The New York Film Festival’s world premiere of She Said, based on the book of the same name about the New York Times‘ investigation into Harvey Weinstein’s decades of alleged sexual misconduct, was a “memorable moment,” director Maria Schrader said Thursday night.
Schrader said she and the team behind the Universal film, which she was still working on four weeks ago, had hoped the movie would make its debut in New York.
“This is actually what we wished for because this is where it belongs,” she told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of She Said‘s premiere.
The film screened at the prestigious fall festival, which Weinstein himself frequented in his heyday. And the world premiere took place as Weinstein’s Los Angeles sexual assault trial is beginning. He was convicted of rape in a New York trial in early 2020.
But Thursday night, the focus was on women, with the red-carpet event playing host not only to the many female figures behind the film, including the Times journalists who worked on the 2017 exposé, but also to the women who accused Weinstein of misconduct.
The survivors in attendance included Ashley Judd, whose on-the-record account was a key component of the Times‘ exposé and who participated in a panel discussion after the film screened.
Recalling speaking out about Weinstein, Judd, who has been grieving the death of her mother Naomi Judd earlier this year, appeared to get emotional as she recalled her mom’s support when she decided to come forward.
“I just want to remember when I was speaking to my mother about all this, she said, ‘Oh, you go get ’em, honey,’ in her sweet way, in dulcet tones … not a punitive bone in her body,” Judd said in the post-screening panel. “She was just enthralled by my audacity, as I later heard from friends.”
Judd even plays herself in the movie and said that while filming she “kept telling the story” of what happened to her with Weinstein in 1996 at the Peninsula hotel.
The film’s cast also includes another Weinstein accuser, Sarah Ann Masse. While Masse’s personal experience (she says he sexually assaulted her when she interviewed to babysit his children) isn’t included in the film, she plays business reporter Emily Steel.
Masse, who launched the Hire Survivors Hollywood initiative, said that she had hoped Universal would hire survivors for this film.
“I actually spoke to a couple of people at the company and they were receptive to it, but then I didn’t know what would happen,” Masse told THR ahead of the premiere. “Several months later, a lot of us got a call that we had an audition for this film. I didn’t expect to get an audition, I just hoped that they would include some survivors. So I was obviously thrilled and auditioned for the part and got it.”
Centering and recognizing the women who spoke out against Weinstein was key in writing the script, screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz told THR before the premiere, while Schrader felt a strong “responsibility to get the details right, to do justice to the sensitivity of the subject.”
“The biggest challenge was to honor all those who were involved in speaking out and in the investigation,” Lenkiewicz said. “So the challenge was portraying the journalists accurately and the fantastic journalism and just showing how absolutely brave and resilient the survivors have been.”
Both Lenkiewicz and actor Andre Braugher, who plays former Times executive editor Dean Baquet in the film, said that they were excited about working on a film that aimed to shine a light on misconduct in Hollywood.
“Working in Hollywood makes you want to tell the story even more because you want to be able to work in an industry that doesn’t [tolerate] that horrific behavior,” Lenkiewicz said.
Braugher added that he feels the film has “the potential to really tell the story that was untold, a story that you can’t get from soundbites on television.”
And Jennifer Ehle — who plays Laura Madden, a former Weinstein employee who said, according to the 2017 Times exposé, that he prodded her for massages — said she hoped audiences would take away “the power of collective voice of people standing together and supporting each other.”
“I think it’s very important, particularly right now, for us all to be aware that, whatever we believe in, if we all stand together with other people who believe the same thing that it is possible to change practices and outcomes or at least set things in motion,” she said, adding that the film also shows “the power of investigative journalism and how important it is to protect journalism and the free press.”
In terms of changes that have taken place since the Times‘ Weinstein investigation, which opened the floodgates for other survivors of sexual misconduct to come forward, Zoe Kazan, who plays Jodi Kantor in the film, Judd and others pointed to more open conversations and a wider understanding of what is and isn’t acceptable behavior.
But Kazan said, “there’s so much change left to be effected.”
“Anybody reading the newspaper headlines since let’s just say the beginning of May would know that we’re still living in an oppressive patriarchy,” she said during the post-screening panel, appearing to refer to the leak of the Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.
Still one of Weinstein’s earliest accusers, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, who told the New York police in 2015 that Weinstein assaulted her, indicated that she was and continues to be hopeful for a better future.
“[In 2015,] I was basically the only person that spoke out. I was alone and I felt that I was powerless, but I don’t know why I still had a hope inside that I was still doing the right thing, that something would happen,” Gutierrez said. “I never would have imagined that this would have happened, putting it in the media, talking extensively and having more people coming forward and also trying to get justice through laws that are being put in place, because now they’re trying to change, at the roots, what’s wrong. With the #MeToo movement and how strong women are, there’s more possibility to try and fix situations that happened in the past.”