She Said (2022)
Director: Maria Schrader
Screenwriter: Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Samantha Morton, Jennifer Ehle, Angela Yeoh, Maren Heary, Tom Pelphrey, Adam Shapiro, Mike Houston
Based on the 2019 book of the same name, Maria Schrader’s She Said chronicles the two women who exposed the sexual abuse allegations against powerful movie executive Harvey Weinstein. Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan play New York Times journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, whose 2017 article helped to shatter the silence on decades of sexual abuse in Hollywood and launch the #MeToo movement.
The film begins with Twohey working on an article about sexual assault allegations against the then Presidential candidate Donald Trump. Following Trump’s election, Twohey is understandably initially reluctant to take on the Weinstein case, fearing that people “won’t care” – why would they in a world in which they would elect Donald Trump as President after #pussygate? What does that say about the value and impact of women’s voices?
For the duration of the film, we see Twohey and Kantor tirelessly track down former Miramax employees, determined to get women to share their stories. The duo speak with Hollywood actresses, including Ashley Judd, who was one of the first women to speak out against Weinstein (and plays herself in the film). We also hear a phone conversation with Rose McGowan, who accused Weinstein of rape, but was initially not taken seriously.
At the beginning of the film, we briefly see former Miramax intern Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle), fleeing from a film set in tears. Decades later, she tells the journalists how “he took [her] voice just as [she] was about to start finding it.” We also hear from Weinstein’s former employee Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton), who bravely confronted Weinstein after he raped her colleague in the 1990s. Perkins was bound by a contract which she later discovered forbid her from discussing it with anyone, including friends, family, or a therapist.
But it is one thing to get Weinstein’s survivors to talk about the abuse they endured, and another for them to go on the record. Weinstein could destroy entire careers with a single phone call, and many women had been pressured into payoffs and NDAs. We later hear that Weinstein reached settlements with 8-12 women in an attempt to buy their silence.
The film is sensitive in its portrayal of the women and their testimonies. We never explicitly witness their attacks, we just hear their accounts. One of the most chilling moments in the film is a voice recording of the conversation between model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez and Harvey Weinstein outside his hotel room. All we see is a haunting shot of an empty hotel corridor as we hear the then 22-year-old confront Weinstein about groping her in a business meeting the previous day. Weinstein tells her that he “won’t do it again” and frantically pleads with her to go into his hotel room as she is “embarrassing [him]”, which she repeatedly refuses.
This effectively minimalist approach is akin to Kitty Green’s The Assistant; a powerful commentary on the culture of silence and complicity in the entertainment industry. While Green’s film never directly references Weinstein, the monstrous weight of his presence is palpable. Similarly with Schrader’s film, we do not need to see what happened behind those closed hotel doors – it is what is not seen which is most sinister. In She Said, we merely hear Weinstein’s voice on the phone and see the back of his head (played by Mike Houston), but the focus is crucially on the women who survived and exposed him. It is their story. Afterall, the film, as the title suggests, is about the impact (and previous lack thereof) of the female voice.
Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan are brilliantly compelling as Kantor and Twohey, and effectively convey the women’s frustrations, sadness and unrelenting determination to discover and present the truth. The look on Kazan’s face when a Weinstein survivor agrees to speak on the record encapsulates the simultaneously heart-breaking yet monumentally triumphant milestone they are about to achieve. Mulligan follows in the footsteps of her leading role in Emerald Fennell’s explosive rape revenge drama, Promising Young Woman, in her quest to avenge sexual predators. In the same vein, Twohey and Kantor are heroic avenging angels for women who were deprived of a voice.
“The number of people who shared information with us was relatively small, and yet their impact was so large,” Kantor said in a New York Film Festival Q&A. “We hope this film helps people remember that these personal stories really can make an enormous difference.”
Twohey and Kantor’s work is testament to the power of female solidarity. As Kantor and Twohey acknowledge in the film, “the only way these women are going to go on the record is if they all jump together.” After the article was published, approximately 100 women came forward with sexual misconduct allegations against Weinstein, sparking a global #MeToo movement (by activist Tarana Burke).
Weinstein faces a 23-year imprisonment for rape and sexual assault, and five years on from #MeToo more women are being listened to when they speak out about sexual assault. Recent events, such as the Roe v Wade case, have shown that the battle for women’s rights is far from over, but there is nevertheless a sense of female empowerment emerging from the patriarchal struggle. She Said is testament to the impact of female solidarity and the power of individual voices to inspire global change.
Written by Gala Woolley
You can support Gala Woolley in the following places: