As so often, the late, great feminist writer and activist Andrea Dworkin got to the heart of the matter sooner than most. “Men often react to women’s words—speaking and writing—as if they were acts of violence,” she wrote in 1987. “[S]ometimes men react to women’s words with violence. So we lower our voices. Women whisper. Women apologize. Women shut up. Women trivialize what we know. Women shrink. Women pull back. Most women have experienced enough dominance from men—control, violence, insult, contempt—that no threat seems empty.”
When, on 5 October 2017, the New York Times investigative reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey published their original story about Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual harassment, they were not only revealing the appalling crimes committed over many years by one powerful man. They were laying bare a culture of cover-up, legal indifference, organised silencing, gaslighting and blacklisting of victims.
As they wrote in their bestselling account of the investigation, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement (2019): “The United States had a system for muting sexual harassment claims, which often enabled the harassers instead of stopping them. Women routinely signed away the right to talk about their own experiences. Harassers often continued onward, finding fresh ground on which to commit the same offenses.”
Faithful to its source material, Maria Schrader’s excellent movie adaptation of their story frames the long, arduous and often frustrating battle to report the truth about Weinstein as a battle against a system that has ruthless defence mechanisms and strategies of retaliation when it senses itself under threat. Weinstein’s rape and sexual harassment of scores of women – and the collusion of the entertainment industry in shielding his horrendous crimes from the daylight of disclosure – was only one, egregious example of a planetary phenomenon.
Carey Mulligan as Twohey and Zoe Kazan as Kantor are outstanding, as are Patricia Clarkson as Rebecca Corbett, the head of the newspaper’s investigative department, and Andre Braugher as NYT executive editor Dean Baquet. As the daunting scale of the task becomes clearer, their professional solidarity is fortified: the reporters – mindful that Donald Trump has recently been elected president, despite many allegations of sexual harassment and the infamous Access Hollywood recording in which he boasts that a famous man can “grab ‘em by the pussy” – fret that, even if they land the story, nobody will care.
Deftly, Schrader and the movie’s writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz avoid the trap of placing Weinstein at the heart of the story. We see the Shrek-like back of his head when he goes to the NYT office. We hear his disembodied voice on telephone calls. And there are sickening sections of the real-life recording of Weinstein harassing model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez at the Tribeca Grand Hotel in March 2015 (the case was investigated at the time but no charges brought). His is the voice of a monstrous baby-man, his wheedling tone as he pleads with Gutierrez compounding the depravity of his actions. But the movie, quite rightly, denies him the dark stardom of full-blown cinematic villainy. He is pointedly de-centred.
Some have already grumbled that She Said lacks the dopamine hits and breathless drama of a generic newsroom thriller. But this is very far from a defect. Indeed, the film’s greatest strength is its authenticity and honesty about the reporting process. In contrast, All the President’s Men (1976) derived much of its impact from the testosterone-charged tensions between Bob Woodward (Robert Redford), Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and their boss Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards), melodramatic music, and perilous meetings in an underground car park with the silhouetted source “Deep Throat”.
There is no such pulse-quickening action for Twohey and Kantor, no shots of the two reporters racing through the newsroom, clutching copy, as typewriters clatter in the background. The maze in which they are stuck is firmly of the digital era: laptops, smartphones, text messaging. Their first and most important task is to get hold of the private numbers and email addresses of the famous actresses whom, they deduce, Weinstein is most likely to have harassed (in this early phase of information-gathering, Lena Dunham and her producing partner Jenni Konner were indispensable allies).
Doors are closed in their faces; potential sources recite legal formulae concerning the supposedly amicable resolution of past disputes with Miramax, Weinstein’s company; and (initially, at least) those who have gone public about their horrific experiences with the producer without naming him, such as the actress Rose McGowan, are reluctant to go further.
Twohey and Kantor receive anonymous rape and death threats and believe they are being followed (for more on the extraordinary and menacing lengths to which Weinstein went to maintain the cover-up, try Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators). But still, meticulously and at considerable personal cost, they persist.
