Is the “She Said” Movie Accurate? Here’s What Happened in Real Life
Dramatizations of real-life events continue to rule the movies and TV landscape in 2022, from true crime series like “Inventing Anna,” “The Dropout,” and “Monster: The Jeffery Dahmer Story,” to celebrity biopics like “Blonde” and “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.” Many true crime stories have been criticized for the glorification of perpetrators at the expense of their victims, but “She Said,” the latest true crime movie that tells the story of how New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke the story of Harvey Weinstein’s misconduct in Hollywood, avoids this sensationalized storytelling.
Directed by Maria Schrader and written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, “She Said” is primarily based on the memoir of the same name and co-written by Kantor and Twohey, who are not only the leading characters in the movie, but were also used heavily for inspiration by the actors who play them, Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan.
When it comes to decades of sexual assault allegations, company-wide misconduct, knowledge of abusive power in Hollywood swept under the rug, and the ethical practices of journalists to uncover it all, some questions arise about which details in the movie are fact-based. According to an interview with The Los Angeles Times, Lenkiewicz estimates about 95% of the story is true to life, though she took “tiny liberties” for the sake of dramatic impact, saying “hearing a phone call is more exciting than reading an email. It’s the truth, just a bit more animated.”
Ahead is a breakdown of what’s true to life in “She Said,” and what’s not quite accurate.
Is "She Said" Based On A True Story?
“She Said” focuses on the New York Times investigation into Harvey Weinstein’s decades of abuse, mistreatment, and sexual misconduct in Hollywood, an investigation that did take place in real life.
Screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz used Kantor and Twohey’s book of the same name as inspiration to tell the story from their perspective. “The film is not about Weinstein, it’s about a collective of women who break down decades of silence through their bravery,” she told the L.A. Times. “We all felt that Weinstein had taken up enough oxygen for several lifetimes, and I couldn’t envisage writing a script with him in it.”
“She Said”‘s storytelling is similar to that of 2015’s “Spotlight” and 2017’s “The Post.” “Spotlight” followed reporters at The Boston Globe as they exposed the cover-ups of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, while “The Post” tells the story of how The Washington Post published the infamous Pentagon Papers in the early ’70s. All three movies tackle tough topics that showcase how investigative journalism plays out in real life.
How Accurate Is The New York Times Investigation into Harvey Weinstein in "She Said"?
According to Kantor and Twohey’s memoir, the two reporters made every effort to make contact with survivors, get their facts straight, and stay committed to the story with the help of their editors Rebecca Corbett (played by Patricia Clarkson) and former New York Times executive editor Dean Basquet (played by Andre Braugher). This included traveling across the country and the world to places like California and London, where Kantor met with survivors of Weinstein’s abuse from the early 1990s. This all checks out in “She Said.”
Both Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan said they spoke to Kantor and Twohey frequently to fully understand what it was like interviewing survivors. Twohey told the L.A. Times that Mulligan wanted to know “not just what words are said but in what tone and with what body language.” She continued, “She also wanted to know how we contain our emotions as we report into such upsetting discoveries. It was really moving to see all that research expressed on screen.”
Did The New York Times Story Help Convict Harvey Weinstein Like It Did in "She Said"?
After the New York Times published its first article about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct in October 2017, at least 80 more women came forward with their own experiences with the producer. The final scene of the movie shows the reporting team hitting the publish button on their story, after which text across the screen explains what happened after publication.
The publication’s follow-up article included more high-profile sources, like Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, and by 2020, more than 100 women spoke out with accusations of harassment or assault perpetrated by Weinstein, according to The Cut.
Weinstein released a statement to The New York Times the day the article was published that minimized his actions, saying “all the rules were different” regarding acceptable behavior in the workplace when he “came of age in the ’60s and ’70s.” He continued, “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.”
By May 2018, however, Weinstein was charged with “rape, criminal sex act, sex abuse, and sexual misconduct for incidents involving two separate women” by the New York County District Attorney’s Office.
In January and February 2020, Weinstein was convicted on additional rape and sexual assault charges in both Los Angeles and New York and sentenced to 23 years in prison that March. In July 2021, Weinstein pleaded not guilty to the charges in LA and currently awaits proceedings in the ongoing trial, which began in October 2022.
Were Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey Really In Danger of Being Scooped?
In “She Said,” Kantor and Twohey got a tip that Ronan Farrow, a reporter for The New Yorker, was also talking to women connected to Weinstein for a story. The movie also depicts other outlets like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter publishing smaller stories about Weinstein’s mysterious business dealings during that time, but nothing as investigative as what the NYT was working on. This was true to life, as in 2017, the New York Times wasn’t the only publication investigating Weinstein.
In the end, the NYT article was published first on Oct. 5, and five days later, Farrow published his in The New Yorker, which revealed the identities of 13 more women who came forward with allegations against the producer.
“She Said” puts into perspective an industry phenomenon called “scooping.” When investigating stories, sometimes journalists worry about whether their tip is already being reported on by another publication (and whose story will get published first), so being the first to publish something is a real pressure journalists face.
Did Kantor and Twohey Really Bond Like They Did in "She Said"?
