Opinion: He killed Hollywood movies about women. But he couldn’t bury this one

Editor’s note: Jill Filipovich is a New York-based journalist and author of OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind. Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this comment are hers alone. See more opinions on CNN.


Once upon a time, Rebecca Solnit wrote in a lyric column: “There was a guy who was in charge of stories. He decided that some stories would be born, expensive, glamorous stories that cost more than a hundred minimum wage earners could make in a hundred years, film stories with the skill of hundreds more spent so that they could sneak in as dreams in the minds of millions and make money, and he made money and money gave him more power over more stories.

She continued: “There were other stories that he decided had to die. These were the stories the women could tell about what he had done to them, and he decided that no one should hear them, or if they heard them, they should not believe them, or if they did believe them, it should not be meaning.

The stories of America’s most famous story killer have already been told and retold. Since the New York Times and New Yorker broke the news of Harvey Weinstein’s serial assaults and harassment, the list of men publicly accused of abusing women has grown beyond memory.

#MeToo remains a movement in progress, albeit a delayed one. And two new films, She Said and Women Speak, provide important finishes to what has been a much-hyped, if incomplete, revolution. Both are stories of the power of women speaking out and, importantly, both are stories brought to the silver screen by women retelling stories first told by female journalists who were told by other women.

These are films made by women. And they are an inversion of what made people like Weinstein so harmful: Weinstein was not just a powerful man, he was a man who, as Solnit writes, had the power to tell us stories about himself, to determine which stories mattered, which narratives would be defining, universal, valuable.

His misogyny was not just an interpersonal failure; it meant something that a man who treated women with violence, coercion, and contempt was also a man who shaped the cultural products that help us metabolize our stories, refine our principles, and understand ourselves.

And Weinstein wasn’t alone. The list of men in media, publishing, entertainment and politics who have been accused of #MeToo includes names from the world’s top newspapers, magazines and television stations – men who have shaped our understanding of men, women, American politics and what it means to be human.

“In hearing these individual stories, we not only learn about individual crimes, but for the first time we gain insight into the matrix in which we all lived,” journalist Rebecca Traister wrote for The Cut magazine in 2017 in New York. “We see that the men who have had the power to abuse women’s bodies and psyches throughout their careers are in many cases also the ones responsible for our political and cultural histories.” How nice, then, to see at least some of these stories grabbed back.

She Said tells a familiar story, but with the drama and urgency of any great journalistic film (think All the President’s Men or Spotlight). Directed by Maria Schrader, it dramatizes the uncovering of the Weinstein story by New York Times reporters Jodi Cantor and Megan Twohy, played by Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan. And importantly, the film highlights the bravery of the women who spoke to Cantor and Toohey as much as the tenacity of the two journalists.

Women Talking is a stunning, haunting film based on the 2018 bestseller by Miriam Tooews, inspired by a 2013 story by Vice journalist Jean Friedman-Rudowski, who reported on a series of “ghost rapes” in a Mennonite community in Bolivia – how the rapes felt impossible to understand in the isolated and patriarchal community in which they occurred; how the same insular and patriarchal community, with its taboos around sex and sexual violence and its demand for women’s subservience, allowed the attacks to continue for years and let women and girls suffer in silence; how women and children were told to forgive and move on.

Neither “Women Talk” in the novel nor “Women Talk” in the film is about the role of the journalist, and both are fictional accounts of a true story. But both are trying to do the same job that Friedman-Rudowski did in her original reporting: Tell the story through the eyes and experiences of the women who lived through it. And that means emphasizing that the power of this story is not in the horrific attacks, but in what followed, when women came together, spoke up and collectively decided that they weren’t the crazy ones – and something had to change.

Sound familiar?

Too many casual observers already see the reception of the not-so-hit “She Said,” which made just $2.2 million in its opening weekend after a $30 million production cost, as evidence of … something. The death knell of #MeToo? Backlash against feminism? Boredom of these already well-trodden tales of bad men and vulnerable women won out?

Even Weinstein himself got in on it. His spokesman, Judah Engelmeier, told Variety that this story “has been told over and over again for the last five years, and it’s clear that it’s not worth paying a lot to see here. Harvey, the film producer and distributor, would know that.

But Harvey, the film producer and distributor, is currently in prison. And the real story of She Said, Women Speak, and other films in which women command the narrative and are the central characters—the victims, the heroes, sometimes the villains—isn’t whether each of them has to be hugely popular to signal for something important.

It’s that these stories see the light of day, that they are told and retold as many times and in as many formats as the issues they describe shape the real lives of women. It’s that women’s experiences are increasingly considered fodder for dramas and told through a female lens, with women shaping the plots and setting the scenes.

Let’s hope that someday the stories women tell about our lives won’t be isolated as some sort of special interest topic, with the success or lack thereof of a single film assumed to make or break a genre, but rather treated as men’s lives: Captured in all their intricacies, the magnificent parts and the monstrous, told not simply as “women’s stories” but as essential and universally human.

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