The internet has democratized publishing content to the point that anyone from a weekend alley drunkard to a globetrotting C-level executive could post anything they believe, without care for facts and human decency.
Many also fall to clickbait YouTube titles and automatically accept what they watch as truth, despite barely getting enough proof to support the claims.
But circa 2017, even seeing a sinister kingpin of sexual exploitation glowing from afar, two reporters of The New York Times took their time to gather concrete pieces of evidence and quotes from direct sources before they hit the “Publish” button.
This is the story of She Said, a biographical film based on the nonfiction book She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement. It chronicles how Pulitzer-winning investigative reporters Jodi Kantor (Promising Young Woman’s Carey Mulligan ) and Megan Twohey (Our Brand Is Crisis’ Zoe Kazan) faced setbacks in their pursuit of truth, and while meeting actual victims of an entertainment executive, held off their knowledge not until their sources agree to go on the record.
The villain is convicted sex predator and film producer Harvey Weinstein, an unseen malevolent force in the movie, only existing as a disembodied voice. On the side of angles is likewise invisible—the reporters find an ally in actress Gwyneth Paltrow who chooses not to be quoted for fears of a career blowback. Actress Ashley Judd, who appears as herself in the movie, echoes her sentiment.
Who can blame them? She Said also shows how journalism failed these women. Actress Rose McGowan (voiced by Kelly McQuail) projected her frustrations to Twohey, noting that her allegations against Weinstein landed on the society pages, instead of the front page.
In defense, the film shows how the newsroom works. Thanks to NYT editor Rebecca Corbette (Sharp Objects’ Patricia Clarkson) who greenlit the investigation, it uncovered the tolerance towards Weinstein in the entertainment industry, with documents pointing to a series of settlements and direct sources who are not bound by any non-disclosure agreement.
As the protagonists get more leads, director Maria Schrader (Love Life) uses phone calls and conversations juxtaposed with videos of hotel rooms as a gripping narrative device on how the voices of these women were muted by the powers-that-be. It’s ghastly, nauseating, and devastating to learn how these women suffered at the hands of an abuser. Now, middle-aged, these women find themselves questioning if going on the record would do more good than harm to their new, relatively quiet lives.
The constant question the film asks is if the piece is “publishable” and even Times gave Weinstein ample time to reply. Even in local news here, Philippine news organizations settle for default lines like “we’re still reaching out but he has not replied.” Kantor and Twohey also practice the old-school ethics of journalism—not forcing individuals to be attributed and even getting multiple sources to verify the number of settlements. Journalists also need to do the leg work—get on the plane to talk to sources overseas if the budget allows it, knock on doors when emails and phone calls fail them and even ask people who may not be authorized to speak but could lead them in the right direction.
Suspenseful and heartbreaking, 'She Said' is a gripping film that reminds people that the power of the pen can still slay monsters staying in the shadows.
In the backdrop are the lead women’s personal motivations in pursuing the story. Kantor hopes that a drastic change could happen after breaking the story as her previous one involving Donald Trump did not keep him from being sworn in as U.S. President. Twohey, meanwhile, hopes to make a better world for her daughter, whose flippant encounter with the word “rape” becomes a mother’s nightmare.
A poignant moment in the film sees how a single incident of abuse changed the course of the victims’ young selves. While devoid of scenes depicting rape and sexual abuse, She Said subtly strikes us emotionally and leaves us with the question of “What if Harvey Weinstein did not meet these women?” One could have been a prolific director herself. The other, an established actress. She could have been a marketing head at a film company.
Suspenseful and heartbreaking, She Said is a gripping film that reminds people that the power of the pen can still slay monsters staying in the shadows. File it next to All the President’s Men, The Post, and Spotlight as one of the excellent films about journalism.
She Said opens in Philippine cinemas on Nov. 23.