#MeToo on Screen: The 15 Best Films and Shows That Tackle the Movement
Content warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual harassment and assault.
Five years ago, the #MeToo movement went viral in the wake of the sexual misconduct allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein. The movement, created by Tarana Burke in 2006 as a way to support victims of domestic violence, became a clarion call against abusive men and the corrupt systems that protect them. In 2017, shortly after the movement took off in the industry, Hollywood itself began making movies and TV shows about #MeToo.
These projects often focused on the downfalls of real-life disgraced men including Weinstein, USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, and others. They helped ignite conversations about what accountability looks like for these abusers, often in real time. (Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in a New York state prison for rape and sexual assault in 2020, and his second trial is currently taking place in California; Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison in 2018.)
Amid this reckoning, women were getting more screen time than ever to speak out, but there were many who were still being ignored. Burke’s initial aim with the movement was to lift up the voices of Black women whose stories of abuse are all too often ignored, but these early #MeToo movies and TV shows predominantly centered the lives of white women. This is despite the fact that Black women “disproportionately experience violence at home, at school, on the job, and in their neighborhoods,” according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
But as the conversations surrounding the movement have become more inclusive, so have the movies and TV shows pertaining to it. Black women’s stories are front and center in the 2019 docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” and the 2020 documentary “On the Record,” which looks at the allegations against media mogul Russell Simmons. These projects on the whole have also become more nuanced, spearheading difficult conversations about consent, trauma, and “cancel culture.”
These 15 films and TV shows released in the past five years are examples of how Hollywood has helped push #MeToo forward – and also offer a sense of just how far the movement still needs to go.
The 2019 drama looks at how Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) brought down former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, played by John Lithgow, a year before the #MeToo movement took off in Hollywood. In July 2016, Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes, alleging he fired her after she denied his advances. The Jay Roach-directed film shows how the lawsuit inspired a dozen other women, including Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), to speak up about their own allegedly inappropriate interactions with the network’s leader over the course of his 20-year tenure. Ailes resigned from the company two weeks after Carlson went public with her suit and continued to deny all allegations of sexual misconduct until his death in 2017.
At the time, Carlson’s $20 million settlement with Fox was seen as a win for women, even though Ailes was reportedly paid $40 million to leave without incident. Still, Carlson sees her story as the first step towards making real change, pointing out that Les Moonves, the former chairman and CEO of CBS, didn’t receive any severance payment after being fired in 2018 amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
“Cultural shifts take a tremendous amount of time,” Carlson told Variety in 2021. “But in five years, we’ve made immense progress.”
"The Loudest Voice"
In 2019, the same year “Bombshell” was released, “The Loudest Voice” also focused on the downfall of Ailes (played by Russell Crowe). The Showtime miniseries – like its inspiration, Gabriel Sherman’s 2014 book of the same name – places the focus on Ailes’s checkered rise to the top of Fox News. But in the miniseries, his tenure plays out like a reign of terror, in which Ailes degrades his female employees without anyone batting an eye. “The Loudest Voice” takes a magnifying glass to Ailes’s alleged past behavior, but also a system that could’ve allowed him to get away with it for so long.
"The Morning Show"
This 2019 Apple TV+ series begins with popular morning show host Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) learning that her co-anchor, Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), was fired after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced. The fallout of this sudden reckoning – reminiscent of the 2017 firing of “Today Show” host Matt Lauer after similar allegations (which he has denied) – forces Alex to consider her complicity in the matter. What complicates things is that Alex had a sexual relationship with Mitch, and, despite hating the pain he has caused so many, she doesn’t hate him.
The Weinstein allegations dropped in the early stages of the show’s writing process, which meant that the writers’ room was dealing with complicated issues surrounding #MeToo in real time. The series doesn’t always hit the mark, but it does offer an up-close look at the messiness that comes with trying to make real change. Alex’s journey toward redemption, filled with both self-victimization and self-reflection, shows that canceling abusers is just the first step in overhauling an abusive system.
“Grey’s Anatomy” took down one of its own in season 14. In the 2018 episode “Bad Reputation,” it is revealed that Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital’s most legendary surgeon, the late Harper Avery (Chelcie Ross), harassed dozens of women over the course of his career. The allegations had been swept under the rug by his colleagues, including his daughter, Catherine Fox (Debbie Allen), who had encouraged Harper’s accusers to sign nondisclosure agreements in order to protect her dad and the hospital.
