Breaking the Silence: Films are grappling with the #MeToo movement

tThe beginning of the #MeToo movement, as a cultural reckoning with rampant sexual misconduct and abuse, can be chronicled almost at the click of a mouse. On October 5, 2017, The New York Times published an investigation into film producer Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood titan with a long history of systemic abuse, sparking a wave of accusations and confessions both online and off. (The phrase #MeToo was coined more than a decade ago by activist Tarana Burke, as a way for Black women to share their stories of sexual violence.)

That first moment — reporters and editors hovering around the computer screen, cursor stuck on the “publish” button — is the narrative climax of She Said, the new film adaptation of reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s book on the Weinstein investigation. Five years after the movement began, She Said is the most overtly so-called #MeToo movie—films that depict sexual assault revelations, address the turmoil of powerful offenders, grapple with the consequences, or envision a path forward. . The film, directed by unorthodox actress Maria Schrader, is the story teller that launched it all, Hollywood’s version of a mission to uncover what’s been an open secret in Hollywood for years.

But it is one of several events that have clearly affected the movement this year. Todd Field’s cerebral, Tar-defying role, starring Cate Blanchett as an eerily egotistical maestro, undoes the diminutive protagonist by publicly revealing her inappropriate relationships with her female protégés. Women Talking, director Sarah Polley’s adaptation of Miriam Toews’ 2018 novel, is included in the aftermath. After a series of vicious attacks by men armed with a cattle version of Rohypnol, the women representing three prominent families in an isolated Mennonite community in Bolivia gather in a high house to discuss their options: do nothing, fight back, or leave. (The film and novel are based on a real-life wave of rapes by at least eight men, of at least 150 women and girls, from 2005 to 2009.)

Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan in She Said Photo: JoJo Whilden/AP

Taken together, the three films (which are or will be released this fall/winter) represent a watershed season for #MeToo — as anniversaries, reversals with small but notable critical distance, and as representations of the range of cinematic responses to the movement. It should be noted that The Three Skirts revolves around the depiction of violence, relying on suggestion, visual cues, dialogue, and a supposed familiarity with media coverage to convey details of trauma. (Perhaps this is a reaction to the brutal portrayal of violence that became a strict order on prestige TV in 2010, and most controversially in the series Game of Thrones; the Season 5 rape of Sansa Stark by Ramsay Bolton, used to shock and motive witness Theon Greyjoy, was a series low point.) .)

The sexual assault in all three films is a negative space. Each one effectively deploys, argues Slate’s Dana Stevens, ellipses and absences in its portrait of trauma and complicity—in Women Talking, images of attacks (instead we see the morning after: bruises, blood, confusion, screams) and, keeping a brief glimpse of Man escapes, perpetrators. In She Said, the crimes and Weinstein’s bearded presence. In Tár, the victim’s perspective, a former student whom we only glimpse of Lydia’s interest.

This is in line with how other films have handled #MeToo since the Discovery series in 2017. We don’t see an attack, aftermath, or even a big bad boss in The Assistant, Kitty Green’s disturbing 2020 picture of the corrosive neighborhood. Instead, during a day in the life of a low-level assistant at a Weinstein-esque production company, the clues point to something sinister and vile vomiting at work. A syringe in the president’s trash, an encounter with a pretty young actor who’s moved into a hotel room, a sterile encounter with HR—we, the audience likely familiar with Weinstein’s coverage, can feel the full picture. Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman is diametrically opposite in tone—pastel-coloured, darkly comic, jaw-breaking with a venomous core—but similarly characterizes the caustic effects of witnessing sexual assault over the depiction of the act itself.

2019’s Bombshell, Jay Roach’s star-studded retelling of the 2016 dethronement of Roger Ailes at Fox News by three anchors who abused/guided him (and which arguably laid the groundwork for Weinstein’s investigation not to fall on deaf ears), includes a gut-wrenching couch scene between Ailes and a fictional young broadcaster, played by Margot Robbie. But the film generally adheres to the expectation, since 2017, that #MeToo films should act as a corrective solution by focusing women’s perspectives. (Unfortunately for Bombshell, these women were Fox News anchors with vile politics, and for them the movie pulled its hardest punches.) It aims to achieve psychological realism to come to terms with the painful memory.

Television, as a medium with faster response time and a looser architecture, has been a chaotic hub and loose reflection. See: The Morning Show’s suitably inaccurate first season plot line along the lines of Matt Lauer’s removal from the Today Show following an internal rape report; I gave it points at the time for trying, even if the dialogue was as subtle and nuanced as a car crash. See also: the MeToo-themed episode of Grey’s Anatomy, or the sprawling 2019 Showtime series The Loudest Voice, also about Ailes. As an expression of addressing sexual assault while living life, nothing holds a candle to I May Destroy You, Michaela’ Coel’s 2020 tour de force.

Cate Blanchett in the library
Cate Blanchett in the library Photo: AP

All of this is to say: She is Said, Tartar, and the “talking women” in active conversation. Of the three, She Said is the most straightforward, unmistakably journalistic drama. It’s better than it should be – it avoids the distraction of celebrity impersonations, and cleverly cedes the floor to Weinstein’s not-so-famous victims, who have learned the art of putting their lives back together. It’s a resoundingly recent date, but it’s probably too close; The film grossed only $2.25 million in its opening weekend, one of the worst debuts for a major studio film that opened in more than 2,000 theaters.

Tár is the best movie overall, a provocative and charming arrangement of what should be third-rate themes — #MeToo in which the culprit is a self-described “uHaul lesbian,” a “cancel culture” angst, a digital realist using social media footage. Tarr’s contravention of expectations—her relentlessly and aggressively rooting for the offender, her narcissism directing our sensual intake—is one of her greatest strengths. You don’t need to know the details of Lydia Tarr’s sins to understand how serious, and brutal, they are. You have to know that she was amazingly talented and those things may be irreconcilable. Tár is, among many things, a successful picture of the refrain “two things can be true at once,” a story that resists easy morals and clear lines without any equivocation in its demeanor; A reminder that none of this is easy.

But it is Women Speak that offers the most promising way forward, and the only one that attempts to answer the thorny questions raised by the movement. Women Talking is more effective conceptually than it is visually—the desaturated color palette is consistent with filtering faith into one’s community but ultimately makes it feel more distant than it really is. Some of the monologues feel more stage-ready. But its hypothesis – women you speak As a measure in itself – Feel radical.

I wondered, during the 2021 Awards for Promising Young Woman, what a #MeToo movie burning past anger might look like, what a story looks like beyond trauma to healing, complexity, growth and continuity. It would look like a poly movie, with the almost entirely female characters (with the exception of an educated male teacher and a trans man targeted by attackers) discussing their options and brainstorming for justice. What comes next, in a world where this, among all other things, exists? What other worlds can we perceive? What will recovery look like? What will be the justice? These are questions I hope the next era of #MeToo films will embrace.

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