Two dogged reporters—one tall and WASPy, one shorter and Jewish—at one of the country’s most powerful newspapers struggle to hold to account an extremely powerful, unscrupulous man willing to expend enormous amounts of money and influence to maintain the wall of silence that has protected him for many years. No, I’m not describing All the President’s Men, but She Said, the dramatization of how New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) put together their exposé of film mogul Harvey Weinstein’s harassment of women, ranging from bullying all the way to sexual assaults.
As with Woodward and Bernstein, Kantor and Twohey found themselves stymied by the reluctance of people to go on the record, and the film details their combination of persistence, persuasion, and pleading that finally broke the dam. Given that the assertions regarding Weinstein’s behavior recounted in She Said have already been vetted by the New York Times’ lawyers and given as sworn evidence in a court of law, they’re unlikely to be fiction. What is perhaps more interesting is what the movie chooses to leave out or just touches on glancingly. We read Kantor and Twohey’s book of the same name, and consulted reporting from Ronan Farrow and others, to determine which parts of the movie are straight from real life and which are artistic license.
Did Weinstein Put the Reporters Under Surveillance?
In the movie, Kantor gets the feeling a black van with blacked-out windows is following her down a dark street. As she looks back at it, it speeds up to go past her. It is never alluded to again.
In fact, Weinstein used two covert surveillance companies to keep tabs on not only Kantor and Twohey but also other reporters working on stories about him as well as on sources who were talking to the reporters, all with a view to pressuring them to keep quiet. One was Kroll, an established corporate-intelligence service. The other was the more edgy Black Cube, staffed with former Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agents.
Although the film never explains who was in the black van or if it was indeed following Kantor, in reality Weinstein had used Kroll for years, to compile psychological profiles on many individuals he perceived as problematic. According to Ronan Farrow’s reporting in the New Yorker, as far back as the mid-2000s, Weinstein had hired the firm to gather dirt on the late David Carr, who was doing a story about him for New York Magazine.
Farrow also reported that a Black Cube agent using the name “Diana Filip” posed as a women’s rights activist and met with Rose McGowan—one of the Times journalists’ first sources, who eventually went on the record accusing Weinstein of rape—and secretly recording their four conversations. Claiming to be a director of a London-based wealth-management firm, she asked McGowan to speak at a gala benefit for an initiative to combat discrimination against women in the workplace for a fee of $60,000. She also emailed both Kantor and Farrow and tried to ingratiate herself with them. Yet the only reference to her in the film is a passing mention of an email from “Diana Filip.”
Weinstein also used his connections with tabloid journalists to get information on his accusers. Dylan Howard, who was the chief content officer of the company that publishes the National Enquirer, shared material the magazine had to help Weinstein attempt to disprove McGowan’s allegation of rape. He also had one of his reporters call Elizabeth Avellán, the producer and ex-wife of director Robert Rodriguez, whom Rodriguez had left while having an affair with McGowan, in the hope of getting her to dish the dirt on McGowan, but Avellán refused.
Most perniciously of all, Weinstein had two former employees, Denise Chambers and Pamela Lubell, call their former colleagues in an attempt to identify who might be tempted to speak to journalists about the allegations. However, Lubell said she went to Weinstein’s office in 2017 to pitch him on an app that she was developing, and he merely suggested that she and Chambers write a “fun book on the old times, the heyday, of Miramax,” and that she should provide a list of all the employees she knew and get in touch with them. The list, of course, was handed over to Kroll.
Did Weinstein Really Say He Found Asian and Jewish Women Unattractive?
Kantor and Twohey discover the key to the story is not the high-profile actresses harassed by Weinstein but three of the producer’s former assistants in the London office: Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton), Rowena Chiu (Angela Yeoh), and Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle). Chiu currently lives in California, and when Kantor goes to her house in 2015 and finds her husband watering the lawn, she discovers he isn’t aware that his wife ever worked in the film business. It is Zelda who gives the reporters their first break when she gives them a copy of the nondisclosure agreement she signed with Miramax. She also tells them that when, as Weinstein’s chief assistant, she first hired Rowena, who was then a 21-year-old recent Cambridge University graduate, Weinstein assured her he’d behave himself with the new girl because he “didn’t like Jewish or Asian women.”
In fact, while Chiu recalled in a 2019 New York Times op-ed column that “he assured Zelda that he wouldn’t harass me because he didn’t, as I remember it, ‘do Chinese or Jewish girls,’ ” Weinstein later told her “he liked Chinese girls. He liked them because they were discreet.” Shortly after, she wrote, he tried to rape her.
As per Perkins’ instructions, Chiu had worn two pairs of tights for protection when summoned to Weinstein’s hotel room for a meeting during the Venice Film Festival. However, although she “tried to appease him by taking one of them off and letting him massage me … it hadn’t worked. He’d taken off the other pair and I was terrified my underwear would be next. Harvey moved in: Please, he told me, just one thrust, and it will all be over.”
Chiu managed to escape and immediately fled to Perkins’ room. On returning to London, the two women tried to report Weinstein to his superiors and the police but were told no one would believe them. Instead, they were pressured into signing a nondisclosure agreement which didn’t allow them to speak to family, friends, or therapists, and required them to identify anyone they had already spoken to. They were not even allowed to keep a copy of the agreement.
Did Laura Madden Go on the Record Right Before Surgery?
Jodi and Megan need a source to confirm their story before it can go to print, but they can’t get anyone to go on the record. They call Madden right before their last deadline for the exposé, which also happens to be shortly before Laura is due to get reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy. In her hospital gown, she gives them permission to use her interview in the story.
This sounds like a juxtaposition created for dramatic purposes, but it is in fact true. Like Weinstein’s other assistants, Madden was a young, inexperienced woman when, in 1992, she landed what she thought was her dream job in the film business, a job coordinating the extras for the Miramax production Into the West, shot in her native Ireland. This led to her being summoned to Weinstein’s Dublin hotel room, where he told her he could guarantee her a permanent job in Miramax’s London office, but then he took off his robe and demanded she give him a massage before, she said, sexually assaulting her. Like Chiu, she immediately told Perkins what had happened. After Perkins confronted her boss, he apologized, and Madden went on to work for Miramax for six years. However, she tells Kantor and Twohey in the book, “the overwhelming feeling I can still remember was shame and disappointment that something so full of promise had become reduced to this. … Any hope that I had been offered a job through my own merit was gone.”
In fact, it was Weinstein’s attempt to intimidate her that motivated her to speak on the record. A week before Kantor called her in July 2017, she received a call from Lubell, who she hadn’t spoken to for at least two decades. “She was ringing me to ask if I was speaking to any ‘cockroach journalists,’ and trying to coach me into saying what a wonderful time I’d had working at Miramax. And I was really shocked. I suddenly thought, ‘she’s been made to ring me,’ Weinstein is behind this. That galvanised me to expect a call from I didn’t know who, but a journalist. When Jodi did ring me, I was totally ready for it and prepared to speak to her, off the record at first,” Madden recalled. By now she was long out of the film industry and living in Wales, raising her daughters. Even more remarkably, when Kantor called her and she agreed to speak, not only was she recovering from breast cancer, but she was also recently divorced and had just discovered her ex-husband had a new girlfriend.
After Kantor interviewed Madden in the summer, she kept in touch over the next few months while Madden considered whether she was willing to go public. “We had accumulated information in New York, including a very valuable memo that we just couldn’t sit on any longer,” Kantor said. “Laura and I … realized, I think to both of our horror, that this [breast cancer] surgery that Laura had already told me about … was basically going to coincide with the publication of our story. Megan and I just felt like, how we can we ask her to go on the record? This is too much to ask of anybody.” At the same time, they couldn’t afford to lose Madden because she hadn’t signed an NDA and was the only woman willing to go on the record.
Before deciding to be part of the story, Madden told her daughters, now teenagers, about the assault. “They kept saying, ‘I’m so proud of you, it’s so good that you’re part of this. Things have got to change.’ Seeing their reaction, it was very clear I did have a role to play,” Madden said.
“The following evening I sent Jodi and Megan an email. I think once I had sent that email I had made a decision I was going to follow through with it, and not be hesitant about having made the wrong decision.”
Did Lena Dunham Really Reach Out to Try to Help?
In a brief scene in the movie, Kantor and Twohey learn that Lena Dunham and her producing partner Jenni Konner want to help.
In real life, in search of women in showbiz who might be potential corroborators, the reporters were put in touch with Dunham. As the reporters describe it in their book, they were wary at first because Dunham did not seem like someone who would keep things confidential. They came to learn that Dunham and Konner, like so many in the business, had heard stories of Weinstein’s predatory behavior and wanted to expose him in their online Lenny Letter but didn’t have the resources to handle such an investigation. However, the two Girls creators were able to discreetly send Twohey and Kantor the names and numbers of actresses who might be willing to talk. Eventually they reeled in a big fish in the form of Gwyneth Paltrow.
Did Weinstein Really Try to Talk to Kantor “Jew to Jew”?
Late in the movie, Kantor tells Twohey that a member of Weinstein’s team had approached her in an attempt to dissuade her from running with the story, asking to talk to her “Jew to Jew.” In an earlier scene, Kantor attempts to win over one of Weinstein’s representatives by bonding over their own shared backgrounds.
Speaking to the Forward, Kantor said the scene where she’s depicted bonding with Weinstein accountant Irwin Reiter over their both being the descendants of Holocaust survivors and both having spent family vacations in a Borscht Belt bungalow resort is accurate. “It was a way of saying, ‘You and I are a little bit the same.’ Like, there’s some part of us that comes from a world that other people don’t understand. And it’s not just being Jewish. It’s a subset of a subset of a subset of a subset of being Jewish,” Kantor said, comparing this “authentic Jewish connection” to Weinstein’s more manipulative attempts to establish a similar rapport.
“Weinstein repeatedly tried to relate to me kind of Jew to Jew,” she recalled. “I never reacted visibly, because you’re always trying to stay very professional, especially with somebody like him. But it wasn’t effective. And deep down, although I never would have shown it, I found it offensive. … Weinstein’s assumption that tribalism would somehow trump my ethics as a reporter—that I was somehow distracted from this story, you know, by a common Jewish bond—was such a miscalculation in the end.”