As a consequence, the moments of breakthrough, when they come, are all the more powerful. In an extraordinary scene, Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton), Weinstein’s former assistant, explains to Kantor how Weinstein and his legal team coerced the women he had harmed to sign non-disclosure agreements that, in Perkins’s case, included the obscene requirement that any “medical professional” she consulted about her experiences would have to sign a separate confidentiality agreement. It is a bitter reflection that only five months after she signed her settlement, Weinstein was once again the toast of Hollywood, sweeping the board at the 1999 Academy Awards for Shakespeare in Love. (The debased inner world of a sexual predator’s empire and the stresses to which his staff are daily subject is brilliantly portrayed in Kitty Green’s 2019 movie, The Assistant – which all but names Weinstein as the terrifying, unseen boss for whom its characters work.)
With the crust of silence broken, Twohey and Kantor begin to assemble a publishable story: a former Miramax employee, Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle), though still recovering from breast cancer, agrees to go on the record about her sexual assault at Weinstein’s hands in Dublin in 1992 when she was in her early twenties. Other women follow, notably the actress, Ashley Judd (who plays herself). As the two reporters grasp early in the investigation, the use of NDAs was designed to isolate Weinstein’s victims and to remove the risk of collaboration: the key to the story was that the women “jump together”.
And they did, with historic consequences. Ten days after the original NYT story, the actress Alyssa Milano, borrowing the phrase first coined by the activist Tarana Burke in 2006, posted the following on Twitter: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Within 24 hours, she had received 12 million responses across social media.
Weinstein is now serving a 23-year sentence, following his conviction in February 2020 for third-degree rape and a first-degree criminal sexual act. He is presently on trial in Los Angeles for seven additional charges of rape and sexual battery, and faces yet another prosecution in London.
As Kantor and Twohey write in their book: “The #MeToo movement is an example of social change in our time but is also a test of it: In this fractured environment, will all of us be able to forge a new set of mutually fair rules and protections?”
Five years on, the revolution is certainly unfinished. A series of high-profile predators have indeed been jailed (notably the former musician R. Kelly, sentenced in June to 30 years). Others have been disgraced, such as Andrew Cuomo, who resigned as governor of New York in August 2021 after an investigation commissioned by state Attorney General Letitia James found that he had sexually harassed 11 women.
In the US, 22 states have legislated to make workplaces safer. In the UK progress has been slower. Having launched a consultation on strengthening protections against harassment in July 2019, the UK government is only now supporting a private member’s bill introduced by Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse to turn promises into law. Too many companies have supported the #MeToo movement performatively but without taking meaningful action. Too many employees in the modern gig economy are unprotected even by the new legal and regulatory structures.
In 2018, Tarana Burke declared that the movement she founded had become “unrecognisable”, increasingly misrepresented “as a vindictive plot against men”. The online vilification of Amber Heard during the defamation case brought against her in Virginia by her ex-husband Johnny Depp showed how brutal this backlash can be.
For their part, though, Kantor and Twohey remain cautiously optimistic. In an NYT article last month to mark the fifth anniversary of their Pulitzer Prize-winning story, they wrote that, in spite of the setbacks that the movement has suffered, “the past five years have been very consequential.”
The paradox of social change is the dual necessity of impatience (why has nothing happened yet?) and unyielding stamina (keep going, no matter what). In this sense, She Said is a parable of contemporary social justice as well as a terrific movie: a reminder that true progress, like the best investigative journalism, is invariably a long haul.
Read and listen to Tortoise’s reporting on the #MeToo movement and the use of NDAs to silence accusers.
- ‘Lawyers can’t be trusted to fix #MeToo injustice’ by Zelda Perkins
- In this article and accompanying podcast interview, Zelda Perkins reveals the details of a meeting with Harvey Weinstein in which, according to a contemporaneous note written by her legal team, he confessed “sometimes don’t know when it’s consensual.”
- Tortoise reporter Paul Caruana Galizia investigates how the NDA has become the weapon of choice for the rich and powerful.
