Celeste Sloman for Universal Pictures
History's shorthand neatly sums up Harvey Weinstein's downfall like this: A powerful newspaper hit "publish" on a bombshell investigation, and overnight the movie mogul's chokehold on Hollywood came undone.
But five years ago, it was anything but inevitable that Weinstein would wind up stripped of his influence and sentenced to 23 years in prison in New York for sex crimes, with a second trial in Los Angeles in full swing.
The new film She Said, in theaters now, offers a chilling cat-and-mouse-style retelling of how New York Times reporters Megan Twohey (played by Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (played by Zoe Kazan) withstood intimidation, dead ends and the shrugs of Hollywood insiders as they toiled for months in 2017 chasing printable proof of Weinstein's sordid behavior.
"We had listened to condescending lectures from Hollywood executives who said, 'Sexual harassment is just part of Hollywood. It's structurally baked into the way business is done. Everybody knows Weinstein does this stuff,' " recalls Kantor in this week's issue of PEOPLE.
"We were told there was nothing that would change it," adds Twohey. "And boy, were they wrong."
JoJo Whilden/Universal Pictures
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But it took persistence and backbone to get there. Twohey and Kantor had to gain the trust of victims of Weinstein's predation, from actresses like Ashley Judd (who appears in She Said as herself) and Gwyneth Paltrow (who recorded her voice for the film) to Weinstein's former assistants who had since fled the industry.
Their initial 3,321-word report, published in October 2017, also leaned on "the legal and financial trail of the settlements, the money they gave all of these women over the years to keep them silent," says Kantor. "What we were trying to do was build a secure platform of evidence for these women to stand on so that it wasn't just their voices alone."
At first "it wasn't a big group" of sources willing to come forward with accusations and evidence about Weinstein, says Kantor, equating it to a "small conference room" of people who participated in that first story. "And yet it turns out that the power of their stories was really enormous."
Still, when the investigation finally published, the reporters — along with women in the entertainment world — had no idea what the response would be.
"Honestly, I remember thinking, 'I wonder if this is going to change anything?' " says Kazan. "It's very easy in 2022 to forget that in 2017 [Weinstein] seemed like an untouchable person. He had been powerful for so long."
But the effects were swift, sparking a global #MeToo reckoning and new protocols in Hollywood, from zero-tolerance sexual harassment policies to the rise of intimacy coordinators used on set for actors' safety. Mulligan remembers feeling an immediate shift while prepping for a stage show in January 2018.
"The first day of rehearsals I had a code of conduct to read that was three pages long with the director, the writer and the stage crew," she recalls. "And we all read it and signed it. It was the first time I'd had what was expected from me on set, in terms of behavior, ever laid out. That felt very new. And that's been maintained on everything that I've done since then."
Ultimately, over 80 women came forward with allegations of Weinstein's sexual abuse and harassment following the Times report, which was joined by a New Yorker investigation. But five years later, some worry the pendulum has begun to swing back on the effects of #MeToo.
"Five years is actually a pretty short period of time," says Twohey. "But we are, for the very first time, starting to see the scale of this problem that's remained hidden for so long. It's clear that there still needs to be a lot of systemic change. This wasn't just a story about one bad man. This was also a story about the systems that allowed harassment and abuse to flourish."
She Said is in theaters now.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to rainn.org.