Feminist Asian Dad and Daughter Watch the New Film “She Said”

CW: This post covers topics related to rape and sexual assault.

After my 16-year-old daughter and I watched the new movie She Said, we had thoughts! Here’s a transcripted rendition of our conversation, edited for length and clarity. I’m F. A. D. (Feminist Asian Dad) and my daughter is denoted by the moniker J. J. for the Chinese term for older sister, 姐姐 (Pinyin: jiĕ jie). Minor spoilers ahead.

Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan star as New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor.

F. A. D.: She Said was a very emotional film for me to watch, partly because I used to work in the field of relationship and sexual violence prevention. During the movie, I wanted to cheer out loud for the New York Times reporters, Megan and Jodi. They did something truly remarkable, as did the survivors of Harvey Weinstein’s abuses who took a risk and came forward to tell their stories. Carey Mulligan (as Megan) and Zoe Kazan (as Jodi) were great, as was Jennifer Ehle in the role of Laura Madden, who in the present day in the film is dealing with breast cancer. What are your initial thoughts?

J. J.: It hit me that, yep, this is life.

F. A. D.: You mean powerful men doing bad things and getting away with it?

J. J.: And the victims suffer. If anything were to happen to me – a pretty high likelihood – I’m not under any impression that the law is going to be on my side, you know? It’s really painful to see that. But it’s really inspiring to see all these women being so brave, or just doing what they felt they had to do. I really admire that.

Jennifer Ehle is powerful as Laura Madden.

F. A. D.: There’s a really good question Megan asks Zoe in the film. She asks if there’s another story they should be pursuing instead of this one because some of these actresses have a prominent platform already. The idea is that there may be other people with less of a platform that should get a chance to tell their story. It makes me think of how women with a prominent platform, if they speak out, they get crucified, and that’s the norm. Even prominent people get silenced through non-disclosure agreements and vicious public backlash.

J. J.: Having a platform to speak out also makes them very accessible to a lot of people who will absolutely gang up on them.

F. A. D.: It’s part of the system, including the enablers that look the other way. There’s a whole thing really built up to enable these things to happen.

J. J.: And some of the people who knew about it, and even gave advice to the women about how to deal with Weinstein, they didn’t speak out. What should they have done, you know?

F. A. D.: Ironically with Megan’s question, most of the 82 survivors who came forward didn’t have a prominent voice. There are some that are better known, like Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan. But there’s so many more women whose stories the reporters were able to tell because they dove into it. And they were all silenced, even the famous ones, one way or another, like getting blacklisted from jobs. [Note: The more publicly recognizable women whom Weinstein raped, sexually assaulted, attempted to assault, or sexually harassed include Ms. McGowan and Ms. Judd, who plays herself in the film, along with Gwyneth Paltrow (who voices herself in the film), Angelina Jolie, Mira Sorvino, Rosanna Arquette, Lupita Nyong’o, Salma Hayek, Minka Kelly, Kate Beckinsale, Lena Headey, Julianna Margulies, Claire Forlani, Cara Delevingne, Connie Nielsen, Lauren Holly, Romola Garai, Heather Graham, Annabella Sciorra, Daryl Hannah, Natasha Henstridge, Anne Heche, and Sean Young. Other survivors, including pivotal figures Laura Madden, Rowena Chiu, and Zelda Perkins, participated on screen or behind the scenes, as detailed here.]

Rowena Chiu and actress Angela Yeoh, who plays Ms. Chiu in the film, attend one of the movie’s premieres. (San Jose Mercury News)

J. J.: As a woman, it makes you think, what would you do if you were put in that position? You know, having to make that choice. At the end of the day, it’s not your fault. It’s the fault of horrible people, but you’re still the one who’s left with that choice, and it’s a big risk. You know that it’s probably going to affect you, your work opportunities, and the way people see you and perceive you for the rest of your life.

F. A. D.: Shame silences, too. For people who survive sexual assault, it’s so common for the finger to get pointed inward. And I think they show that well in the film, like when Laura Madden says she thought she was the only one that failed to fight back hard enough. There’s so much put upon the victims. It’s so unfair – the person who was hurt is the person that also has to bear the terribly difficult choices. 

J. J.: At the end of the day, it feels like you can rage all you want against unfairness, and a lot of times, things don’t change.

F. A. D.: Fortunately here, things did change, partly because of the Times story. A number of other powerful men got held to account (in the aftermath of its publication), like Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose. Megan and Jodi and the survivors of Weinstein’s abuses helped to bring so many people some sense of empowerment to say something.

J. J.: Yeah, women’s anger is power.

F. A. D.: And necessary. 

J. J.: You shouldn’t have to get that angry or go through trauma, but what can be done? It’s kind of like what Megan says in the movie to victims – I can’t change what happened to you, but we can help to prevent it from happening to other people. And I think that’s really powerful. And also sad, but that’s life.

Ashley Judd speaks at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. in January 2021. (Business Insider)

F. A. D.: I really like how they put in the scene where Megan and Jodi and their female editor are talking in the bar or pub or whatever it is, and these guys start hitting on them. And after awhile, Megan’s had enough and says, ¨F*ck you! Get the f*ck out of my face!” And the men leave, calling them b*tches. That was a great scene, and it typifies what so many women deal with. Sexism is on a whole spectrum. There’s the horror of rape and sexual assault, and there’s also the terrible things that are so common for women, like guys not taking no for an answer.

J. J.: It’s like, even as they’re writing about sexism, it exists around them, too. It’s rape culture, all these attitudes and things people casually say and do, that contribute to this idea.

