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Minimizing #MeToo: Behind the She Said Oscar Snub

The movie "She Said" tells the explosive story of how #MeToo toppled a Hollywood giant. So why isn't the film getting the love it deserves?

And the Oscar for cluelessness goes to the Academy for its lapses in judgment this year, starting with shutting out She Said.

Brilliantly scripted, directed, acted, and edited, She Said tells the story of how two New York Times reporters, Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan), cracked the case of movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long history as a rapist and serial abuser of women. It’s a case that was whispered about—that many reporters before them tried to tackle but gave up on after receiving mob-style threats from Weinstein and his scary-serious security detail.

In the course of their work, Kantor and Twohey also unveiled the vast complicity network he had built up of people covering for him—perhaps with the hope of getting a film payout or being flown to Cannes or attending his other glamorous parties for progressive causes.

But in a long, meticulous process, and flying in the face of such threats and continuing NDAs, payoffs, slammed doors, and those who were still shaking in their boots and afraid to talk decades after the abuse, Kantor and Twohey persisted. They perfected their approaches over months and months to the point where victims felt safe enough to go on the record.

Read More: #MeToo Backlash: The Triumph and Pitfalls of a Bold Movement

Going on the Record

One of the earliest was Ashley Judd, who plays herself in the movie, and eventually a flood of more than 80 accusers also found their voices, came forward, and were believed. They spoke for millions of other women who’d experienced workplace harassment, and they spoke for future generations.

Weinstein was fired, then arrested, and convicted.

Are female monsters more fun?

And not incidentally, the reporters’ work was fundamental to igniting the #MeToo movement.

Kantor and Twohey went on to win a Pulitzer and write She Said, the best-selling book on which this fascinating and achingly true movie is based.

Meanwhile, back at the Academy, She Said got not a single nod.

Whereas Tár—a fictional film about a monstrous female serial-sexual abuser—received six nominations, including Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Picture.

Is it a sign of the times? Are we #MeToo-ed out?

Is the prospect of watching two smart women doing life-changing social justice work to change the ingrained sexist practices in most industries, um, boring you?

Are female monsters more fun?

Are We #MeToo-ed Out?

she said film

Of course, in the last five years, the #MeToo movement has made lasting changes and strides. But all around us, the culture is getting more regressive about feminism and women’s rights. Just consider the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Sadly, the voters of the Academy were not the only ones to miss the importance of She Said.

Even the reviewer in the New York Times, that temple of journalistic excellence from which the story sprung, was full of faint praise. She said the film was “built solid and low to the ground,” adding “. . . it’s a thriller, yes, but rendered discreetly, in sensible workplace separates.”

Even the New York Times, that temple of journalistic excellence from which the story sprung, was full of faint praise.

Really? The Times reduced this movie to sensible-separates shaming?

Not surprisingly, the critic at the New York Post went beyond mere goody-two-shoes put-downs. He called the film “a disappointing sleepy metronome, with a made-for-TV diminutiveness.”

“Diminutiveness.”  You learn that this is code. In one withering word, the importance of the film is diminished, devalued, cheapened, just as the bravery of the women coming forward is diminished. He’s basically telling these hardworking reporters, their masterly editorial team, and the #MeToo movement itself to shut up and go away.

In this case, in the intervening years, corporations have implemented sexual harassment training and protocols, putting everyone on notice.

A New Genre?

Maybe movie folks can’t see the greatness of the film because She Said belongs to an enlightened genre so new that reviewers don’t yet have the awareness or vocabulary to think about it.

Perhaps they need sensitivity training, because almost every woman in a movie audience has experienced her own painful brush with sexual threats and/or harassment.

Almost every woman in a movie audience has experienced her own painful brush with sexual threats and/or harassment.

Together, director Maria Schrader (Unorthodox) and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz (with much input from Kantor and Toohey) have somehow made a film explicitly about sexual exploitation that itself is not visually exploitative.

Given what we all know about Weinstein’s M.O., that’s a miracle.

By way of crude comparison, imagine how a hugely successful writer/director/producer such as Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck, Dahmer) might approach it.