The episode deals with the complicated conversations people were having in the immediate aftermath of the Weinstein allegations: how much protection are these powerful men being given, and how much blame should be put on complicit colleagues? Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) offers a road forward for the hospital that feels like advice to any other workplace struggling to start over: “If you want to rebuild, you have to tear it down first.” On the long-running medical drama, that means dissolving Harper’s namesake foundation and renaming it after Catherine as well as rehiring the women who had been affected by his harassment. Does that absolve Catherine? No, but it is the first step towards rebuilding.
"On the Record"
It wasn’t easy for Drew Dixon, a former A&R executive at Def Jam, to come forward with allegations against her one-time boss music mogul Russell Simmons. In December 2017, when she accused Simmons of sexual harassment and rape in The New York Times, she became one of the most high-profile women of color to speak out in the early days of the #MeToo movement. (Simmons has denied all allegations of abuse.) The Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering-directed documentary shows what went into Dixon’s difficult decision to speak out while also exploring the difficulties that Black women face when telling stories of abuse.
Those challenges became even more real in the lead-up to the film’s release. Oprah Winfrey pulled out as producer of the project because of “creative differences,” which led Apple TV+ to back out as the film’s streamer at the last minute. (The documentary was picked up by HBO Max.) Winfrey’s statement came after she was called out by Simmons and others, including 50 Cent, for taking part in the film.
Since 2017, at least 20 women have accused Simmons of sexual misconduct, and those accounts are laid out in “On the Record.” Those who have come forward include journalist Toni Sallie; former singer, now lawyer Tina Baker; and screenwriter Jenny Lumet. Simmons has faced no legal consequences for his alleged crimes.
"Promising Young Woman"
This 2020 candy-colored rape-revenge film stars Carey Mulligan as Cassie, a former medical student who spends her nights entrapping men who troll the local bars for young women to take advantage of. The Emerald Fennell-directed film deconstructs the “nice guy” trope by casting Hollywood good guys – comedian Bo Burnham, Max Greenfield (of “New Girl”), and Chris Lowell (of “Veronica Mars”) – to play the men she’s out to take down. And Cassie does – but her brand of vigilante justice comes at a high cost, making her revenge more bitter than sweet.
Over the course of one work day, Jane (Julie Garner), the assistant to a powerful film producer, goes from taking calls and washing dishes to disinfecting her boss’s “casting” couch and escorting a young actress to a hotel he booked for her. With each task, Jane begins to suspect that the man she works for is a sexual predator.
Jane’s boss is a shadowy figure, purposely reminiscent of Weinstein, but writer and director Kitty Green never shows the man’s face. He doesn’t even have a name. That’s what makes this 2019 indie film so frightening: Jane’s boss could be any problematic executive, and this could be any office where predatory men are allowed to thrive. When Jane doesn’t fall in line, her coworkers begin to gaslight her. She starts to question her own culpability in whatever unseemly things might be happening behind closed doors. But being the lowest in office rank means there isn’t much she can do to stop him. The final moments of the film feel devastatingly inevitable – and worst of all, for many women, all too relatable.
"Surviving R. Kelly"
The Lifetime docuseries is an impressive work of investigative journalism focused on nearly 30 years of allegations of sexual abuse against R. Kelly. With interviews with more than 50 people, including Sparkle, Jovante Cunningham, Kitti Jones, and his ex-wife Andrea Kelly, “Surviving R. Kelly” confronts the allegations that Kelly had a history of abusive and controlling relationships with Black girls and young women whom he enticed into his home under the guise of mentorship.
It wasn’t until #MeToo that people finally took the allegations against Kelly seriously, but the documentary shows just how long Black women had been sounding the alarms against the R&B star. Earlier this year, Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison after being convicted on racketeering and sex trafficking charges.
The 2020 Netflix documentary delves into how reporters at the Indianapolis Star broke the story surrounding the sexual abuse of at least 500 young athletes by USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. The report spearheaded the case against Nassar, who, in 2018, was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for multiple sex crimes. The year earlier, he had been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to child pornography and evidence tampering charges. In their reporting, the Star journalists – Mark Alesia, Tim Evans, and Marisa Kwiatkowski – also revealed a much larger cover-up that took place at the executive levels of the sport. They found that USA Gymnastics not only protected Nassar, but allowed coaches who were accused of abuse to move from gym to gym without reporting the allegations to authorities.
Nassar’s victims included Olympians Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, and Maggie Nichols, the titular “Athlete A,” the moniker used to protect her identity during the investigations against Nassar. The documentary shows how USAG continuously put winning gold above the safety of their young athletes. It was the journalists, survivors, and lawyers that were able to fight back against the corruption that put so many young women’s lives at risk; a triumph that came at an unnecessarily high cost.
