A Hollywood Investigation by the New York Times Now on the Big Screen

From a Times Insider column by Megan DiTrolio headlined “A Hollywood Investigation on the Big Screen”:

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

It’s an even more bizarre watching 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 filmed inside of The Times’s New York headquarters. It’s because the experience of journalists, the ones usually telling the story, is the story.

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

“She Said,” based on Ms. Kantor and Ms. Twohey’s 2019 nonfiction book of the same name, is, at its core, a journalism movie. But more than that, the film explores the pressure that the reporters felt in sharing the stories of survivors of sexual abuse as well as the pressure the investigation put on their personal lives.

“We were hopeful that this movie would capture journalism accurately,” Ms. Twohey said. “But it also appeared to present an opportunity to depict working women.”

The reporters are used to being the observers, but to prepare for the film, the actresses who depicted 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 with postpartum depression, which she was recovering from as she joined the investigation. For the shooting of the film, Ms. Mulligan moved her family to Park Slope in Brooklyn, where Ms. Twohey lives, and some of their conversations took place as their children had play dates.

Ms. Kantor and Ms. Twohey had curiosities of their own regarding the filmmaking process. (They are investigative journalists, after all.) “We may have asked as many questions about what it’s like to make a movie as they did about what it’s like to be a journalist,” Ms. Kantor said. She also spent time with the actress who portrays her, Zoe Kazan, who she said wanted to know about how she interviewed sources and whether she used a recorder or took notes. But, Ms. Kantor said, Ms. Kazan also asked about the “feelings you feel very deep inside as a journalist.”

The depiction of the monthslong investigative process had to be condensed for the film, which runs just over two hours. In actuality, the reporters spent months building relationships with the women.

“What I thought was interesting in the film was how briskly efficient all the editors are,” Ms. Corbett, who is portrayed by Patricia Clarkson, said with a laugh. “For better or worse, in real life there is a lot more talk and strategizing around the ‘do this, get that’ directives.” During the investigation the three journalists sat at desks near one another. “There was a lot more walking back and forth,” Ms. Corbett said. “And asking: ‘Who were you just talking to? What did you hear?’”

Despite the creative liberties, the three agree that the filmmakers went to great lengths to accurately reflect how the reporters chased leads, corroborated accounts, gathered documents and interviewed people who were hesitant to go on the record.

“She Said” also shows the obstacles that reporters face while digging for facts — and the creative workarounds they invent. In one scene, Ms. Twohey’s character is talking to a representative of an agency that fields complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace. The agent can’t directly answer her questions because of company policy, so the reporter asks what question she could ask that the agent could answer, leading to a breakthrough.

“I think a lot of reporters will recognize themselves in a scene where you’re running up against these policies that can feel like a brick wall, but you still have a human being on the other end of the line,” Ms. Twohey said.

The film also explores their doubts and anxieties — about whether women would go on the record or if the article would catalyze change. Ms. Corbett, though, is portrayed as steely and steadfast, mimicking real life. “I did not really have doubts that we would be able to publish this story,” she said. “The question was how long it would take.”

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

The Times journalists have published numerous follow-up articles and recently examined the impact of #MeToo. But even after years spent covering this story, they all agreed that seeing their investigation play out on the screen had illuminated something new for them.

“There’s a real emotive quality to it,” Ms. Corbett said of the film. Even on her third viewing of the movie, she said, she found the portrayal of the survivors incredibly moving.

For Ms. Kantor, part of the power of the film is seeing the stories of women who were not protected by the movie business, such as Zelda Perkins, Laura Madden and Rowena Chiu.

“No movie can undo the damage that’s been done in the past,” Ms. Kantor said. “But the idea of some of these women’s stories being returned to the native ground of Hollywood, but this time, with a lot more respect, is a really beautiful thing.”

“She Said” premieres in theaters on Nov. 18.

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