She Said is bold, fearless filmmaking. Based on the 2019 book of the same name, Maria Schrader’s film depicts New York Times journalists Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) as they strive to uncover the sexual misconduct scandal surrounding Harvey Weinstein. It details how, after months of painful investigation, they broke the story in 2017 that revealed the truth and ignited the #MeToo movement. While the journalists insist this film isn’t a documentary, they emphasise that they’ve shared some of the dark truths they learned during their investigation and that the film depicts their personal lives in a way that can only be seen as authentic.
Even its title – inverting the phrase he said, she said – puts women at the forefront of the discussion around sexual assault. It’s a declaration that the film will share women’s stories first and foremost. It details how the journalists broke the story about women, named and anonymous, including Rose McGowan, Lauren O’Connor, Laura Madden, and Emily Nestor, and how they shed light on decades of abuse and payoffs while Weinstein helmed productions at Miramax and across countless film festivals between the 1990s and the 2010s.
If the book has been described as ‘journalism of the decade’, then for me this film certainly comes out as my top film of the year.
Director: Maria Schrader
Release date: October 15, 2022 (LFF)
Rating: Not yet rated
Before Trump was elected president in 2016, Megan Twohey was first working at Reuters and broke the story about the sexual misconduct allegations against the then-candidate. There, she established a name for herself – fearlessly pursuing the assignment while pregnant and receiving hostile calls from Trump and his people – yet none of this swayed her from her determination to reveal the truth. Shortly after her move from the news agency to the Times in 2016, fellow journalist Jodi Kantor (known for her policy-defining investigations into workers’ rights at Amazon and Starbucks) cautiously began to befriend her to find out more about Twohey’s work. Bonding over the shared toil of balancing motherhood and postpartum depression with a successful and demanding career, the two women eventually became close and this led to their work together on the Weinstein case.
Watching the film now, it feels like the pre-covid offices exist in another age, yet the themes behind the film are still up-to-the-minute today. When asked if they were scared of Weinstein, Twohey responds: ‘the movie captures a common trait of investigative reporters: We relish squaring off against wrongdoers.’ Kantor adds: ‘the story answers the perennially difficult question of how you confront a bully: You do it together.’
During the course of their investigation, scathing memos come into the light, witnesses give them harrowing accounts, and even those close to Weinstein begin to reveal the gross misconduct they had been privy to: sexual harassment, rape, anti-Semitism, racism, abuse of power to the extreme. As one witness states: ‘The balance of power was me, 0; Harvey Weinstein, 10.’ Most disturbing of all is the fact that Weinstein and his cohorts had made multiple payouts to victims on the condition that they sign a gag order. The journalists found that even encouraging women to admit what happened is hard work – some hid as far away as London and Wales so as never to be involved in Hollywood again. The damage was deep and wide-ranging and affected countless people, including, later, the families of victims.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that I wept throughout this film. I felt so distraught on behalf of the women whose lives and careers Weinstein wrecked because of his hubris and because of the system that protected him. There is a truly harrowing scene in which the actual audio of a non-consensual encounter between Weinstein and a young assistant is played, and it depicts how she repeatedly tries to refuse his advances, but he forces himself on her. Regardless of whether you’ve been in a situation like this, or whether you believe the film should even have been made, I think women’s stories always deserve to be told and I commend Kantor and Twohey, Kazan and Mulligan, and Schrader, for all their work bringing this to the screen.
Throughout their investigation, Twohey and Kantor endure late nights at the office, fraught phone conversations, reluctant interviewees, bureaucratic systems, abominable lawyers, and most importantly, incredibly brave survivors. They catch flights, meet witnesses in darkened restaurants, and are followed by threatening, unmarked vehicles.
The film highlights the importance of old-fashioned investigative journalism but also the journalists’ dedication to the human aspect of their story and their tireless pursuit of justice. You might compare it to 2019’s The Report, 2018’s The Post, or any number of other thrillers for similar tropes, but where She Said differs is in the power and conviction of its two leads. I would say these are career-best performances from Kazan and Mulligan, but I have to resist the urge to compare this to Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman – as it falls into a whole different genre. It’s also supported by a strong cast, with Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Andre Braugher playing their editor in a markedly more serious and decisive editorial role, and the ensemble fits together well.
Distressing, urgent conference calls with Weinstein and his lawyers; the agonising final proofread before hitting ‘publish’ on the most explosive story of the decade. These processes feel so familiar to anyone who’s worked on a newsdesk or in editorial, but everything is amplified by a thousand when so much is at stake. The importance of their work simply cannot be overstated: following the publishing of their initial article, no fewer than 82 women came forward within a month to support the story and charge Weinstein with the same offences. The truth became clear – and in 2020 Weinstein was convicted of decades of rape and sexual assault and is currently serving a sentence (which may stretch beyond 100 years).
When this arrives in cinemas for general release, I don’t want people to see it as just another film of many contenders during awards season. She Said tells an important story, not just about how perpetrators of abuse are brought down, but about the struggle of the women behind the story and how they risked everything to bring the truth into the light. I don’t want it to be forgotten easily – using the industry of film which abusers so often hid behind, it unmasks the people who cared enough about each other’s stories to dedicate years of their lives to it and to inspire a worldwide feminist movement.