Here are this week’s recommendations:
Lady Chatterley’s Lover (selected cinemas, 25 November; Netflix, 2 December)
In the past century, three forces have conspired to eclipse the true content and meaning of D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 novel. First, the fact that the author completed three distinct versions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover has encouraged a sense that Lawrence himself was indecisive about the questions he sought to address.
Second, the 1960 Penguin Books obscenity trial – as Philip Larkin reminds us – made the book, anachronistically, a symbol of the Sixties and its broader liberation movements. Which meant, third, that many of the subsequent screen adaptations have been little more than soft porn masquerading as explorations of sexuality, womanhood and class.
Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, this fine film reclaims the spirit of the novel from its long captivity. Constance Reid (Emma Corrin) marries Sir Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett) – who is then paralysed on the battlefield from the waist down. His spirited, Bohemian wife is reduced to the drudgery of a full-time carer at his Midlands estate, Wragby. Revealing a coldness that becomes sharper with time, Clifford urges her to take a suitable lover so that he may have a son and heir.
Instead, Constance embarks upon a passionate affair with the estate gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors (Jack O’Connell): initially, their minds meet in a shared enthusiasm for literature, but the erotic attraction is deep, primal and irresistible. The sex scenes are bold and beautiful, framed not for the male gaze but to dramatise Constance’s discovery of true pleasure and of the blurred border between lust and love that so fascinated Lawrence as a writer.
Corrin and O’Connell are sensational, perfectly cast in the lead roles and completely believable as they sweep aside class taboos in a series of electrifying encounters. After the scandal erupts, Mellors is dismissed and Constance bereft; de Clermont-Tonnerre and her screenplay writer David Magee adapt the ending of the novel in a way that is true to its spirit but cinematically satisfying. Highly recommended.
Simon Schama’s History of Now (BBC Two, 27 November)
Especially since the populist uprisings of 2016, it has been commonplace to argue that culture is “upstream” from politics. But what does this mean? In this riveting three-part documentary series, the scholar and broadcaster Sir Simon Schama examines the ways in which history during his lifetime – he was born in February 1945 – has been shaped by culture and art.
Each episode engages with a huge theme: truth and democracy; equality; and the price of plenty. Along the way, he talks to a formidable lineup of interviewees, including Margaret Atwood, Ai Weiwei, Nadya Tolokonnikova (a founding member of the Russian feminist punk group Pussy Riot), Armando Iannucci, and the masterly Canadian photographer, Edward Burtynsky.
Running through the series like a fizzing mains cable is Schama’s powerful conviction that great art can indeed “jolt people out of their complacency” and that one resource upon which we can still depend is the “deep well of creative imagination. That, after all, is what defines us as human beings.”
In this spirit, he invites us to consider the broad social and political impact of particular artists, works of art and cultural moments: from Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ (1937) and Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago (1957); via Nina Simone’s anti-racist protest song ‘Mississippi Goddam’ (1964) and the rise of the Czech dissident playwright Václav Havel to the Czech presidency in 1989; to the ideological struggle for America’s soul during the Cold War, between the respective visions of Ayn Rand and Charlie Chaplin, and the significance to the modern environmental movement of Rachel Carson’s SIlent Spring (1962).
At a time when much of the progress Schama has witnessed during his 77 years no longer looks secure or irreversible, it is heartening to hear such an erudite and beautifully argued case for the centrality of culture to the immune system of liberal democracy. Great art is, as he says, “a wake-up call”. The question is whether we will awaken.
Aftersun (selected cinemas)
Charlotte Wells’s debut feature film is astonishing: no other word will do. The plot – such as it is – is utterly unremarkable: in the 1990s, a young separated father, Calum (Paul Mescal) takes his 11-year-old daughter, Sophie (Frankie Corio), on holiday to a Turkish resort. They get along: swimming, eating ice cream and enjoying a mud bath. Like the hotel staff’s performance of the Macarena, Blur’s ‘Tender’ reminds us of the era in which the movie is set. There are no operatic confrontations, no set piece scenes of intergenerational conflict. And then the holiday ends.