“She Said” portrays Kantor and Twohey bonding over their struggles and triumphs in both work and motherhood while investigating for The New York Times. In her interview with the L.A. Times, screenwriter Lenkiewicz said she incorporated more of the reporters’ personal lives into the film that weren’t major plot points in the book. “I wanted to put in as many aspects of being female as possible,” Lenkiewicz said. “Megan and Jodi both have daughters, and I didn’t think that working mothers had been depicted often, or very well.”
Coincidentally, both Twohey and Mulligan suffered from post-partum depression, and emotional scenes where Twohey is clearly struggling to get back to work after her pregnancy play out in “She Said.”
“One of the first conversations that Megan and I had was about that, because I was similarly blindsided and really struggled,” Twohey told The Guardian. Mulligan understood that, to Twohey, the Weinstein investigation was “something solid she could grab on to when she was feeling this is overwhelming and too much, I don’t know how to do it; it absolutely brought her back to more solid ground.”
Was Laura Madden Really the First Survivor to Go On-the-Record With The NYT in "She Said"?
The 2017 New York Times article identifies former Miramax assistant Laura Madden as one of the first survivors to go on the record about her abuse. Played by Jennifer Ehle in “She Said,” her retelling of the story in her interview with Kantor is deeply emotional. As Madden, who is also dealing with a recent diagnosis of breast cancer, Ehle explains to Kazan (as Kantor) what happened when she was alone with Weinstein in London in the late 1990s. Both the real investigation and “She Said” include other survivors, but Madden’s experience in the movie is portrayed as crucial to the validity of the final article, especially when Madden (who’s about to go into her mastectomy) calls Kantor to confirm she’ll go on-the-record. This brings Kantor to tears and allows the reporting team to move to the next level of their investigation.
In a separate interview with The New York Times this year, Madden said she had no notes on the script when approached by producers, but was upset and shocked at its early viewing, saying it was “kind of like watching your own car crash.” She has since come around to the film after seeing it three times, and it helps to know her daughters are proud of the film and their mother for standing up, who also encouraged her to go on the record back in 2017. “And it’s so funny because it’s so clear to them. It’s wrong,” Madden said. “You stand up and you be counted, and you don’t allow yourself to be bullied. And it has really brought me much closer to them.”
Were Zelda Perkins, Rowena Chiu, and Other Survivors Portrayed Accurately in "She Said"?
The original NYT article also names survivors like Zelda Perkins and Rowena Chiu, who were Miramax assistants at the company’s London office in the late 1990s. Chiu (played by Angela Yeoh) was assaulted by Weinstein, and Perkins (played by Samantha Morton) witnessed Chiu after Weinstein assaulted her, which ultimately led to both women signing non-disclosure agreements that would be severely damaging if they ever discussed the incident with Weinstein publicly.
Perkins broke her silence by talking to Kantor and gave her documents that would propel the investigation forward. All of that is depicted in “She Said,” and even as the actresses retold the stories of their abuse, images of messy hotel rooms and clothes on the floor were shown to allude to the assault rather than show it outright.
Director Maria Schrader, screenwriter Lenkiewicz, and producer Dede Gardner told The New York Times that they spent months working with the survivors to establish ground rules for how they would portray their stories: no naked women, no depiction of assault, and very little Weinstein. “We didn’t even have to debate it,” said Schrader. “I do not need to add another rape scene to the world.”
Which Celebrities Were Really Present or Re-created For Their Roles In "She Said"?
Because the allegations of sexual assault and abuse center around Hollywood, many real celebrities are brought under the spotlight, both in “She Said” and the real New York Times investigation, but not all were fully present for the film.
Actress Ashley Judd, who plays herself in the movie, is a key voice who talks about her experience and is one of her first celebrities to go on the record for the article. A scene where Kantor and Twohey visit Gwenthyn Paltrow at her home in the Hamptons for an interview reveals the “Shakespeare in Love” actress was another one of Weinstein’s victims, but her face is never shown in the movie.
Other actresses, like Rose McGowan, are only heard through phone calls and images in “She Said,” but McGowan’s voice is portrayed by Kelly McQuail. Donald Trump‘s voice is also re-created, voiced by “Saturday Night Live” actor James Austin Johnson at the beginning of the film, when Twohey is investigating his sexual assault allegations in 2016.
In terms of portraying Weinstein in the film, actor Mike Houston voiced the former producer in scenes where the NYT talked to him over the phone, and only his profile is briefly seen in a meeting with Twohey and other lawyers in the newsroom, so the viewers never see his face. The only point in “She Said” where Weinstein’s real voice is used is when a real police recording of model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez and Weinstein having an aggressive interaction while she was wearing a wire plays in the background of empty hotel hallway footage, which became a key piece of evidence that led to Weinstein’s conviction.
Did The NYT Article and Weinstein's Conviction Really Lead To A Cultural Shift In The Film Industry?
Many believe the revitalization of the #MeToo movement was a direct result of the New York Times investigation and Weinstein’s conviction.
With thousands of women speaking out against sexual assault and harassment, the #MeToo movement is still thriving to this day with its anniversary landing every fall, the same time of year the New York Times published their story nearly five years ago.
In addition to “She Said,” many other popular movies and TV shows released within the last few years address #MeToo issues, including “The Morning Show,” “Promising Young Woman,” “The Assistant,” and “I May Destroy You.”