Maria Schrader on ‘She Said’ and the fall of a monster
Just as it hits the cinemas in our Houses, we speak to the award-winning director behind the explosive new film
Friday 18 November 2022 By Lola Adesioye
The gravity of being at the helm of She Said, a film that details the reporting behind The New York Times article that not only exposed allegations of multiple sexual assaults perpetrated by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, but then launched the entire #MeToo movement was not lost on award-winning director, Maria Schrader.
‘At first I was like, wow. The challenge to bring this story onto the screen? It was without doubt that I wanted to do it,’ she says.
With previous projects, such as the Netflix mini-series Unorthodox, (for which she won an Emmy), the multi-faceted Schrader was always involved from their very inception, including the scriptwriting. This time, however, she was presented with a complete script (written by British playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz), which she says blew her away due to its complexity and multiple themes.
‘We all witnessed what an impact the publishing of this article had,’ she tells me. ‘It’s a great testament to how influential investigative journalism can be and how it can change the world. But this script was about what we didn’t know. Who were these journalists?’
She Said tells the tale of The New York Times investigative journalists Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) who wrote, reported and broke the story about Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long abuse of women. It’s a powerful and, at times, harrowing deep dive into the exhaustive, behind-the-scenes mechanics of investigative journalism. Specifically, we see how Weinstein’s true colours were exposed and how all involved in the process – including the journalists’ spouses, children and families – were impacted.
We see how The New York Times senior editors dealt with supporting the journalists in their work, as well as with attempts at intimidation by Weinstein himself. It also shines a light on those who had previously worked with him, and those who had ignored and therefore enabled his behaviour. But at its core the film focuses on all the incredibly courageous women who came forward and shared their stories with the journalists – these include Ashley Judd, who was sexually harassed by Weinstein and plays herself in the movie.
I ask Schrader whether the weight of responsibility gave her any misgivings about taking on the project? ‘No,’ she says emphatically. ‘Intimidated? Maybe, by the stakes of it and by the multiple responsibilities. We all felt that. But the making and the preparation of this film was incredibly inclusive. It was opened to the real people [so they could provide] the right wording of their accounts. Same with Megan and Jodi. They have been really involved. They entrusted us with something that was so meaningful to them: the depiction of their work, and what it really means in detail to conduct this work, and the portrayal of their workplace.
In many ways, She Said is a hero’s journey film – a battle of the everyday, aspiring women, whether journalist or actor, versus a powerful predator who eventually falls from grace. The performances are special, but Schrader does a sublime job of humanising all of the women involved, showing both their courage and fragility.
And although Weinstein is a key figure in the film, his face is never seen. His presence looms large, though. Schrader handles this in a masterful way. We hear his voice (voiced by Mike Houston), we see the back of his head and his heavy gait, but we don’t ever see him face on.
‘He has quite a presence during the film without being seen,’ Schrader explains. ‘We decided very early on to do all of this from the perspective of Megan and Jodi. They never met him. And then there were the surprising appearances. He would just show up at The New York Times with his entourage of lawyers. But what’s the use of a close-up? Because, before we started making this film and with the publishing of this article, he became this representative figure of the very powerful man abusing his position. Having him in the dark somehow just emphasises that there are so many other people like him, in so many other countries, in so many other positions, not just powerful ones.’
‘She Said’ will be screened in our Houses. To see what films are coming up, click here.