A Hollywood investigation on the big screen

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There’s something strangely meta about watching a movie that exposes a system of abuse in Hollywood, the movie capital of the world. But “She Said,” a new film from director Maria Schrader, does just that, capturing the investigation behind the 2017 New York Times seismic article that traced decades of sexual assault allegations by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. brought to light.

It’s an even more bizarre viewing experience for the investigative journalists behind the article, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, and their editor, Rebecca Corbett.

That’s not just because some scenes in “She Said” were shot at The Times headquarters in New York. It’s because the experience of journalists, those who usually tell the story, is the story.

“The whole thing is surreal,” Ms Kantor said in a recent interview. “We started researching a Hollywood producer, and somehow images of us ended up on the big screen.”

Based on the 2019 non-fiction book of the same name by Ms. Kantor and Ms. Twohey, “She Said” is essentially a journalistic film. But more than that, the film explores the pressure the reporters felt in sharing the stories of sexual abuse survivors, as well as the pressure the investigation placed on their personal lives.

“We were hopeful that this film would accurately capture journalism,” said Ms Twohey. “But it also seemed to provide an opportunity to portray working women.”

The reporters are used to being the observers, but in preparation for the film, the actresses who portrayed them were the ones taking notes. Ms. Twohey spent time with Carey Mulligan, the actress who portrays her, to talk about her reporting and her experience of postpartum depression, which she recovered from when she joined the study. For the shooting of the film, Mrs. Mulligan moved her family to Park Slope in Brooklyn, where Mrs. Twohey lives, and some of their conversations took place while their children were on playdates.

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Mrs. Kantor and Mrs. Twohey had their own curiosity about the filming process. (They’re investigative journalists, after all.) “We may have asked as many questions about what it’s like to make a movie as we did about being a journalist,” Ms. Kantor said. She also spent time with the actress who plays her, Zoe Kazan, who she said wanted to know how she interviewed sources and whether she was using a recorder or taking notes. But, Ms Kantor said, Ms Kazan also asked about the “feelings you feel very deep inside as a journalist”.

The depiction of the months-long research process had to be compressed for the film, which is just over two hours long. In reality, the reporters spent months building relationships with the women.

“What I found interesting about the film was how smooth and efficient all the editors are,” Ms Corbett, who is played by Patricia Clarkson, said with a laugh. “For better or worse, in real life there’s a lot more talking and strategizing around the ‘do this, get that’ guidelines.” During the investigation, the three journalists sat next to each other at desks. “There was a lot more walking back and forth,” Ms. Corbett said. “And ask, ‘Who were you just talking to? What have you heard?'”

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Despite the creative liberties, the three agree that the filmmakers went to great lengths to accurately depict how the reporters hunted for clues, corroborated accounts, collected documents, and interviewed people who were hesitant to get on the record.

“She Said” also shows the obstacles reporters face in their search for facts – and the creative solutions they come up with. In one scene, Mrs. Twohey’s character talks to a representative of an agency that handles workplace sexual harassment complaints. The agent can’t answer her questions directly due to company policy, so the reporter asks what question she has could ask the broker could answer, leading to a breakthrough.

“I think a lot of reporters will recognize themselves in a scene where you run into this policy that can feel like a brick wall, but you still have a human on the other end of the line,” Ms Twohey said. .

The film also explores their doubts and fears – about whether women would go on record or whether the article would catalyze change. Mrs. Corbett, however, is portrayed as steely and steadfast, mimicking real life. “I had no real doubt that we could publish this story,” she said. “The question was how long it would take.”

In the five years since their first article came out, the ground has shifted under our feet in some ways. After the research was published, the #MeToo movement, founded in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke, swept the world, encouraging more women around the world to come forward with their stories. A reckoning soon followed and is underway: some systems of power have been overthrown, others remain intact. Some abusers have been held accountable and others continue to evade justice. For example, Mr. Weinstein was found guilty of rape in New York in 2020. (He is currently on trial in Los Angeles.)

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Journalists at The Times have published numerous follow-up articles and have recently explored the impact of #MeToo. But even after years of writing about this story, they all agreed that seeing their research on screen had given them something new.

“There’s something really emotional about it,” Ms Corbett said of the film. Even on her third viewing of the film, she said, she found the survivors’ portrayal incredibly moving.

For Ms. Kantor, part of the movie’s power is seeing the stories of women who weren’t protected by the movie industry, like Zelda Perkins, Laura Madden, and Rowena Chiu.

“No film can undo the damage done in the past,” Ms Kantor said. “But the idea of ​​some of these women’s stories being brought back to the birthplace of Hollywood, but this time, with a lot more respect, is a really beautiful thing.”

“She Said” will premiere in theaters on November 18.

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