‘She Said’ Review AFI FEST 2022 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In journalism school, students are typically told to watch two films: “Citizen Kane” and “All the President’s Men.” Those films are by men about men, but “She Said” should be listed among journalism must-sees as well. “She Said” is about women and the power of speaking out as opposed to being silent. The film’s name comes from the book written by journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey about their New York Times report on The Weinstein Company.

The film begins with a young woman talking with another on the location for a costume drama. She is hopeful and happy, but that’s not how German director Maria Schrader (“I’m Your Man”) leaves her. We see her, distressed and crying, but we don’t learn about her story until near the end in  Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s screenplay.

Instead, we are introduced to Kantor and Twohey. Twohey had teamed with Michael Barbaro in 2016 to write about sexual misconduct allegations against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. Kantor had co-authored a series on refugees from Syria being adopted by Canadians in 2016, but she had also exposed the employment practices of Amazon in 2015 with David Streitfeld, “Inside Amazon.”  These were seasoned journalists, and yet we see they are also women with families. Twohey’s husband is a literary agent, Jim Rutman (Tom Pelphrey). Kantor is married to Ron Lieber (Adam Shapiro), a financial columnist for The New York Times. This is significant because when asked, the two women say they did this article for their daughters.

The two work, on call 24-7, under the guidance of editors Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson), Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher). The sense of desperation and suspense is mostly moderated by our insight. We know what happens because this is recent history. Despite the raw fear we see in the beginning neither the director Schrader nor the screenplay by Lenkiewicz exploit the sexual nature of the allegations or the emotional impact. The acting is understated and there’s nothing glamorous about how the lives of Kantor and Twohey are portrayed.

And yet, as a woman, how can one not feel the emotional impact of these revelations?  It is likely that most of the women seeing this had a #MeToo moment. If not, then they must know someone. Just like the whispers about Weinstein surfaced and were joked about, these allegations are not limited to Hollywood and the movie industry.

If you scorn social-justice warriors or justice journalism, then this film might not be for you, but if that’s true, then you are either ignorant of journalism history or are extremely privileged. “Citizen Kane” was about empire building, a young ambitious mistress and how publishers influenced Hollywood movies, but the more insidious side of either Hollywood or journalism influenced by personal prejudices.

The 1976 film “All the President’s Men” was about the Watergate scandal and the investigations of Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman). It is where we get the penchant to affixing “gate’ to scandals, whether it makes sense or not. The film takes its name from the 1974 book about The Washington Post investigations that brought down the Richard Nixon presidential administration.

But Woodward and Bernstein were investigating a story in their own town for the broadsheet of Washington, D.C.

The New York Times and its reporters Jodi Cantor and Megan Twohey and even the story that was pressuring them to publish, Ronan Farrow’s investigation for The New Yorker, were reporting about a company that was part of the Hollywood machine. Although Weinstein’s reach was international, you might think the Harvey Weinstein story should have been broken by the newspapers of Hollywood (Variety or The Hollywood Reporter) or of Los Angeles County (The Los Angeles Times or the LA Weekly). Yet all that is Hollywood isn’t in Los Angeles.

The Weinstein Company was founded in 2005 by brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein in New York City. The Weinsteins had been previously founded Miramax in 1979 in New York, but its headquarters was in Los Angeles after the Weinsteins sold the company to Disney in 1993.

Like Woodward and Bernstein, Kantor and Twohey wrote a book: “She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement.”

I don’t know what the impact of the 2017 article had on other people. I know the impact on the 2017 AFI FEST was immediate and drastic.The article came out in October. AFI FEST 2017 was 9 to 16 November. There were rows upon rows of studio reserved seats for red carpet events suddenly empty and available. If one was lucky, one was offered one of these and entry to parties, even allowing a plus one.

The parties were more somber and yet the dialogues amongst women changed and were changing and still are changing. For me, it made me realize that I almost owed an apology to the Japanese business culture and the Asian American companies. I thought some of the sexism was a cultural legacy. I thought that Europeans and Americans and their companies in Japan were seduced into the sexism I saw there. Yet, the 2017 article and the #MeToo movement made me realize that the Japanese and the Asian Americans were not to different from White-passing Jewish men like Weinstein and that there were plenty of White and Black men who were also sexually harassing women.

“Citizen Kane” is a beautifully shot film and “All the President’s Men” has the beautiful Redford and the talented pushy charm of Hoffman, but neither film takes on a longstanding grievance that crossed country borders, race, religion and political leanings. “She Said” does and more. The Pulitzer Prize for public service was jointly awarded to The New York Times and The New Yorker for their coverage of the sexual abuse of women in Hollywood and other industries around the world.

“She Said” made its world premiere on 13 October 2022 at the New York Film Festival. It was one of the films screened at AFI FEST 2022 on 4 November 2022.

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