In the first scene of an eight-episode Netflix series, Murphy perhaps opens with Weinstein ejaculating into a pot in a restaurant basement as he forces a young, blonde Fox News reporter to watch. There’s no shortage of shocking and grotesque scenes to recreate, most starting with the producer’s sickening act of opening his bathrobe.

What We Don’t Need to See

We don’t need to see that. So the director and crew of She Said made the scrupulous and disciplined decision not to show the abuser, or, any of his acts, on screen, except once, fleetingly. We see the back of an actor’s fleshy bald head and his crumpled suit at a meeting in the New York Times offices, in which he whines, manipulates, and complains. The editor, Dean Baquet, ends up throwing him out.

One of the secrets of Kantor and Twohey’s success was their patience and compassion that gradually got the survivors to talk.

We also get his actual voice, once, from a tape that model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez made during a sting operation. Weinstein had her in a hotel hallway, demanding that she go into his room, swearing on his kids’ lives that it would be “fine.” After she asked him about groping her breast at an event the day before, he admitted to it, saying,  “I’m used to that.”

That’s more than enough Weinstein.

One of the secrets of Kantor and Twohey’s success after chasing every source for more than a year was their patience and compassion that gradually got the survivors to talk. What Weinstein had done to them was hard enough to face (one of them hadn’t even told her husband), and the reporters didn’t want to retraumatize them. The movie was made with the similar knowingness and care.

What they got was all true.

That’s why the film has so much emotional resonance.

A Righteous Thriller

And yet it still manages to be genuinely thrilling, offering a smart and adrenaline-raising tick-tock, through the accretion of endless pursuit, small steps, and honest details. In so doing, it captures the hard work and uncertainty of journalism, even backed by a massive organization like the New York Times.

On the simplest level, it’s exciting to watch them work. And women doing this type of investigative journalism are very brave souls. Kazan (who is married in real life to Paul Dano) and Mulligan embody the journalists, and every minute on screen feels true, including the look of their Brooklyn apartments.

Both reporters are wives and mothers. The movie is honest enough to show that Twohey suffered from postpartum depression; as Kantor spent nights at the office, and travelled overseas, we see that her littlest daughter was crying for her, and her older daughter soothed her sister. Her husband handled the kids weekend after weekend.

Calling the film “the All the President’s Men of the #MeToo era” seriously minimizes the film’s uniqueness.

But even when lauding the film, reviewers tended to go with easy investigative-journalism comparisons, like calling it “the All the President’s Men of the #MeToo era.”

This too seriously minimizes the film’s uniqueness. Robert Redford decided to make the film about Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and in the process sanctified them, or at least made them swashbuckling heroes. By sharp contrast, Kantor and Twohey were so into just doing the work without mythologizing themselves that they wrote the book as a “we,” without even distinguishing between them. Sure, both sets of people never gave up and worked around the clock, but only the females had children at home crying for them. (And the reporters in this case had to dance backwards in sensible shoes.)

And speaking of heroes with feet of clay: In 2019, Woodward interviewed Kantor and Twohey about the book, and he reportedly repeatedly talked over them and badgered them with questions that showed he had zero understanding of sexual abuse or workplace harassment. His focus was on the “sex.” He refused to buy into what the authors said: that abuse is fundamentally about power and not sex. Later, he described Weinstein’s tactics as “a weird foreplay.”

It sickened the survivors in the audience.

Damage Control

Again, what sets the film apart from a standard newspaper procedural is the awareness, subtlety, and sensitivity with which it was made. “In the industry, most real-life people are not consulted much because it’s a pain for the filmmakers,” Zelda Perkins, one of Weinstein’s former assistants who ended up testifying against him, told the New York Times.

She worked with the producers on She Said, and her character is played by Samantha Morton, who is terrific in a rather large role.

“I think the film industry has an enormous way to go if they’re going to continue making stories about real-life people at the speed they do,” Perkins added. “Actually having gone through it with being treated fairly respectfully, I cannot imagine the damage it must cause to people who weren’t collaborated with.”

Forget the Oscars. Go see She Said and take in the best hope for Tinseltown’s human and fair-minded future.

Read More: Cate Blanchett Is a Masterful, Doomed Genius in Tár

By Barbara Lippert


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