After nearly a month-long trial, Harvey Weinstein has been convicted on two criminal counts, more than two years after sexual assault allegations against the movie mogul erupted into the public consciousness. On February 24, a jury found Weinstein guilty of a criminal sexual act in the first degree and rape in the third degree.
Though Weinstein was hardly the first powerful man to be accused of assaulting and raping women, the allegations lit a flame beneath the #MeToo movement. Within months, the list of his accusers contained at least 100 women.
Because it’s been so long since the news of Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment broke, and because a cascade of similar stories followed, it’s easy to lose track of what exactly happened and why it was so significant. But the Weinstein story provides a window into many of the most important forces animating the #MeToo movement, from the reasons women don’t always report sexual assault to the ways that powerful people are protected by the systems around them.
Books, films, and podcasts about Weinstein can help provide clarity, particularly if you haven’t been glued to every development over the past two years. These resources don’t address the trial itself or the specific charges Weinstein has been convicted of, but they’re four of the most useful resources for understanding why Harvey Weinstein matters.
She Said, by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (Penguin, September 2019)
New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey won the Pulitzer Prize for public service (together with the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow) in 2018 for breaking the Weinstein story. She Said is their account of how they reported the story, including new on-the-record testimony from sources who were previously off the record.
The book is a gripping read, playing out like the best journalistic thrillers. It’s not a fictional tale, or even a movie about a real-life, open-and-shut case with an inspirational happy ending. It’s an ongoing story with real-life consequences, ones that are far from resolved.
She Said underscores how difficult it is to investigate stories of sexual misconduct and assault, and the huge repercussions faced both by those who make their allegations public and by the people who write about them. The backlash is fierce, as is the desire to protect men and demonize women who report. She Said is an essential chronicle of an unprecedented historical moment, and a case for careful journalism, too.
(It’s also worth listening to the February 7 episode of the New York Times podcast The Daily, in which Weinstein’s lawyer Donna Rotunno explains the legal strategy behind the case — and, when asked if she’s ever been sexually assaulted herself, gives a revealing answer: “I have not because I would never put myself in that position.”)
The Assistant, directed by Kitty Green (in theaters January 31)
It took two years for a truly great movie about the Harvey Weinstein case to come out, and The Assistant (currently in theaters nationwide) is it. (The lag time is no big surprise, since Weinstein’s close association with most of Hollywood left much of the movie industry reeling and uncertain about individual complicity in giving the alleged predator cover for decades.) Instead of addressing the allegations head-on, documentarian Kitty Green turned to fiction to explore what made Weinstein such a powerful, feared figure.
The Americans’ Julia Garner plays Jane, a new assistant in the Tribeca offices of a high-powered movie studio executive. The Assistant follows her through one long day, which begins before dawn and ends late at night. Jane makes coffee and copies, takes calls and light ribbing from her colleagues, and witnesses, to her slowly growing horror, what she thinks might be her powerful boss’s inappropriate behavior toward a young woman who shows up unexpectedly, saying she’s been promised a job in the office.
The genius of The Assistant (which seems clearly modeled on Chantal Akerman’s 1975 feminist masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels) is that we don’t see the “Weinstein” character directly. Instead, we hear his voice and see his back from a distance; we also see the fear he provokes in his subordinates. He isn’t the point of the story, though. The point, as The Assistant makes blindingly clear, is that he gets away with his behavior because of the complicity of the people around him, who enable and joke about and roll their eyes at him rather than speaking up or stepping in. It’s a riveting, vital film.
The Catch and Kill podcast, produced by Ronan Farrow (Pineapple Street Studios)
Ronan Farrow, who won the 2018 Pulitzer jointly with Kantor and Twohey, also wrote a book about his experiences reporting the Weinstein story, entitled Catch and Kill. To accompany the book, he’s produced a (currently running) podcast that carefully and winsomely details how elements of his story were reported — and, in some cases, how they almost weren’t reported.
Farrow covers one aspect of his reporting in each episode of the podcast, and listening to it is a pretty wild experience, because throughout he talks to people who were very close to the story. In the first episode, “The Spy,” he talks to Igor Ostrovsky, the private investigator who was hired to follow Farrow himself by a surveillance agency working on Weinstein’s behalf. In the second episode, Farrow covers how NBC allegedly killed the story, discussing the matter with his former producer in NBC’s investigative unit, Rich McHugh.
Farrow acts as our guide, reminding us that this story was (and continues to be) more than just a local tale of a man who got away with terrible behavior for decades; it’s a story with far-reaching implications. The podcast is a fascinating, illuminating way to understand the various systems that allowed Weinstein to evade accountability.
Untouchable, directed by Ursula Macfarlane (streaming on Hulu)
Ursula Macfarlane’s documentary Untouchable doesn’t aim to provide shocking revelations or new insights. For the most part, it’s a beat-for-beat recounting of the Weinstein story, from Weinstein’s early career as a music promoter through his rise as a hotshot movie executive and his eventual downfall. Weinstein’s behavior was one of the industry’s open secrets for decades and the subject of many whisper networks. Untouchable reminds us of this by including a few pop culture references — like a 2012 scene from 30 Rock — that not-so-obliquely alluded to Weinstein’s predation on young women hoping to make it big in Hollywood.
But what makes Untouchable worthwhile is how and where it chooses to tell that tale. With a figure like Weinstein, it’s hard not to let him suck all the air out of the room, even in disgrace. So Untouchable makes the smart choice to push him into the background of his own story by letting women tell the stories of their encounters with him firsthand. The accounts span decades, and the film doesn’t let the audience look away. We sit with the women as they struggle to explain what happened, and to weigh the effects Weinstein had on their lives. We hear how similar the details of their alleged assaults are, and witness a pattern emerging.
It’s not easy to push a figure like Harvey Weinstein to the margins. But a film like Untouchable, which audiences can now watch while Weinstein’s legal team is still trying to assert his control over the narrative surrounding him, vitally focuses on the voices of those whom he most profoundly affected.