Editor’s note: Jill Filipovic is a New York-based journalist and the author of OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind. follow her on twitter. The opinions expressed in this comment are solely their own. View more opinions on CNN.
Rebecca Solnit once wrote in a lyrical column: “There was a man in charge of stories. He decided that some stories would be born, expensive, glamorous stories that could make more than a hundred minimum wage earners a hundred years from now, cinematic stories with the skill of hundreds, expended so that they would creep into people’s heads like dreams, and made millions Money, and he made money, and the money gave him more power over more stories.”
She continued, “There were other stories that he decided must die. These were the stories women could tell about what he had done to them and he decided that no one must hear them, or if they hear them they must not believe them, or if they believe them it must not matter .”
The tales of America’s most famous story killer have now been told and retold. Since the New York Times and The New Yorker broke the news of Harvey Weinstein’s serial assault and harassment, the list of men publicly accused of abusing women has grown immeasurably.
#MeToo remains a movement, albeit one that has slowed. And two new films, She Said and Women Talking, form important cornerstones of a very vocal, if incomplete, revolution. Both are stories about the power of women speaking out and, more importantly, both are stories brought to the screen by women who retell the stories that women journalists first told, other women telling them have told.
These are films made by women. And they are a reversal of what made men like Weinstein so damaging: not only was Weinstein a powerful man, he was a man who, Solnit writes, had the power to tell us stories about ourselves to determine which stories were important, which narratives would be defining, universal, valuable.
His misogyny wasn’t just an interpersonal failing; 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 process our history, refine our principles, and understand ourselves.
And Weinstein wasn’t alone. The list of men in media, publishing, entertainment and politics indicted in #MeToo includes names from the world’s major newspapers, magazines and television networks – men who have challenged our understanding of men, women, American… have shaped politics and the meaning of being human.
“Hearing these individual stories not only teaches us about individual transgressions, but gives us, for the first time, a glimpse of the matrix we’ve all lived in,” wrote journalist Rebecca Traister for New York magazine The Cut in 2017. “We see that the men who have had the power throughout their careers to abuse women’s bodies and psyches are, in many cases, also the ones responsible for our political and cultural histories.” So how gratifying it is , to find at least some of these stories again.
She Said tells a now-familiar story, but with the drama and urgency of a major journalism film (think All the President’s Men or Spotlight). Directed by Maria Schrader, it dramatizes the retraction of the Weinstein story by New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, played by Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan. Most importantly, the film emphasizes the bravery of the women who spoke to Kantor and Twohey, as well as the tenacity of the two journalists.
Women Talking is a stunning, haunting film based on the best-selling 2018 novel by Miriam Toews, itself inspired by a 2013 story by journalist Jean Friedman-Rudovsky in Vice, which covered a series of “ghost rapes” reported in a Mennonite community in Bolivia – how the rapes were impossible to understand in the closed and patriarchal community in which they took place; how the same closed and patriarchal community, with its taboos on sex and sexual violence and its demands for female obedience, allowed the attacks to continue for years and made women and girls suffer in silence; how women and children were commanded to forgive and move on.
Neither “Women Talking,” the novel, nor “Women Talking,” the film, deals with the role of the journalist, and both are fictional representations of a true story. But both are trying to do the same job that Friedman-Rudovsky did in her first reporting: telling the story through the eyes and experiences of the women who witnessed it. And that means emphasizing that the power of this story isn’t in the horrific attacks, but in what came after, when women came together, spoke up and collectively decided that they weren’t the crazy ones – and something needed to change .
Already, too many casual observers see the less-than-blockbuster reception of “She Said,” which grossed just $2.2 million in its opening weekend after costing $30 million to produce, as evidence of… something. The death knell of #MeToo? A backlash against feminism? Bored with these meanwhile well-worn stories about bad men and vulnerable women?
Even Weinstein himself got involved. Its rep, Juda Engelmayer, told Variety that this story “has been told over and over again for the past five years, and it’s clear that it was of little value to behold.” Harvey, the film producer and distributor, would have known that.”
But Harvey, the film’s producer and distributor, is currently in prison. And the true story of She Said, Women Talking, and other movies where women do the narration and are the main characters — the victims, the heroes, sometimes the villains — isn’t if each and every one of them has to be overwhelmingly popular be to signal something important.
It’s about these stories being born, being told and retold as often and in as many formats as the issues they represent shape real women’s lives. It is that women’s experiences are increasingly seen as fodder for drama and told through a female gaze, with women shaping the plots and directing the scenes.
It’s that hopefully one day the stories that women tell about our lives won’t be segregated as a special interest topic, with the success or failure of an individual film counting as a genre or not, but treated like men’s lives becomes: Captured in all its complexity, the great parts and the monstrous, told not simply as “woman’s stories” but as essential and universal human ones.