SHE SAID is a compelling story that is well told by director Maria Schrader and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Based on the book of the same name by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, it follows those two New York Times reporters as they crack the story of Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual harassment, abuse, and rape while he was running Miramax. But it does more than recount the more lurid details of those specific criminal acts and the system that allowed them to take place without fear of prosecution. This is assuredly a story about the abuse of power and the victimization of the powerless, but the most disturbing thing examined is a subtext about systemic gender repression in our culture. One that, and I use this word very deliberately, grooms women to collaborate in their own abuse with societal demands that women need to be “nice”, and a legal system that, until recently, shrugged off their demands for justice. The pivotal moment for me is not when Weinstein finally talks on the record to the reporters, or when one of the women abused by him decides to go allow her name to be used in the article they are writing. Rather, it’s when Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Twohey (Carey Mulligan) are in a bar strategizing with their editor (Patricia Clarkson) and a man walks up to them expecting to join them. He’s a stranger, and as his come-ons become increasingly crude, Twohey tells him, in very explicitly profane terms to leave them alone. Kantor apologizes for the incident and Twohey tells her that she shouldn’t. She has nothing to apologize for. It’s a moment that deconstructs the perceived power dynamics of gender politics with stunning precision, as well as clearly demonstrating the power of a woman who is not afraid to use her voice.
Having a voice taken away, through shame and NDAs, the one a cultural condition that compels women to take the blame in any situation, the other, as we discover, a goldmine for lawyers, provide the template for the story. In 1992 Ireland, a fresh-faced young woman stumbles into the film business to her palpable delight. We cut to her running down a street, weeping and terrified. What happened in-between is what Kantor and Twohey will doggedly pursue despite intimidation, frightened witnesses, and a well-oiled legal system that is all but designed to make them fail. Not to mention a culture that has already given a “so what” to another story along the same lines.
We meet Twohey (Carey Mulligan) as she is covering that story as it crops up in her coverage of the Trump presidential run in 2016. She has uncovered years of sexual misconduct (to put it nicely as possible) by the candidate. When she gets someone to go on the record, instead of outrage directed at the perpetrator, it is the accuser who goes on trial in the media, followed by a phone call to Twohey by Trump to deny the charges and then calls the reporter a disgusting human being. Trump is elected. So much for accountability.
Flash forward Kantor is discovering circumstantial evidence of widespread sexual abuse in the film business comes to light, with several actresses, including Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ashley Judd, willing to talk in great detail about what Harvey Weinstein, but none willing to go on the record. She turns to Twohey for advice and the two form a partnership that is a perfect symbiosis of styles and experiences fueled by cool confidence and reformer’s passion. Their steady investigative work, mirrored in the film’s almost procedural style, makes for an engrossing conspiracy thriller as witnesses struggle between fear of retribution if they speak and the palpable need to be heard. The emotional damage inflicted is just as palpable, becoming the impetus for the reporters to continue. By the time Weinstein calls in to go on the record, watching the reporters spar with someone unused to be challenged by anyone, much less a woman, is a sublime moment.
Ashley Judd herself appears as herself, speaking with the reporters. Others are voices on the phone, or offscreen interviews. Actual tapes of Weinstein cajoling and threatening are played, while actresses portraying the lesser known victims provide a fully realized portrait of a system that crushed them the way callous children crush ants. SHE SAID gives them back their humanity as well as their voices.