Did ‘She Said’ really need to talk about Harvey Weinstein at this particular moment?
“She Said” is a triumphant film. It’s about women finally getting a voice. About the power of incisive, investigative journalism. About taking down a powerful, corrupt man with outsize control over a powerful, corrupt industry.
It’s also about a Jew who controls Hollywood.
“She Said” follows the two New York Times journalists, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (played by Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan), who in 2017 broke the story of Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual misconduct.
Like any good journalism thriller, such as “Spotlight,” it manages to both showcase the tedium and highlight the suspense of breaking a complicated story: digging up sources, sifting through documents, wondering if any of it will ever come to fruition. It feels exciting and empowering to watch these women work because we already know the (relatively) happy ending — Weinstein goes to jail and the good guys (or gals) win.
But in the wake of Kanye West, Kyrie Irving and even Dave Chappelle spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories about Jewish control — especially Jewish control of media — it’s hard not to worry about the unavoidable fact that Harvey Weinstein is a Jew. And, “She Said” makes clear, he did more or less control Hollywood.
In fact, that’s exactly what Kantor and Twohey were trying to prove: If you crossed Weinstein, if you rejected his advances or tried to report or expose him, you’d never work in film again.
It’s essential to expose predators like Weinstein. But it’s hard to avoid the uncomfortable truth that, in addition to powerfully validating his victims’ bravery, the facts of the story might validate the ideas of less well-intentioned actors.
And Weinstein’s sphere of influence wasn’t contained to the film industry. He was an influential political donor and cultural titan who funded feminist causes, appeared at marches and endowed academic chairs. In one scene in “She Said,” even the New York City district attorney seems to be in his pocket: After telling Twohey that she’d declined to prosecute a case against Weinstein, she admits she knows him “socially.”
“You know people have tried to write this story. And he kills it every time,” Zelda Perkins, one of the whistleblowers, tells Kantor.
Of course, Weinstein is not the only corrupt media mogul to be uncomfortably Jewish. Jeffrey Epstein was Jewish. There’s Woody Allen. Matt Lauer. Weinstein, however, is the figurehead of them all, and his exposé was the moment the #MeToo movement truly coalesced.
And while Jewishness isn’t central to the case against Weinstein, nor to the movie, it’s not an afterthought either. In one scene, Kantor tells Twohey that Lisa Bloom, Weinstein’s lawyer, had called to try to talk to her “Jew to Jew” — and get The Times to drop the story.
Meanwhile, Jews seem to be exempt from Weinstein’s predatory behavior; he tells Perkins that he doesn’t go for “Jewish or Asian women.” This is, of course, a disgusting thing to claim offhand, and a form of bigotry, but it’s easy enough to see it as a form of protecting fellow tribe members, or confirmation of Jewish special treatment.
Thankfully, Jewishness isn’t only attached to the story’s villains — Kantor, one of the heroes of the film, is Jewish as well. And it’s a shared connection to bungalow camps in the Catskills and parents and grandparents with concentration camp tattoos that allows Kantor to win the trust of Weinstein’s accountant, Irwin Reiter. They discuss the Holocaust, and meaningfully wonder about who talks about it and who stays mum. Later, it’s Reiter who gives her the documents essential to proving the story.
Kantor’s Jewishness and her connection to the Holocaust drive her to “ask the big questions” and expose systemic corruption, as she told the Forward’s Jodi Rudoren, who worked in the Times newsroom during the same period.
But it’s still clear that’s not the case for everyone. For some, it’s a tool to conserve the very systemic corruption Kantor devotes her life to uncovering. It wasn’t just Weinstein’s lawyer Bloom who tried to connect with her “Jew to Jew.” Weinstein himself tried the tactic.
Thankfully, this had the opposite effect on Kantor, who found it offensive that the mogul would try to use “something so sacred” as a manipulation tactic. “Weinstein’s assumption that tribalism would somehow trump my ethics as a reporter — that I was somehow distracted from this story, you know, by a common Jewish bond — was such a miscalculation in the end,” she told Rudoren. But we don’t hear about that in “She Said.”
In fact, at the end of the movie, it’s Christianity that’s a force for justice. Ashley Judd — who plays herself — agrees to go on the record for the story. “I have to, as a woman and a Christian,” she tells Kantor. If only Judaism had a similarly triumphant moment. But it probably would’ve felt heavy-handed, another piece of evidence that you can’t insult Jews in Hollywood. (Of course, the fact that “She Said,” a film made in Hollywood, exists, is good evidence for the fact that you can, actually, make Jews look bad in Hollywood.)
“She Said” is not an antisemitic film. It’s a good movie, it’s watchable and it even does an important social good by emphasizing, in an era of constant accusations of “fake news,” that journalism is a powerful tool for truth.
It’s not the film’s fault that Weinstein is Jewish, nor that he tried to leverage his Judaism to protect himself. And it’s not the film’s fault that its opening coincided with an enormous uptick in public antisemitism, nor that the antisemitic conspiracy gaining steam right now is the canard that Jews control the media. It’s no one’s fault — except Weinstein’s.