Yet beneath the surface, we gradually deduce, all is far from well. Sophie uses a camcorder to record, often shakily, their time together – and it is through these grainy images that we realise that the movie has a third principal character: the older Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall), watching this VHS footage in adulthood, now a mother, with a female partner, and trying, in anguish, to solve an unnamed puzzle.
We also gather that Paul is deeply troubled. There is a plaster cast on his arm for the first act of the film – again, unexplained – and he has brought books on Tai chi and meditation to quell his anxiety. In one devastating shot, we see him sitting on the bed, his whole body heaving in sobs of absolute despair.
Why does he moodily refuse to join Sophie when she sings REM’s “Losing My Religion” on karaoke night? Where does he go thereafter, only to pass out naked in their hotel room? And are the scenes of him dancing in a trance, strobe lights lifting him in and out of darkness, real or a dream?
Wells is much too sophisticated a director to deliver a glib reveal in which all this is neatly explained, relying instead on the remarkable performances of Mescal and Corio to grip the attention. There are one or two oblique hints concerning the nature of the question that the older Sophie is trying to answer – but no more. The final shot of the film is among the most emotionally charged I can remember seeing in years. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it.
A Message from Ukraine – Volodymyr Zelensky (Hutchinson Heinemann)
“I would prefer that when people heard the surname Zelensky, they replied, ‘Who?’”. So writes the President of Ukraine in his introduction to this collection of 16 of his speeches, delivered between 20 May 2019 and 24 August 2022.
Propelled to global fame and unsought iconic status by Putin’s invasion of his homeland on 24 February, Zelensky has emerged as an orator of distinction, tailoring his message to suit each audience; making adroit use of social media; and mobilising all the skills he learned in showbusiness and television before winning the presidency.
On the second day of the Russian attack, he recorded a 32-second address on his iPhone to scotch rumours that he had fled Ukraine: “We are all here,” he said. “Our soldiers are here. Civil society is here. We defend our independence. And this is how it will always be from now on.”
As Arkady Ostrovsky, the Economist’s Russia and Eastern Europe Editor, writes in the book’s preface, this was his “most important speech.” It framed all that was to follow in Zelensky’s rhetoric: defiant resistance, patriotic unity in the face of unconscionable aggression, and nimble use of 21st-century technology.
When he has addressed foreign legislatures, the core message, delivered with steely statesmanship, is always cleverly customised. Speaking to the UK Parliament on 8 March via video link, he invoked Churchill and Shakespeare. Eight days later, in an address to the US Congress, he referred to Mount Rushmore, Pearl Harbor, and Martin Luther King. On 17 March, he told the German Bundestag: “It is as though you are behind the wall again. Not the Berlin Wall, but another wall in the middle of Europe: a wall between freedom and slavery.”
Above all, Zelensky has sought to persuade the international community that Ukraine’s war is not a regional dispute but a historic conflict, in which all of us have a stake. As he said in a speech to the Munich Security Conference on 19 February 2022, the weapons and other forms of assistance sent by other nations “are not charitable contributions that Ukraine is asking for, nor noble gestures for which Ukraine should bow low in thanks. This is your contribution to the security of Europe and the world.” This fine volume should reinforce that all-important message, and remind us of the moral imperative to stick with Zelensky and his people until the hour of victory.
Nick Cave – The Complete Lyrics (1978-2022) (Penguin)
According to Nick Cave, “the peculiar magic of the Love Song, if it has the heart to do it, is that it endures where the object of the song does not. It attaches itself to you and together you move through time.”
In this updated volume of the Australian artist’s lyrics from the early days of The Birthday Party, via his work with the Bad Seeds and Grinderman, to his ongoing creative partnership with Warren Ellis, we observe the evolution of a quite extraordinary poet and musician. As Andrew O’Hagan observes in a foreword written in 2020, Cave is “our chief modern elegist. With fierce imaginings, bright revelations, he never fails to keep the human close, the heart audible. Nick is a son of WIlliam Blake in our own dark forests, a curator of strange beasts.”