BoJack Horseman, the washed-up TV star (and humanoid horse) voiced by Will Arnett, was always seen as a lovable anti-hero. The titular character of the Netflix animated comedy – who struggled with alcohol, drugs, and depression over the course of six seasons – was always out to better himself, but it too often came at the expense of others. The final seasons of the series test BoJack’s likability by revealing an undeniable pattern of abuse that began early in his career. His long list of indiscretions include an affair with his manager’s young assistant, choking a female costar, taking a friend’s daughter to her high school prom, and carrying on a sexual relationship with the actress who once played his daughter on TV. His reckoning comes after the press discovers he gave that former costar the drugs that led to her fatal overdose.
“BoJack Horseman” shows what accountability for abusers really looks like. It is more than releasing a public apology and disappearing from the public eye for a few months. BoJack claims he is a different person, but the show doesn’t let him off the hook for his past misdeeds. He’s forced to put in the work, to try to understand the pain he caused, knowing he may not be forgiven. In the end, he suffers the consequences for what he has done, but learns through the process.
"Jane the Virgin"
In the early days of #MeToo, “Jane the Virgin” revisited a season two plotline in which Jane (Gina Rodriguez) dated her grad school professor Jonathan Chavez (played by Adam Rodriguez). In 2016, when the episode aired, their affair, which almost resulted in Jane losing her virginity, was largely seen as sexy and romantic. Jane thought of herself as a willing participant in a relationship that some might deem inappropriate. Two years later, Jane looks back at their encounter with new eyes, questioning whether his position of power blurred the lines of consent.
When she discovers that Jonathan is dating another student, she confronts him. “Even if a student says she wants something, she might really regret it when she’s older and smarter and has more information about how it was a pretty gross abuse of power,” she says. “Especially if it’s a pattern.” Now older and wiser, Jane sees it as her responsibility to speak to the woman, who, like her, may not realize the power imbalance at play.
“Jane the Virgin” creator Jennie Snyder Urman later said she believed it was her responsibility to revisit a storyline that fell into a gray area. “We need to be looking at these power dynamics and talking about them,” she told Variety in 2018. “If you want to have a consensual relationship with someone that has more power than you, that’s totally fine – that’s a valid choice – but [Jane] felt like she didn’t have all the information when she made that choice.”
"I May Destroy You"
In the wake of #MeToo, consent became an important topic of discussion, but no one tackled the subject with quite as much complexity as “I May Destroy You.” The HBO series begins with a horrific rape that was loosely based on creator, writer, and star Michaela Coel’s own sexual assault. The show follows Coel’s character, Arabella, as she attempts to take back her own life in the wake of the assault, but it also focuses on a variety of other sexual encounters that fall into a moral gray area. These are more than “bad hookups”; they are painful, confusing, traumatic interactions that are difficult to process, and even more difficult to define. The insightful six-episode series shows how Arabella and her two friends, Kwame (Paapa Essiedu) and Terry (Weruche Opia), who are Black, queer, and of immigrant descent, attempt to deal with the trauma of these experiences. What “I May Destroy You” shows is just how often the lines of consent are blurred.
In this existential drama, Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) is a renowned conductor at the top of her game. She’s an EGOT winner, a certified genius to those in the know. She’s also a sexual predator. Her predilection for young women, whom she gets close to under the guise of mentorship, is an open secret to her wife, her colleagues, and her assistant. Lydia is such a narcissist that she can’t see the pitfalls right in front of her – namely, a former victim’s desperate emails that become the musician’s undoing.
Director Todd Field offers a nuanced look at the #MeToo movement by casting against type. Lydia, a queer white woman, shows that men aren’t the only ones who abuse their power. It’s the system that is corrupt. Whatever you think of Lydia’s comeuppance, it’s hard to argue that she doesn’t get what she deserves. In fact, “Tár” makes the case that her real undoing isn’t “cancel culture,” it’s hubris.
In 2017, New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke the Weinstein story, inadvertently igniting the #MeToo movement. Two years later, they wrote the book “She Said,” which offered a behind-the-scenes look at how they reported the story that would change the world forever. In 2022, the film of the same name starring Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan as Kantor and Twohey, respectively, shows the difficulties that come with telling a story of this magnitude. It does so by putting the focus on the women who shared their stories of abuse. (Ashley Judd, the only actress who went on the record for the first Weinstein story, plays herself in the film.)
These women understood the risks that came with speaking out against Weinstein, yet they still did. But that decision wasn’t easy. What the movie reiterates is that there is power in numbers: all of these women coming together to bravely tell their stories is what made anything he said seem less credible. That is something to celebrate, but it also begs the question: why must women fight so much harder to be believed? The film is out in theaters on Nov. 18.