She Said is a 2022 film about Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s New York Times investigation of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse of female underlings. The film stars Carey Mulligan as Twohey and Zoe Kazan as Kantor. It was directed by Maria Schrader. The screenplay was written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz. It was released on November 18, 2022. It has an 87% professional critic score at RottenTomatoes, and an 87% audience score. In spite of positive reviews, the film opened to weak box office.
I vowed to myself that I would not see She Said. I’m a feminist and I’ve been subject to sexual harassment, but the Me Too phenomenon that followed the Weinstein scandal struck me as flawed. Too many Me Too discussions oversimplified the problem. These simplified discussions depicted men as rapists and women as victims and an incoherent and racist rage against “white men” as some kind of solution. Hollywood actresses participate in the objectification of women, and female participation in female degradation renders the “men are bad” solution ridiculous.
Women who don’t trade some kind of sexual access for money and power have often been penalized for our decision not to put out. We lost good grades; we lost jobs; we lost opportunities. We didn’t do it, but we did witness other women doing it, and advancing themselves thereby. I would have to have been blind in that senior-year creative writing class not to recognize that the pretty but dumb blonde was doing something other than pumping out depthless prose. Our leering lecher of an instructor, who proudly announced to us that he wrote for Playboy¸ assigned an A grade to this student whom he lathered with tender attentions he never showed to the rest of us. We had to content ourselves with B and C grades from a strutting rooster who apparently never bothered to read our work, never mind critique it.
Graduate school was at least as corrupt as Weinstein’s Hollywood. The Indiana University South Bend Chancellor H. Daniel Cohen responded to charges of sexual assault with, “Have you ever noticed that almost all of the women who claim to be sexually harassed are physically ugly?” The university had to work very hard to remove Cohen; he had tenure.
Lower down the academic pecking order, a graduate student who was the protégé of the most powerful professor in the department pled guilty to child pornography charges. I was astounded when a fellow grad student demanded that we all gather in support for the criminal. I never received a similar email demanding that we support a grad student who couldn’t afford medical care or who was reliant on food banks.
Then there was the professor who all the other professors knew assaulted any female graduate student alone with him for more than five minutes. Somehow letting new graduate females know never to be alone with this man was not information any professor felt conscious-bound to share.
Academic Sodom includes willing female participants. A fellow graduate student, who needed funding, said to me, “I’m wearing this blouse today because I have an appointment with [a powerful campus official] and I need cash.” Did the blouse remain buttoned? I preferred not to know. But she got the cash.
There was the story of the young applicant who showed up for an interview for a tenure-track position and almost immediately pushed apart the senior professor who interviewed her and his long-term spouse. Yes, she got the job, and she also acquired the formerly married professor. There was the ambitious grad student who allowed herself to be seduced by a married senior professor, and then drove him to divorce and a suicide attempt.
One might think that study of so serious a matter as the Holocaust would require rectitude on the part of scholars. I was told on one campus that the “go-to” person was Prof. X. I met with her; I remember, only, her breasts and buttocks. She wore a tight, low-cut blouse and a tight, slit, miniskirt. Wondering if I remembered her correctly, and fairly, I just googled her name, a quarter century after our meeting. She’s now at an Ivy League school. In her official photo, she is wearing a low-cut blouse and she is bending forward in a position that enhances her cleavage. Her long hair flies about her face; perhaps she is standing over a wind machine.
Sex sells. A male friend who has held powerful positions in international corporations assures me that such experiences were part of daily life in the business world. Women sales personnel, more than once, offered him sexual favors in exchange for large contracts.
And then there’s the matter of false accusations. One professor, a deeply compassionate, ethical, and giving person, faced a fabricated charge of making the campus unsafe for Muslims. How? The professor was openly homosexual. Given the accuser’s religion, the university walked on eggshells. Had a Christian student made a similar complaint about a gay professor, the university would never even have met with that student. In the Woke power structure, gay trumps Christian but Muslim trumps gay. And this distribution of power by identity is another problem with Me Too.
“It’s not about sex; it’s about power.” We hear that often. And yet Me Too didn’t adequately address male victims of power abusers. For Weinstein, says Zelda Perkins, a former employee, “Sex was an expression of power. He also enjoyed eviscerating men with terrifying tirades. The more people who saw him doing it, the better he liked it.” Men can be victims, too. Any real answer to sexual harassment will have to entail solutions for male victims of abusive bosses.
