In the movie industry, nearly everyone knew that Harvey Weinstein was a monster. More accurately, they knew that he was an exceptionally brutal monster — because among the men (and women) in power in Hollywood, such a description is hardly uncommon or new. Working for Miramax, the tiny indie studio that Harvey and his brother, Bob, turned into an arthouse giant, was considered an experience akin to boot camp, with less-than-usual pay and inhuman demands. There was even an informal network known as Mir-Anon, for battered Miramax alumni.
Weinstein, who had a golden-era studio chief’s understanding of the medium and a showman’s sense of marketing, was a quintessential bully. But the complaints that were heard (and detailed in Peter Biskind’s book Down and Dirty Pictures) were mostly about his treatment of artists and employees — he was known as “Harvey Scissorhands” for crassly re-editing filmmakers’ work. His rampant abuse of women was whispered about, but such crimes were so ubiquitous in the industry — in which wannabes are often desperately ambitious and especially vulnerable — that when accusations by women started to circulate, they mostly produced shrugs.
Enter New York Times investigative reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. Determined to do something about sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, they ultimately decided to focus on the movie industry — and then on Weinstein, based on early leads. The result of their tireless reporting was a series of Pulitzer Prize–winning articles in the Times detailing Weinstein’s repeated rapes of women and a book, She Said, published in 2019.
The effect of publicly airing Weinstein’s crimes was immeasurable. The Times articles were a major mover of the #MeToo movement, and they were followed by further reporting on Weinstein and others by Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker — he shared the Pulitzer with Kantor and Twohey — and unleashed an avalanche of accusations of abuse by dozens of executives in the movie industry and throughout corporate America. What had been suppressed by nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) and an inexcusably high level of indifference exploded into the news and led, finally, to forced resignations and legal consequences for the perpetrators.
And now we have the movie She Said, based on Kantor and Twohey’s book, which opened in theaters in mid-November and is not yet available for streaming. It was nimbly directed by the German actress Maria Schrader (known for her work behind the camera on the TV series Unorthodox) and features Zoe Kazan as Kantor and Carey Mulligan as Twohey. As much as the book is a page-turner, the movie unfolds like a tense journalistic thriller in the tradition of such Oscar winners as All the President’s Men and Spotlight.
Like All the President’s Men, which follows Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they delve into the Watergate break-in and Nixon’s cover-up, She Said is essentially a buddy movie — though Kantor and Twohey faced different challenges than their male colleagues did, including post-partum depression, the balancing of family needs and an all-consuming job, and direct empathy with their female sources. And like Spotlight, which dealt with the Boston Globe’s effort to expose church complicity in the crimes of sexual predator priests, She Said is a procedural, detailing the process by which investigative reporters accumulate sources, gather information from them, and, fingers crossed, try to get them to go on record.
NDAs figure prominently in She Said, and they are clearly wolves in sheep’s clothing: legal bribes and witness suppressors parading as protective contracts. When Weinstein’s victims were famous actors, such as Gwyneth Paltrow or Ashley Judd, his threat against speaking out was that he’d destroy their careers. But victims who were not public figures often found it impossible to say no to the payoffs offered by an NDA — it was a question of financial survival. Indeed, one of the most powerful moments in She Said is when Samantha Morton, as former Miramax employee Zelda Perkins, throws caution to the wind and speaks out (and offers written proof) despite the NDA she signed. Her fury at being squelched is palpable and chilling.
The other members of the cast are equally persuasive. Zoe Kazan, as Jodi Kantor, is marvelously sensitive and smart, and Carey Mulligan, though a bit too glam, is a stoic Twohey. Though less fleshed out, Andre Braugher as the Times’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, is a capable boss, and Patricia Clarkson, as Kantor and Twohey’s editor, Rebecca Corbett, is largely wasted in a quiet role.
The New York Times’s modern headquarters in midtown Manhattan is a slick backdrop for the action, though Kantor and Twohey fly to remote locations to track down the women and whistle-blowers they seek. But the look of the film, and the production itself, are largely beside the point in a true-life tale about uncovering the truth — in this case, sexism’s dirty secrets. The movie’s storytelling is unpretentious, competent, and purposeful, and like Kantor and Twohey’s work, the outcome is successful. At a time when corrupt people in power have called the free press the “enemy of the people,” She Said shows us why solid journalism is one of the pillars of a just society.