How do you handle a story with immense weight? Is it possible to create meaningful change in normalized misconduct? How can you get someone to speak up after they have been silenced? She Said, released on Nov. 18, answered these questions for me as I sat reclined in my hometown movie theater during Thanksgiving break.
She Said follows New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey in their investigation of Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long history of abuse and sexual misconduct against women. Their groundbreaking article, published on Oct. 5, 2017, propelled dozens more women to share their stories of Weinstein’s abuse and ignited the rapid expansion of the #MeToo movement. Kantor and Twohey’s 2019 book, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, provides the story for the film. The shared title, She Said, speaks to the common rhetoric in discussions of sexual assault where the issue is reduced to a “he said, she said” issue. The title foreshadows the film’s reliance on, and faith in, the female voice.
The film tells much more than the inner workings of a news story. Writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz and director Maria Schrader fleshed out the characterization of Kantor and Twohey beyond“journalists.” Kantor and Twohey navigated dual identities as reporters and mothers as the story infiltrated their lives. We see Twohey suffer from postpartum depression, Kantor’s shock at her young daughter using the word “rape,” and the many nights and weekends when Twohey and Kantor pick up calls from women ready to tell their stories.
Their multidimensionality adds to the genuine connections between the survivors and the reporters, and their conversations are perhaps the most powerful scenes of the film. While She Said gives moderate attention to stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd (who plays herself), the film mainly centers on less well-known women, often Weinstein’s former assistants. In Kantor’s meeting with Laura Madden, one of these past assistants, Madden described the shame she felt after Weinstein assaulted her, thinking that she “let him do that.” Choking up, Madden said, “It was like he took my voice that day — just when I was about to start finding it.”
The film repeatedly established the difficulty of getting women to speak out, especially on the record. Opening up past traumas can often lead to the pain spiraling back. However, Kantor and Twohey stress that sharing their stories can help other women, especially concerning sexual assault in the workplace. In the words of Kantor, “If [this] can happen to Hollywood actresses, who else is it happening to?”
She Says does not only convey its messages through what it shows, but also through what it omits. We never see an assault, Weinstein’s face, or the aftermath of the article. Yet, remnants of these exclusions remain. In one scene, we hear a voiceover of a woman describing her assault as the screen shows only inanimate objects: the hotel bed, crumpled clothes on the floor and the shower running. We are left to imagine what led to this. Furthermore, the film gave Weinstein barely any screen time — we only see the back of his head in a meeting he attends at the Times. While some filmmakers may think these aspects are integral parts of the story, the film’s exclusions support the film’s overall theme of leveraging female power.
A carefully-tuned distrust of women rules the media and pervades anyone telling a story. Female reporters, high-profile actresses and ordinary women are all subject to it. Yet, She Said gives us hope. The film identifies Kantor and Twohey as passionate journalists not only for their dedication to their work, but also for the humanity behind them. She Said gives space for each survivor to feel their voice was heard and crucial. The film reminds women they are not confined to what people in power say or what society normalizes — rather, they have a voice and it matters.
Gillian Lee is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].