The modern left doesn’t just reject, it works to dismantle traditional gender roles. Men are not to be chivalrous or protective. Men are not to be socialized to regard their predatory urges as something that must be recognized and restrained through a larger civilizational narrative. Women are not to be modest or to proceed with caution. Weinstein used these very attitudes in his manipulations. He ridiculed any woman who objected to being alone with him in a hotel room. Perkins reports “The first time I was left alone with him on an evening shift, he came into the hotel room in his underpants. I was shocked. He said: ‘Don’t be so prissy. If you’re going to work for me you’ll have to be less of a prude.'”
It’s somehow a “sexist” violation to speak of men as predators, women as prey, and women’s chastity as a valuable commodity. The father who wants to have a chat with his daughter’s date, and demand that he bring his daughter home at a reasonable hour is condemned a dinosaur. Women are supposed to be as sexually predatory as men. To warn young women that, say, getting drunk at a frat party is a dangerous thing to do, is judged as sexist. This rejection of traditional gender roles has rendered women and girls much more vulnerable than those of us raised under more “old-fashioned” standards.
At the same time that acknowledgement of women’s greater vulnerability is condemned as “sexist,” media pumps out images of female superheroes who solve their problems, in a traditionally masculine way, by beating up their opponents. Any number of films depict petite actresses, like Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, and Black Panther’s Dora Milaje, as being able to beat much larger males into submission. In real life, female athletes are forced to compete with males like Lia Thomas who hold obvious biological advantages, advantages that Woke demands we deny.
I saw betrayed female vulnerability in my students. When I was a young, it was not just acceptable, it was expected, for a girl to say “No” to any demand for sexual intercourse before marriage. From what my students reported, nowadays it is much more difficult for a girl to say no to immediate demands, including humiliating group sex or sadomasochistic acts in which the girl is physically endangered. Female students reported depressions, abortions, and suicidal thoughts inspired by the delusion, “I thought he loved me.”
It’s a big, complicated mess. The Me Too movement, at least as I was reading about it, in place of taking on these tough questions, offered a simplistic “solution” of denouncing all men as perpetrators of “rape culture,” a confused image of women as both utterly disempowered victims, and as genderless superheroes, and a demonization of male sexuality, with a special focus on white men as being uniquely evil.
The mirror to demonization of men was “Believe Women,” the idea that women are blameless. Those victimized by Ghislaine Maxwell would beg to differ. Harvey Weinstein, just like Jeffrey Epstein, deputized female enablers to facilitate his crimes. Not just lowly assistants but powerful lawyer Lisa Bloom, daughter of feminist champion Gloria Allred, worked for Weinstein. Attorney Roberta Ann Kaplan, a Me Too activist, was implicated in an attempt to discredit an accuser of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Why would Kaplan betray her fellow woman in this way? Kaplan is an activist for same-sex marriage. Cuomo was a vocal proponent of same-sex marriage. Real-world politics conflicted with loyalty to a victim of sexual harassment.
Me Too’s “solutions” struck me as doomed; inevitably they will crumble under a tidal wave of hormones. Women want to be perceived as sexually alluring, and they work to gain power and resources thereby. Women are protected, to the extent that they are, by institutions like the church, the police, courts of law, and journalism, which are dominated by men and a male sense of justice and protection – our supposed enemies. Of course all these institutions are flawed, and have failed victims repeatedly, but outside of these institutions, women and other vulnerable people have virtually no protection at all, except vigilantism. The solution is not to demonize institutions, but rather to improve them.
I also didn’t want to see She Said because I felt that Me Too had had its moment. It’s not like the New York Times, crusading journalists, or Hollywood actresses are hurting for attention. We live in a world where any number of crises call out for cameras, screenplays, and audiences. Where is the big-budget, awards-season movie, for example, about women in Iran willing to risk their lives simply by removing their hijabs?
As I took my theater seat, I was ready to criticize, not enjoy.
I loved She Said. I hung on every scene. I never looked at my watch. I cried. I can’t wait to see it again. She Said is not for everybody. One male reviewer called it “overly earnest;” another male reviewer called it “a bore.” I love earnestness. I was never bored. While watching, I relived my own experiences of sexual harassment and assault and the decisions I made to survive. I also relived my own attempts to research and write true, important, but controversial stories, and the price I paid for doing so. I understand why a couple of male reviewers could not relate, but I saw myself in this movie.
