohey responded that they “really wanted to bring readers behind the scenes and to show them how a story like this is done.” To illustrate how diligent journalists have to be, Twohey recounted how a former editor of hers used to say “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.” Twohey continued, saying it took on a new urgency “in this era when there are so many accusations of fake news and the very notion of truth can feel like it’s collapsing.”
At the same time, Twohey and Kantor wanted to show how slow and intensive the journalistic process is. It’s “rarely glamorous,” they said, and the process is full of months of dead ends and sources who didn’t feel safe enough to go on the record. For a certain amount of time, Kantor and Twohey weren’t even sure the story would get published.
Nevertheless, Kantor encouraged student journalists in the audience to keep up their efforts, responding to a question about burnout by saying “the secret is, (journalism) is much harder, I think, in college than it is once you get to a real organization that has more support.”
Amid the commentary on the journalism industry, “She Said” took the time to remind the audience the subjects were real humans: There were moments of brevity and lightheartedness, and though there were moments when the audience laughed that I wasn’t sure were appropriate, the screening was a powerful experience.
When asked about the importance of the film and of the Weinstein story overall, Kantor and Twohey were clear in their response.
“I felt like (the decades of pop culture and) Oscar ceremonies I had watched had a terrible secret,” Kantor admitted. “The idea that these women who were so prominent, and in many cases rich, still had these problems and didn’t feel that they could speak out about [them] was just so interesting to me.”
But the film wasn’t about the powerful women who spoke out against Weinstein; it was about the normal people like Weinstein’s assistants and aides who chose to come forward, which was what really thrilled Twohey and Kantor.
“They were some of our bravest sources. (One source) spoke to us despite the fact that she could get in legal trouble just for sitting down at a café table with me,” Kantor said. “Without the bravery and without the effort, the real work that the sources have to do to participate in these stories, we don’t have a story to publish,” Twohey added.
What was clear from both the film and the hour-long Q&A was the admiration and love the filmmakers, reporters and audience had for the survivors and everyone else who worked on this story. The work that went into this reporting helped galvanize a movement and inspired countless women to speak up. This screening was an inspirational and enlightening experience.
Daily Arts Writer Tate LaFrenier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.