Interview: Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor on breaking the silence of abuse with She Said

Not only were they voices that spoke loud enough to break a cycle of abuse within the Hollywood system, they are now the faces of a ceiling-breaking movement that has forever changed the entertainment industry.

Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey were the New York Times journalists who investigated the abuse allegations against mogul Harvey Weinstein.  In 2017 their piece further launched the #MeToo movement, allowing survivors and silence-breakers to finally be heard in a manner they had long been denied.

Jodi and Megan’s piece and subsequent book, She Said, has now been adapted for the big screen by director Maria Schrader and the producers of 12 Years A Slave, Moonlight and American Hustle, detailing their investigation into Weinstein and the tenacity needed to make sure they weren’t silenced themselves.

To coincide with the film’s release, in our continued coverage of She Said, Peter Gray spoke with Jodi and Megan about the challenges of giving their story away, the fears they harboured when researching this story, and how it feels to see themselves reflected on the big screen.

When you’re watching a reflection of yourself on screen you’re sort of part of a phenomenon that not many people really get to experience.  Could you put into words what that feels like?

Jodi Kantor: I mean, we’re flabbergasted.  We started out by investigating a movie producer, so we’re still a little confused about how likenesses of ourselves ended up on the big screen.  It’s our job to build people’s confidence in telling the truth.  You’ve seen the film, you can be the judge (laughs), but my sense is that they’ve made a film that will help us build people’s confidence.  It represents the integrity of journalism so beautifully, but also the integrity of these sources. Look at these sincere women who made the very difficult decision to speak up for the right reasons. And then look at the impact they produced all over the world. So I mean, we’re just we’re really moved and honoured by this project and grateful that it will help the story be remembered.

Was there a challenge in giving away your own story to a scriptwriter? 

Megan Twohey: This certainly was an exercise in letting go.  Jodi and I had to great lengths to document our reporting process and our book, She Said, so we felt like when it came time after we had done this deal with the filmmakers (that) we were turning over a very accurate blueprint of the story as it unfolded.  We could tell as they were making this film, in our dealings with the producers and the director and Carey and Zoe, that they had a real commitment to tell this story with accuracy and integrity.  At the same time, we were grateful they consulted us.  We were grateful for the time that Carey and Zoe spent with us as they were preparing to play us in real life.  But there was still that moment when we saw the film that we were holding our breath, not quite sure what to expect.  In the end we were impressed with what we saw, and it was clear the care that we felt in the process was expressed in the movie itself.

In the film the dynamic between the two of you almost leans into a “Good cop. Bad cop” routine, with Megan being quite direct and Jodi more reserved.  Is that true to your dynamic in reality?

Jodi Kantor: Oh, that’s such a good question.  I think it’s such a funny thing to see yourself turned into a character on screen.  I think there’s some dramatic licence there, but also some truth.  Megan is an incredibly sensitive person, and I’ve done a lot of tough stories that have involved going up against people who were much more powerful than I was.  But what I think is true about this depiction is that Megan was a little more confrontational with men, including men like Lanny Davis (Weinstein’s former legal adviser).  You can see Megan squaring off in conference rooms with this very experienced PR man.  It’s true that I was doing a lot of careful listening with women who had these really horrible stories, and I think, in some ways, it represents the two poles of skills that all journalists need.  You need the ability to be really tough and confrontational when the moment calls for it, and then you need the tools to be a really great listener and to establish trust with people who have been through really bad things.  I think the on-screen characters work beautifully.

During the investigation, can you recall the toughest times and how you overcame them?

Jodi Kantor: I can give you two examples.  There was a devastating moment when our editor, Rebecca Corbett, took us out to a bar (and) this was pretty far into the investigation, and she asked us what we had on Weinstein that was solid.  She knew the answer already.  But she was forcing us to say out loud to make a point.  We had Laura Madden in 1992 and Gwyneth Paltrow in 1995, et cetera, et cetera, and she asked us how many of these are on record?  We were forced to say none.  And she said “You don’t have a publishable story.” That was devastating to us, because we knew so much at that point and we had a fair amount of evidence for those women’s stories, but she was right, we were not ready to put it in a newspaper.  That filled us with so much more fear than Harvey Weinstein ever did.  The notion that we could know these stories and these women could trust us and then be unable to publish and fail, and that Weinstein would win and we’d go to our graves knowing this truth, that was unbearable (but) really motivating.

The other scary moment was our fears that some harm would come to the women because of our reporting.  That was their greatest fear.  There’s a moment referenced in the film where Zelda Perkins had a settlement and an NDA with Weinstein, and she agreed to speak to us anyway, which was incredibly brave.  It was unheard of at the time for someone to break these settlements (though), so I called an attorney in the UK who specialised in this kind of thing, and without telling him exact details of the situation I asked how dangerous is it for her that she’s talking to me, and how dangerous would it be to put her in the paper….the lawyer just gave it to me!  He told me I was putting her in peril and she could face legal consequences.  This was absolutely not done.  I was really upset after that call because it made me wonder if I was doing something irresponsible as a journalist by pursuing this story.

Megan Twohey: There was no question Weinstein employed threats as he tried to stop this story.  He hired powerful lawyers who threatened to sue the New York Times and sue us if we published the story.  We recognised later that he had hired private investigators to do busts and track us and our sources to stop (the story).  As we were preparing to publish Weinstein barged into the New York Times uninvited, flanked by some of these powerful attorneys, and so the more we reported, the more we observed that this was somebody who used a variety of underhanded tactics to get what he wanted.  And the more we reported, the more we started to glimpse those first-hand.  The truth is that none of that succeeded.  We didn’t feel threatened ourselves.  We weren’t concerned about our safety.  We did not feel that way in the course of doing this reporting. In fact, we just felt galvanised.  We felt that much more inspiration to move forward and to hold this person accountable.

She Said is screening in Australian theatres from November 17th, 2022.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.