Carey Mulligan (left) and Zoe Kazan portray Twohey and Kantor. PHOTO BY JOJO WHILDEN/UNIVERSAL PICTURES. © UNIVERSAL STUDIOS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
IN 2017, THE NEW YORK TIMES REPORTERS JODI KANTOR AND MEGAN TWOHEY EXPOSED THE DECADES OF SEXUAL ABUSE BY INFAMOUS HOLLYWOOD PRODUCER HARVEY WEINSTEIN—FUELING THE #METOO MOVEMENT. HERE, SCREENWRITER REBECCA LENKIEWICZ DISCUSSES HOW SHE WORKED WITH THE PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING JOURNALISTS TO ADAPT THEIR BOOK, AND HOW THE KEY TO HER INSPIRING SCRIPT FOR SHE SAID (OUT NOV. 18 FROM UNIVERSAL PICTURES) WAS THE BRAVERY AND RESILIENCE OF THE SURVIVORS.
Screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz. PHOTO COURTESY OF: PENGUIN PRESS
After revealing Hollywood mega-producer Harvey Weinstein’s three decades of sexual abuse and misconduct in a story published Oct. 5, 2017, The New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey penned the book She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement (Penguin Press, 2019) to detail their investigation.
Screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz. PHOTO COURTESY OF: UNIVERSAL PICTURES
“Jodi and Megan were working on the book when I first met and talked with them,” says Rebecca Lenkiewicz, whom Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner of Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment enlisted to write the script for the project they’d optioned. Lenkiewicz, a British playwright and screenwriter who’d worked on ITV2’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl as well as films Disobedience, Colette and Oscar-winning Ida, was up to the challenge. “I felt the importance of the investigation and its outcome on both a deeply personal [level] and on a global scale,” she says. “I admired the courage and resilience of the survivors keenly, and the strength and determination of the journalists. I felt this story could be both empowering and inspiring despite its dark subject.”
Lenkiewicz began writing the script for She Said based on her conversations with Kantor and Twohey, who then sent her chapters and drafts of the eventual bestseller. “I started to weave the book’s detail and their perspective into the screenplay,” says Lenkiewicz, who included some dialogue in verbatim. “The bravery of the survivors was key to the script as was the journalists’ absolute respect for them and their determination to get this story out. It had been silenced for decades.” She went beyond the book by fleshing out the Pulitzer Prize-winning female reporters—who juggled their investigation alongside their roles as wives and mothers. Lenkiewicz notes, “I added snippets of the journalists’ personal lives to see how people are in their own home versus how they present at work or in ‘public.’” Lenkiewicz loved the strength and integrity actresses Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan brought to the roles of Twohey and Kantor. “They are such brilliant, chameleonic actors, and their chemistry in the film is stunning. The whole company is amazing—Andre Braugher, Patricia Clarkson—they all give The New York Times setting such authenticity.”
Reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor’s 2019 book detailing their Harvey Weinstein investigation inspired the film She Said PHOTO COURTESY OF: REBECCA LENKIEWICZ
Vital to Lenkiewicz’s research was meeting three former assistants who’d worked for Miramax in the 1990s. “They were all in their early 20s when Weinstein had shattered their young lives,” she says of Laura Madden, Zelda Perkins and Rowena Chiu. Lenkiewicz found the women to be “incredibly open and brilliant,” and wondered how they’d reckoned with the past. “They were only a couple of years on from teenagers when they had had to deal with either sexual assault or ritual control and mental abuse,” she says. “How do you reconstruct your life at that vulnerable age, carrying a huge trauma? I was shocked at how accepted and normalized the abusive behavior was in the workplace— how people in the inner circle worked around it.”
Victims and supporters Louise Godbold, Rosanna Arquette, Sarah Ann Masse, Rose McGowan and Lauren Sivan speak with the media at Harvey Weinstein’s trial at the Manhattan courthouse Jan. 6, 2020 PHOTO BY: PABLO MONSALVE/VIEWPRESS VIA GETTY IMAGES
When she’d originally learned the news (in Kantor and Twohey’s story that included accounts from women including Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan), Lenkiewicz had also been disturbed at how nondisclosure agreements enabled Weinstein to continue his predatory behavior. “He simply created a culture of silence,” she says of the Miramax and The Weinstein Company co-founder whose presence in the film is minimal. “I wanted to absolutely focus on the journalists’ fantastic work and the survivors’ courage,” Lenkiewicz says. “The filmmakers and I felt very strongly that Weinstein’s face should never be seen. We could hear his voice or see his back but we didn’t want him to be visible in our film. … It was a decision that came from profound anger.”
Another man loosely depicted in the film directed by Maria Schrader (Netflix’s Unorthodox) and co-produced by Annapurna Pictures is President Donald Trump. “Megan Twohey had reported on Trump extensively so it felt like he should be present—again as a voice more than a presence,” Lenkiewicz says. “It was important to set up how impossibly difficult and truly brave it is to go on the record against powerful men; how a person can lose everything by simply telling the truth.” She feels the larger issue the film speaks to is that sexual assault is often handled so ineptly. “Punishments are more severe for burglars than for rapists!” she says, noting that 1 in 5 women in America has experienced rape or attempted rape. “So much violence goes unreported because women are terrified of not being believed. The trauma of a court case following an attack can be as bad as the assault itself.”
The New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. PHOTO BY: MARTIN SCHOELLER
But, thanks to people like Kantor and Twohey, the needle is moving. “Jodi and Megan showed us early on a now-iconic picture of The New York Times journalists gathering around the computer to reread the breaking story before it was ‘sent’ and therefore out in the world,” Lenkiewicz recalls. “There had been concern at The Times whether people would care... and immediately a tidal wave of reaction started to happen. And the #MeToo movement that Tarana Burke had started gathered this vast amount of support and attention.” Women everywhere began speaking out about sexual harassment and assault across many industries—leading to the ousting of other powerful men who’d abused their positions. Following his dismissal from The Weinstein Company and after over 80 women accused him of misconduct, in March 2020, Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years of imprisonment. “I hope viewers take away a sense of solidarity,” Lenkiewicz says, “and some hope that things can and will change.”