Bad actors have often exploited the both-sides impulse in journalism, but She Said deliberately omits the “he said” half of the pernicious equivalency. Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s book, which chronicles the process of reporting the New York Times stories on Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual abuse that galvanized the #MeToo movement, includes the requisite note that “Weinstein has continued to deny all allegations of non-consensual sex.” But the movie, adapted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz and directed by Maria Schrader, doesn’t even give him the opportunity for that dismissive denial. In fact, although the film is constructed around Weinstein and his crimes, he’s never fully present, sometimes seen and sometimes heard but never both at once. Over the phone, he’s his famously intimidating self, although Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Kantor (Zoe Kazan) don’t let it faze them, and their boss, Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher), who has been dealing with Weinstein for years, hangs up on him midrant with a brisk “Bye, Harvey.” And when Weinstein shows up in person, finally dragged into a Times conference room to give a pro forma response to the reporters’ questions, we glimpse him only amid a flotilla of lawyers, and the actual interview session is seen, silently and briefly, from the other side of the glass.
That disembodied presentation frees She Said from having to repeat Weinstein’s on-the-record denials and his lukewarm proclamations of regret. (Kantor and Twohey’s original article includes a statement from Weinstein that reads, in part, “Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go.”) But it also removes him from the action entirely, even as a character. There’s no plum role for an actor playing Harvey, no grotesque villain for a character actor to sink his teeth into, like John Lithgow’s leering Roger Ailes in Bombshell. “He took up so much oxygen when he was in society,” Lenkiewicz explained when I asked her about the decision this week. “I didn’t want to imagine him in my head, in any scenes.”
What we see instead are the women who brought him down, the victims who, with Kantor and Twohey’s help, gathered the courage to speak out against the powerful and vindictive man who assaulted and traumatized them. As Zelda Perkins, who accused Weinstein of trying to rape a Miramax co-worker and was then intimidated and silenced with an NDA, Samantha Morton holds the screen in She Said for minutes on end, the shock of what Perkins experienced—both Weinstein’s behavior and the rapid finality with which the system closed ranks around him—carved into the lines on her face. There are flashbacks to the women’s lives, but never to the moment of their assault, because the movie doesn’t assume we need to visualize it in order to believe them. All we have to do is listen.
It was often said that Harvey Weinstein’s behavior in the movie industry was an open secret, a phrase that has been used to cover a multitude of understandings: Some saw him as a bully, some as a lech or a philanderer, but often they chose not to see at all, especially when his behavior worked in their favor—when he was not just a bully but their bully. So when Asia Argento put Weinstein in her movie Scarlet Diva, she wanted first and foremost to make him visible. Argento’s 2000 film, in which she played an actress modeled on herself, was plainly autobiographical but also heightened and stylized, so the scene in which an oily movie producer named Barry Paar, played by the artist Joe Coleman, lures her up to his hotel room, asks for a massage, and then tries to rape her felt as if it might be a composite, or even a metaphor. (Coleman doesn’t particularly look or sound like Weinstein, and Argento said she chose him for the delicate scene mainly because he was her “best friend.”) When I saw Argento present the film at the Toronto Film Festival, she openly identified one of its characters, a once-promising writer turned heroin addict, as being based on the director Leos Carax, but Weinstein’s name never came up. (A.O. Scott’s New York Times review identified the character as “a porcine American movie producer.”) But in the article in which Argento went public with the accusation that Weinstein had sexually assaulted her, she said that some women who saw the movie had instantly recognized Weinstein in it. She also had the character drop the names of Gus Van Sant and Robert De Niro, both of whom made movies for Miramax in the Weinstein era, to help further connect the dots.
The Weinstein character in Kitty Green’s 2019 movie The Assistant is much more identifiable, even if we never fully see him on camera and he’s identified only as “the Boss.” By then, many stories of Weinstein’s abusive behavior were already out in the open, and Green interviewed “maybe a hundred people” in the industry, starting with Weinstein’s former employees, about their experiences to inform her script. But though Green’s previous experience was as a documentary filmmaker, there’s nothing verité about her approach here. Drawing inspiration from Chantal Akerman’s masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, Green fixes on the microscopic details of the daily drudgery endured by the title character, played by Julia Garner. Jane starts her day at the office pre-dawn, gathering a pair of a cocktail glasses from her boss’ desk and stoically swiping at an unseen stain on his office couch. The Boss’ presence looms so large that he doesn’t need to be referred to by name. When she says “I have him for you,” everyone knows whom she means.
There’s a constant sense of tension in Jane’s office, where even the grinding of the copy machine sounds ominous and the men who share a space with Jane talk loudly across the room when she’s on a sensitive call. They’re all afraid of the Boss, and Jane’s male co-workers have enough experience placating him to help her craft an apology letter when he rages at her over some minor infraction. But you can also tell that they take their cues from him, exploiting any hint of vulnerability, while Jane, in a pale pink turtleneck, looks like a crab without its shell. Nonetheless, she manages to stand up to him, refusing to lie to his wife about why her credit cards have stopped working, and finally reporting his behavior to a human resources representative played by Succession’s Matthew Macfadyen. But instead of trying to make things right, Macfadyen’s character rushes to do damage control: Is Jane sure she saw what she thinks she saw, and does she really want to risk pursuing a complaint if she isn’t? (The scene so precisely depicts the way HR reps can act as enablers that it’s among several clips from The Assistant used in sexual harassment training by the NYC Commission on Human Rights.)
The Boss isn’t Harvey Weinstein, in part because Green didn’t want to leave viewers with the impression that systemic abuse could be embodied by one man, or that it would end with his conviction. But it was also, she explained, because “bad men have had enough screen time.” Even so, when she hired the actor to do the Boss’ voice, the actor told her, “Oh, I know who this guy is.” And when he screams at Jane over the phone or yells in a way that seems to pass right through the office’s walls, you know who he is, too.
Harvey Weinstein has been the subject of books, articles, criminal and civil proceedings, even several documentaries. Maybe we don’t need him in fiction. There’s something poetic about the fact that in an awards-season movie like She Said, there’s no place for the man who built his career on bending Oscar voters to his will. His name won’t be on anyone’s ballot, even as a character.