She Said is a low-key film about two women reporters chasing leads and checking facts. There are no gunshots, no explosions, no dance numbers, no love scenes, no superheroes, no fabulous costumes, and no laughs. There are no rape scenes, and you never see the face of an actor depicting Harvey Weinstein. I loved both choices. I really don’t need, ever, to see another rape scene. Rather, She Said focuses on the aftermath: how victims react in the initial moments after violation, and how they piece their lives back together over the course of years. She Said offers, alas, no quick fixes. She Said is a tightly focused film. It never strays from its two main characters. It makes no attempt to address the big questions I asked, above, about “Me Too.”
There’s a good reason for the film’s tight focus. In an interview, Jodi Kantor said, “There are three questions about Me Too that remain totally unresolved. One is, what is the scope of the behaviors under scrutiny? Are we only talking about really severe cases of sexual assault, rape? Or is this about bad dates? Second of all, how do we get the facts right? How do we get to the bottom of what really happened? What kind of information do we trust and not trust? And the third is, what do punishment and accountability look like? And all three of those questions are really controversial. The contribution that we can make is that we are journalists, and you can’t solve a problem you can’t see.” When it comes to the motto, “Believe women,” Twohey says, “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.”
Jodi Kantor’s drive to find the truth is inspired by her personal history. “I grew up around people with numbers on their arms. My grandparents are Holocaust survivors. It led me to think about the big questions we often ask in investigative journalism … You’re always trying to redeem what can be redeemed, to ask the big questions about how could something like this have happened? What was the system? You know, what were the mechanics? Why didn’t anybody try to stop it? How could people have thought this was OK?” The same factors that inspired Kantor inspire me. I have loved watching her in interviews and I was deeply moved by the cinematic portrayal of Kantor in She Said. Zoe Kazan, granddaughter of Elia Kazan, plays Kantor with both feminine vulnerability and steely resolve. When she cried onscreen, I cried with her.
She Said never depicts Kantor or Twohey as glamorous or even especially daring. Their superpower is day-to-day grunt work. They wear minimal make-up and low-budget, business casual attire. They chase leads while making breakfast for their kids. Twohey is shown struggling with post-partum depression, a condition that begins to lift when she returns to journalism after a break. Kantor, who is, in real life, a “proud member” of a Brooklyn synagogue, is shown around the table, with her husband and children, honoring the Sabbath. Kantor’s and Twohey’s husbands are shown cooking, taking care of the kids, and, yes, feeling neglected.
I loved nerdy, drab, idealistic, hardworking Twohey and Kantor as I have loved few Hollywood heroines. I could identify with them in a way that I could never identify with more decorative or frivolous leading ladies. Many reviewers compare She Said to other journalism films like All the President’s Men or Spotlight. She Said reminded me of a 1977 Andrzej Wajda film, Man of Marble. In that film a crusading female journalist struggles to uncover the fate of a naïve bricklayer celebrated and then destroyed by Stalinism. I love onscreen heroines who work hard to tell difficult but necessary stories.
She Said’s victims are also not glamorous. The Academy-Award-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow is important to the plot, but though she is mentioned many times, especially by Weinstein, who is clearly Paltrow-obsessed, she never appears. Rather, the film focuses on low-level Weinstein victims I had never heard of.
In She Said’s opening scene, a carefree Irish girl strolls along a beach. She stumbles upon a film crew. They are shooting a tall ship and sailors in eighteenth-century costume. You can see the wonder in the girl’s eyes, her sense of “Ooo, aaa.” The film crew, rather than shooing her off, gestures for her to enter this magical world. She does. The next scene shows the horrified girl running down the street, crying, grasping her clothes to her chest.
This girl is Laura Madden. Madden will be played, later in the film, by Jennifer Ehle. As a naïve, 22-year-old Miramax employee, she was, she says, assaulted by Weinstein. Another key victim is another obscure underling, Rowena Chiu. Chiu was a recent Oxford graduate from a traditional Chinese family, and a devout Christian. She was unworldly and unprepared. “Just one thrust, and it will all be over,” Chiu alleges Weinstein said to her, as he overpowered her. When she tried to report the assault, she says, authorities laughed in her face. “Who would ever believe us over the most powerful man in Hollywood?”
Samantha Morton plays Weinstein assistant Zelda Perkins. For fans of great acting, Morton’s performance alone is worth the price of admission. It is certainly award-worthy. Morton is onscreen for a mere nine minutes, but she owns the screen for every second.
Zelda Perkins, Rowena Chiu, and Laura Madden are not celebrity names. They were not famous, ambitious, glamorous actresses. They were working girls, all in their early twenties. They were groomed, isolated, manipulated, and overpowered by an obese, six-foot-tall sadist, bully and “full blown psychopath.”
