If you think things have gotten a little quiet with the #MeToo movement, you’ll find plenty of important talk in ‘She Said’
October 5, 2017 seems like eons ago, but it was an important date in modern history. On that day, the New York Times published an article by journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey about allegations of sexual assault within the entertainment industry. More specifically, the article highlighted the regular misconduct by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein – who used his power over actresses and industry colleagues in sexually abusing them.
The article went viral and it helped ignite the #MeToo and TimesUp movements, bringing conversation of sexual assault into the mainstream, with many more men eventually held to account for sexual misconduct across various industries, from the now-familiar Hollywood allegations (James Franco, Kevin Spacey, et al), to cases brought up in the arts, theatre, fashion and sporting circles.
But things did get relatively quiet for a while, with hardly any follow-up, and not much in the way of obvious investigation into each case. It got to the point of mockery from the public’s perspective: that such hyperbole about serious issues could dissolve into a muddy pool of small-talk, as if the predators, molesters and, yes, rapists had been vindicated just as quickly as they had been outed.
Thankfully, things were happening behind the scenes, and while prosecution lawyers were gathering evidence and filing papers to take offenders to court, the two journalists who broke the initial story were doing their own further investigating, with the aim of including their findings in a book.
In October 2019, She Said was first published, picking up from where the initial article left off, and delving far deeper into the stories – of men who used their power to prey on others, the secrets held by their dirty web of lawyers, and antics to avoid media courtesy of their dodgy public relations people, all of whom tried to silence not only the victims but the publishers and journalists who tried to bring the hideous scenario to light.
Finally, this week, She Said, the movie, hits cinema screens.
Like the book, the film is testament to the power of legacy journalism, realising all the hard work and woman-hours that went into that initial story. It even give thanks to social media and the public for playing a part in potential resolve in particular cases of sexual abuse.
The film sees Kantor and Twohey meeting up with victims and colleagues of the corrupt; in fact, about 70% of the movie sees our journalists sitting across the table from either a survivor of sexual abuse or someone who knows some nasty stuff about it. You kind of wish there was less table-talk and more flashbacks and reenactments, only to really feel the fury of such shameless behaviour on behalf of powerful men.
Like the book, the film is intelligently structured, unfolding the tumultuous task of filtering through the he/said, she/said stories as each comes to light. It is clever how the director, Maria Schrader, presents men in the picture as hardly ever in a machismo guise. The male partners of the female characters are unwavering in their support for the story to be resolved. And Schrader doesn’t present our feminists as ball-busters, either. In fact there’s quite an even presentation of traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine qualities in both the men and women here – which is what feminism is about, really.
While for the most part easy to digest – even given its horrible subject matter – at times She Said suffers from repetition and redundancy. It might be because because the viewer has read about many of these stories before, or it might be for the fact that some of the victims – even though going on record – still deliver their stories in a tentative fashion, big names like Ashley Judd included.
One thing I noticed is that in the book, the authors make reference to related accusations that have happened outside of the worlds of entertainment and politics, such as the cases against US Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Michael – accused of sexually assaulting work colleagues, and Olympic doctor Larry Nassar – who sexually abused female gymnasts and subsequently imprisoned. These aren’t even mentioned in the movie, but may have made a major impression for viewers who, say, are into sports more than cinema, and might have been enlightened by the inclusion of these.
By the end of the film, most of the audience was clapping and understandably so given that some justice has been done – at least in the case of Harvey Weinstein. But whether the movie does more to promote conversation on the subject of sexual abuse, and whether it leads to more stories of abuse being resolved, is another matter. After all, this kind of abuse stays with victims for a very long time, quite possibly through their entire lives. And no book or film can change that.
‘She Said’ is in cinemas now.
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