No other contemporary pop musician, not even Bob Dylan, has been able to write – consistently, decade after decade – lines like this: “High buildings with crippled backs circle around my dreams” (from ‘That’s What Jazz is to Me’). Or: “Adam watched his little Eve/ Sleeping in a grief of snow/ And not knowing what to do/ Or where to go/ Packed his bags for the big city” (from ‘Adam and Eve Go To L.A,’). Or: “The problem was/ She had a little black book/ And my name was written on every page” (from ‘Jubilee Street’).
Cave describes his songs as “my gloomy, violent, dark-eyed children” and reflects that “more often than not the songs I write seem to know more about what’s going on in my life than I do.” All of which makes this collection an indispensable record of a remarkable – and continuing – creative odyssey. (It can be read in tandem with a viewing of Cave’s most recent documentary, This Much I Know To Be True, now available to rent or buy on demand).
As It Turns Out: Thinking About Edie and Andy – Alice Sedgwick Wohl (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Only a few months separated Andy Warhol’s first encounter with Edie Sedgwick in March 1965 at a party for Tennessee Williams – “Ooooh, she’s so bee-you-ti-ful” – and their falling out at the Ginger Man restaurant in Manhattan in January 1966 (Segwick stormed off with Bob Dylan). Yet in that brief period the guru of Pop Art and his muse achieved an astonishing celebrity that resonates to this day.
Their story has been told many times before: notably in Edie: American Girl (1994) by Jean Stein and George Plimpton, and the biopic Factory Girl (2006), starring Sienna Miller and Guy Pearce. But As It Turns Out is a fascinating addition to – and, in some cases, clarification of – our understanding of this cultural legend, being a very personal and often regretful account of Sedgwick’s life by her older sister, Alice (a scholar and translator, now aged 91).
There were eight siblings, raised in great affluence on a series of ranches in California by spectacularly snobbish parents who left a trail of dysfunction and misery in their wake (Sedgwick Wohl’s book is addressed to her brother Bobby, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1965, months after another brother, Minty, had committed suicide.) Long before she met Warhol, Edie had spent time in psychiatric facilities and said she had been molested by her father “Fuzzy” from the age of seven.
One of Sedgwick Wohl’s principal points is that her sister was not simply Warhol’s creation. “She was not Miranda in ‘The Tempest’,” she writes, “she was more like a feral creature springing out of captivity,” The self-loathing artist, meanwhile, treated her, rather chillingly, as an exquisite avatar – of himself. “Think about how liberating it must have been,” Sedgwick Wohl writes, “for Andy, shy and socially insecure as he was, to go about with a beautiful sought-after girl who looked like a glamorous version of him.”
Their brief, dazzling dance through Manhattan society, she writes, was the first, analogue stirrings of the modern world of reality TV, selfies and social media stardom. Sedgwick died in November 1971 of a barbiturates overdose, aged only 28. For her sister, “all the evidence I will ever have of Edie, of the figure that she was and remains, consists of her image and the response that she evoked in others.” Which is both the tragedy, and the whole point.
Sonder – Dermot Kennedy
In case you were wondering, the title of Dermot Kennedy’s second album is inspired by an invented word in John Koenig’s The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (2021), referring to the “realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own”.
This may seem a paradoxical choice by the 30-year-old Irish singer-songwriter, whose smash-hit 2019 debut Without Fear established his genius for generic stadium-ready pop. But the simplicity of his lyrics can be deceiving (“We never miss the flowers til the sun’s down/ You never count the hours until they’re running out”, as he sings on ‘Better Days’).
His objective is a universalism that will appeal to every listener in a different way. As he puts it: “I’m in an industry where it’s celebrated to be all about yourself… I don’t love that if I’m honest. As an artist I don’t play shows to celebrate what I’m doing – I play shows to connect with people and to share with people and, and to see their emotions and for them to see mine.”