An extraordinary feature of so many of these accounts is how not erotic they sound. Weinstein comes across as a pathetic and desperate species of vermin. In some encounters, all he manages to do is masturbate somewhere in the vicinity of a disgusted witness. He rolled in dirt even as he was married to two beautiful women, wives by whom he fathered daughters.
After assaults, when victims sought justice, they confronted a machine honed to protect Weinstein. This machine included former intelligence officers. Weinstein’s lawyers included Lanny Davis (Peter Friedman) and Lisa Bloom (Anastasia Barzee). Bloom is the daughter of feminist icon Gloria Allred. Lanny Davis was a Clinton family advisor. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, whose office “argued on behalf of billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein,” declined to prosecute even after he received carefully police-prepared audio on which Weinstein made self-incriminating statements. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered an investigation into Vance. Vance and Cuomo are both Democrats. Vance may have been influenced by financial contributions. Cuomo himself was accused of sexual harassment of underlings. In short, Weinstein was at the center of a spider web of corrupt power, and he was protected by the Democratic façade of being the party for women’s rights. Weinstein selected victims like Chiu, Perkins, and Madden, young women in their twenties who didn’t stand a chance against the legal, political, and public relations juggernaut that supported his abuse.
In She Said’s most riveting scene, Zelda Perkins outlines to Jodi Kantor the legal prison erected by Team Weinstein. Actress Samantha Morton is chillingly effective in describing this trap. Perkins and Chiu were coerced into signing a restrictive document that they were not even allowed to possess. The document threatened dire consequences if Chiu or Perkins even so much as sought therapy. Perkins, years later, defied the NDA she wasn’t even allowed to own and cooperated with Twohey and Kantor.
The one celebrity actress who makes a brief appearance in She Said is Ashley Judd. Judd plays herself in the film. After much thought and prayer, Judd decides to go on the record, saying that as “a woman and a Christian,” she knows it is the right thing to do. Laura Madden, facing breast cancer, also makes a last minute decision to go on the record.
She Said celebrates men, as well as women, who took a stand against Weinstein. Andre Braugher makes much of his small role as editor Dean Baquet. Weinstein is a manipulative psychopath who causes lesser people to crumble. Baquet, as played by Braugher, will have none of this. He speaks, over the phone, to Weinstein in a dismissive way. Braugher’s Baquet refuses to be a bit player in Weinstein’s histrionic drama. One wishes that everyone handled bully Weinstein as Baquet is shown doing in this film.
Irwin Reiter was an accountant who worked for Weinstein for twenty-eight years. Reiter and Kantor connected over their shared Jewishness. Reiter is a son of Holocaust survivors. “Men in positions like mine can and must help by exposing the sexual misconduct of their peers, co-workers and bosses and ensuring that abusers are exposed and held accountable … I know I should have publicly spoken up sooner … My daughter Shari … insisted that I act. She made clear that it would be cowardly to remain silent. She was right … Weinstein responded by trying to bully me into silence with false accusations,” Reiter wrote in the L.A. Times. Weinstein’s bullying of Reiter reveals that men, too, are victims of serial abusers.
Reiter, as played by Zach Grenier, meets with Kantor and provides her with damning evidence. Thanks to whistleblowers like Reiter, Perkins, and Madden, Kantor and Twohey are able to publish their Weinstein exposé. At roughly the same time, that is, October, 2017, The New Yorker also published an expose by Ronan Farrow.
The real-life Zelda Perkins is on a mission, and it is one of the few concrete suggestions to come out of Me Too that strikes me as possibly proving effective. Non-disclosure agreements are used extensively to silence victims of abuse. They aren’t just used to silence female abuse victims; they are used to silence males, as well. The Catholic Church used NDAs with abuse survivors. In 2002, Catholic bishops forbade any new NDAs. In 2018, the Catholic Church in New Jersey released pre-2002 NDA signers. They were free to name their abusers.
Unfortunately, writes attorney Anne Bachle Fifer, “NDAs are still common on the Protestant side. An NDA featured prominently in the Ravi Zacharias scandal; a woman abused by him settled a lawsuit in 2017 that included an NDA … his estate refused to release her from the NDA, preventing her from participating in the subsequent investigation into his widespread sexual abuse. [NDAs] can gag a party for life … NDAs have been used by … Willow Creek, Mars Hill, Dave Ramsey Ministries, Cru, and Acts 29 … many churches and ministries have NDAs in their employee handbooks.”
If NDAs were banned in abuse cases, that might provide one concrete step to protecting young and naïve abuse victims like Perkins and Chiu.
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery.