She Said Shows Why Harvey Weinstein's Takedown Story Needed A Female Director

Investigative journalism isn't exactly a traditional 9-to-5 job. This is reflected in the fact that so many films in the newspaper thriller subgenre feature male protagonists: hard-boiled reporters who can chase down leads until the wee hours of the morning rather than women who, we assume, have to be home to tuck their children in at night. 

That "She Said" subverts these genre tropes is an obvious adherence to reality — both of the reporters who were responsible for writing an expose on Harvey Weinstein's sexual misconduct were women in real life. But where this film could have easily gone into "girlboss" territory very quickly, there's a richness and subtlety to its depiction of its female leads, and a respect for the stories that each of Weinstein's victims has struggled to be able to tell. The way that director Maria Schrader approaches the material is so empathetic and thoughtful that it hammers home one of the key points of the film: How utterly essential the voices of women are.

Both of the reporters who take the lead on the Harvey Weinstein investigation are mothers: Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) has two elementary school-aged daughters, while Megan Twohey has just given birth to her first child. If this was a movie about male journalists, their family life would be worth barely a mention (though they might have a wife who is hard done by and resents their absence), and if this was a movie directed by a man, there's a good chance that their status as mothers would serve as a major conflict. However can these poor women balance their careers with their caretaking responsibilities?

The realities of working motherhood

In "She Said," Kantor and Twohey's working motherhood is treated as just another fact of life, a situation they navigate on a daily basis without melodrama, like thousands of other women in the United States. When one of them needs to travel to conduct interviews with Weinstein victims, this absence from the home warrants a conversation to sort out the logistics of childcare, but it's handled quickly and efficiently. When Kantor hops on a flight to England, she has a Facetime call with her eldest daughter from the hotel. You know — parent stuff.

The film obviously isn't explicitly about them as mothers (although you can make the argument that the fact that they have three daughters between them gives them a greater impetus to bring Harvey Weinstein to justice, creating a world that's a tiny bit better for the next generation). Nevertheless, director Maria Schrader makes these specific choices to put their work in context with their family lives. It shows the million different ways that their careers interact with these personal considerations, things that you never see in male-centered journalism films.

But it also doesn't belabor the point — for the most part, Kantor and Twohey and their respective husbands navigate these dynamics with grace. They are mindful of each other's work commitments and find ways to keep everything going as best they can. At no point are the women punished for their desire to continue a career path that, although it requires a great deal of time and energy, they find intensely rewarding. They are not asked to diminish themselves to fit into the role of wife and mother, something that's far rarer even in 21st century cinema than we often realize.

A fresh approach to difficult narratives

Then there is the not insignificant matter of the sexual violence committed by Harvey Weinstein. It would be easy to make a version of this film that attempts to prove how seriously it is taking the assault cases by reenacting them on screen, not shying away from how disturbing and brutal they are. There's a pervasive idea that if you don't show everything, you're trying to soften or sugarcoat the reality.

Schrader takes a different tack, one that is as refreshing as it is emotionally resonant: She doesn't show a single frame of sexual assault. We are shown instead brief glimpses into the moments surrounding the encounters with Harvey Weinstein — clothes crumpled up on the floor, an empty hallway with an audio recording of Weinstein's attempts to manipulate and pressure his victims into a sexual situation. But the actual experiences of these women are never recreated on screen. Schrader shrewdly allows the women to narrate their own stories, opening the door for incredible supporting performances from actresses like Jennifer Ehle and Samantha Morton.

Yet it's more than just a strategic choice. It's a moving attempt to give these women back their voices, to tell the world what happened to them in their own words, without being muzzled by the non-disclosure agreements so frequently wielded by Weinstein and company. These are actresses reciting monologues, but the pared down visions and lack of melodramatic reenactments allow the truth of their words to shine through. Schrader has enough faith in their emotional resonance to let them stand alone: A bold, evocative reclamation of power and agency.

"She Said" is in theaters now.