This would be a trite declaration, were it not for Kennedy’s extraordinary voice, which combines the soulful gruffness of a folk singer with the versatile power of a hypermodern pop star. Across 11 tracks, he invests simple lines with anthemic emotion (as on ‘Already Gone’: “My soul stood up and stared me down, said ‘I have walked you down this road and I am proud’”). Tour dates here.
Beethoven for Three: Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastorale’ and Op.1 No.3 – YoYo Ma; Emmanuel Ax; Leonidas Kavakos
In classical music, as in pop, the collaborations of star performers are often no more than marketing gimmicks. Not so in the case of cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Leonidas Kavakos, and pianist Emanuel Ax.
The three friends’ artistic partnership dates back to 2014, when they performed a program of Brahms piano trios at Tanglewood – which inspired their first album in 2017. In March, they released a chamber music interpretation of Beethoven’s second and fifth symphonies – and have now followed up that acclaimed album with Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”).
Such exercises are not a modern innovation. As Ax has noted, “in Beethoven’s time, the public was not able to hear these symphonies as written for an orchestra because orchestras were very few and far between. Unless you were in a capital city and you happened to be there just that one time in the two or three years when they were doing that piece of Beethoven, you might not have had a chance to hear it at all.” Hence, the proliferation of adaptations for fewer instruments in the composer’s own era.
Following Shai Wosner’s specially commissioned arrangement, the three virtuosi distil the great tapestry of the original to an exquisite experience in smaller-scale musical mastery, full of emotional colour, dexterity and drama. Their performance of the C minor trio from Op 1 is also a treat.
World Record – Neil Young & Crazy Horse
In his musicianship and his life, Neil Young has been an environmental activist for more than half a century. In 1970, on ‘After the Gold Rush’, he sang: “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s”. His 2003 album Greendale was devoted to ecological issues, as was The Monsanto Years (2015).
Now, supported once more by his most beloved backing band – bassist Billy Talbot, guitarist Nils Lofgren and drummer Ralph Molina – he returns with his 42nd studio album, recorded on analog tape by Rick Rubin at Shangri-La studios in Malibu.
The ten-and-a-bit tracks on World Record are deliberately unpolished and raw, a jam session by a group of proudly self-declared hippies with a point to make. This is old school bar blues, delivered by a 77-year-old artist who was a member of Buffalo Springfield and played at Woodstock, with a message of solidarity to the Greta Thunberg generation.
What baffles Young, and makes him angry, is that the response to the climate emergency is still so half-hearted. As he sings on ‘The Long Day Before’: “On the TV in the newscast/ They’re never gonna talk about/ On the front page of the internet/ You’re never gonna see about/ The big thing in the room/ That’s happening right now (…) It’s so big that you can’t see/ It’s so large that it’s you and me”.
The same energy drives stand-out track ‘Break The Chain’. But the highlight of World Record is the 15-minute long ‘Chevrolet’, which pays homage to America’s automotive past, while insisting that it is way past time that the world moved beyond its addiction to fossil fuels. Incidentally, this isn’t even close to being the longest song that Young has recorded: three of the tracks on Psychedelic Pill (2012) clock in at 27 minutes. (Note: the link above is to Apple Music, as Young has removed most of his material from Spotify in protest at Joe Rogan’s questioning of the Covid vaccine on his hugely successful podcast.)
Don’t miss this year’s BBC Reith Lectures, which address Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms”: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. I was lucky enough to be in the audience for the recording of the first lecture, delivered by the great Nigerian author and novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, on free speech. It is a tour de force, the best account of this all-important question I have heard or read for many years. You can listen to it on BBC Radio 4 on 30 November at 9am – and then on iPlayer (the three other lectures will be delivered by Lord Rowan Williams, Darren McGarvey and Dr Fiona Hill).
Don’t forget to send in your own recommendations for Creative Sensemaker to email@example.com.
That’s all for now. Enjoy the weekend and take care of yourselves.
Editor and Partner
Photographs courtesy Universal Studios, Getty Images, Netflix, BBC