F. A. D.: It’s bred over so many generations, going back to the beginning of human history, of men feeling entitled to women’s attention, or women’s bodies, or this or that.

J. J.: Each generation teaches it to the next. That’s part of the work we’re trying to do as a society. We’re trying to unlearn these ideas, in hopes that we can hold people to account and to imbue values of masculinity that aren’t ownership and dominance.

F. A. D.: It’s partnership; it’s equality. It’s not assuming, “Oh, you’re just playing hard to get” or “you know you really want it.” No, they don’t want it, so f*ck off, okay? I like how you put it – you said that as they’re writing about this awful sexism, they’re experiencing it on a day-to-day level as well.

J. J.: When I’ve written things about different issues, it’s been surreal. I’m writing about something and hoping people read it, but it’s also a thing that I’m actually facing in life.

F. A. D.: I like how you’ve done that in a lot of different ways over the years. Like what you wrote about Odysseus.

J. J. : We were supposed to write an essay on something having to do with The Odyssey or with Greek culture. And I wrote about how Greek myths exhibit rape culture. 

The god Zeus, in the form of a bull, abducts Europa (4th century B.C.). (Wikimedia)

F. A. D.: I have many, many moments where I’m proud of you, and that was one of them.

J. J.: That’s really validating, honestly! A lot of times in just your day-to-day life, and also in media, you see things that bother you. Having the language to express and understand why those things bother you, and why they’re wrong, is so empowering. And to be able to feel like you can make a difference about that even if it’s just writing an essay. What’s so powerful for me about this movie is seeing women, even though they’re experiencing injustice, feel like they’re able to make a dent in this incredibly overwhelming world that in many ways, still panders to these abusers. As someone who’s Gen Z, there’s so many problems that we see and are aware about in our day-to-day lives. And it’s so overwhelming, and seemingly apocalyptic. It’s empowering to see beyond that, that people are able to do work and actually make progress.

F. A. D.: Hey, can I switch gears? Since you are a theater person, can you talk about how you felt about this film from an artistic standpoint, whether it’s the acting or elements of story or choices that you thought were interesting?

J. J.: That’s a hard question. I am a theater person, but I’m just a high schooler.

F. A. D.: But you’re legit.

J. J.: I thought it was really lovely that we got to see women doing normal women and human things. Like when Jodi gets off the call with her daughter and just cries. Or the little moments, like when Megan is caring for her newborn and gets a call, and she’s like “Yes, I’m available to talk.” It’s really powerful to know that you can have all these things going on and still succeed.  Megan and Jodi are not the ever-elusive, perfect girlboss image.

This is only about half of the women who’ve spoken out on what Weinstein did. (The Guardian)

F. A. D.: They’re not Mary Sue characters, idealized women characters. 

J. J.: Like when Megan’s going through postpartum depression but she still has agency to say, “This is really hard, but I am a journalist, and I care about this story, and I am choosing to continue doing it.”

F. A. D.: Any other things from an artistic standpoint?

J. J.: There were a lot of moments. The music and the intensity of it were dramatic, but they did help the story. Then there were the moments where it was like – I don’t know if this is just because I’m a woman – but there were a lot of scenes where it’s dark where they are. Like when Megan gets out of her car, and it’s dark and really creepy. I get the sense of what it is to be a woman walking in a dark environment by yourself, always looking over your shoulder. There’s also the scene where Jodi is walking, and there’s this car, and she’s like, is this guy following me? What they have to live with as women.

F. A. D.:  Yeah.

J. J.: There was also the real recording they played [of Weinstein sexually harassing Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez], and they show these long shots of hotel corridors and hallways. It’s very stock footage. You don’t see anything as it just slowly zooms, but you hear the conversation get more and more intense. I thought that was really interesting. Also, you barely see Weinstein depicted in this movie, which I really appreciate.

Ambra Battilana Gutierrez talks before the premiere of She Said about a new law in New York, the Adult Survivors Act, which gives victims until approximately November 2023 to file claims in cases where the statute of limitations has already passed. (Movie Roar)

F. A. D.: You never see a face; you only see the look-alike actor from the back or from the side. 

J. J.: There’s never a point where it delves into trauma porn or anything. There were also all these lingering shots when they were dramatizing Laura Madden’s story. It’s all these lingering hotel shots of her bag and her clothes on the floor. It’s like you’re there and Laura is picking up the pieces after it happens.

F. A. D.: It made me think of a crime scene, when the investigators are going through and seeing what happened here. 

J. J.: They’re going through and looking at what happened. You’re looking at the aftermath, like what a hotel room looks like after an assault. To see that is really powerful, because you’re not seeing bodies, but it’s still just as evocative, if not more.

F. A. D.: Yes. Any thoughts as we close?

Actors Kat Kendall and Sarah Ann Masse, both survivors of Weinstein’s abuses, also feature in the film. Ms. Masse is the founder of an organization called Hire Survivors Hollywood, which works “to end retaliation against survivors of sexual violence in the entertainment industry.” (Maximo Video)

J. J.: I want to study gender studies in college, in part because it’s fascinating. But also because seeing women portrayed on screen doing the work of helping survivors, it makes me want to look into that more.

F. A. D.: So did you enjoy the film overall, and would you recommend it to your friends at school?

J. J.: Yes. I don’t know how much my friends know in terms of the actual history and movements, but this helps us know the women who came before us and recognize the work they’ve done.

F. A. D.: I’m so glad we got to see the film together. Thanks for talking about it with me!

J. J.: You’re welcome!

Brava! Left to right: Jodi Kantor, Zoe Kazan, Megan Twohey, and Carey Mulligan.
(The Hollywood Reporter)