Read a biweekly column from The 19th Editor-in-Chief, Errin Haines, every other Friday. Delivered straight to your inbox.
For nearly half a century, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein have stood as unique personalities in journalism.
As young reporters at the Washington Post in the 1970s, the two cracked open the Watergate scandal and brought down a US president. In 1976, her story became a Hollywood legend in the film All the President’s Men, which debuted at number one at the box office and competed for best picture at the Oscars with Rocky.
It’s hard to overestimate the film’s impact on the country’s imagination and the journalism profession, which brought countless young Americans into the newsroom. Portrayed as charming and earnest in their dogged pursuit of truth and justice, Woodward and Bernstein became the gold standard — and the default setting — for what a journalist looks like and who deserves fame in the industry. It was a standard that was, and has remained, largely white and male.
After more than four decades, a new story is now being told. She Said, which opened in theaters on Friday, tells the story of New York Times journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, played by Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan, as Woodward and Bernstein in this film that faces not a president, but the Hollywood – Overthrown mogul Harvey Weinstein.
Her months of reporting on allegations of sexual harassment and assault, beginning in 2017, helped revitalize the #MeToo movement and led to more than 80 allegations against Weinstein. He was found guilty in New York and sentenced to 23 years in prison and is currently on trial in Los Angeles awaiting further charges. Her article sparked a series of further investigations: In the months that followed, various outlets reported similar behavior in entertainment, media, sports, and politics, leading to a reckoning in workplaces across the country and changes in some state laws.
“She Said” is poised to be this generation’s answer to “All the President’s Men.” But will the audience see it that way?
“[Woodward and Bernstein] were put on a pedestal forever, and these two huge stars who really defined an era in this movie,” said Melissa Silverstein, founder and editor of the website Women and Hollywood. “Everyone took care of it. It was a big Hollywood film and it’s enduring. I think ‘She Said’ will endure, but the problem with ‘She Said’ is that I don’t think people care about the subject.”
Silverstein pointed to the $30 million film’s abysmal debut, which grossed just over $2 million at the box office in its opening weekend, as evidence of the lack of interest in such stories.
Nonetheless, the centering of Twohey and Kantor and their journalism on the big screen affirms the value of representation in industry and society, and depicts women in the profession as relentless, fearless, and imperious.
Although there have been advances, today’s American newsrooms are still too white and too male. According to the 2022 American Journalist Study, the proportion of female journalists is double what it was in 1971, but has increased only slightly over the past decade to 40.9 percent in 2022, compared to 37.5 percent in 2013. Black journalists in the United States are also more likely to be women.
While “All the President’s Men” often glorified journalism, “She Said” portrays both women as married mothers of young children who balance the demands of work and home in a way we rarely see in professional men. Also, Twohey, played by Mulligan, struggles with postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter while navigating her career.
It’s also a new take on the dynamic between Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman — who played Woodward and Bernstein in All the President’s Men — with “She Said” showcasing the power of the sisterhood in the newsroom, which includes their editor and advocate Rebecca Corbett belongs. Women are a dominant line in the film, from the actors and real-life subjects to director Maria Schrader and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, who wrote the screenplay from a book by Twohey and Kantor.
Like Woodward and Bernstein, Twohey and Kantor pushed this story even when it stalled or they hit dead ends. Her work was the result of months of painstaking and sensitive reporting to uncover documents and gain the trust of women who shared traumatic experiences at great personal, financial and emotional risk to themselves.
In the film, we see them attempt to tell a different story about the intersection of power and gender in American society, empowering women who were deprived of their agency and autonomy at a young age by a serial killer, and the system that enabled him for decades – raising questions about who is challenging the Force and whose story matters.
“She Said” is a large scale reminder that women can be American heroes too.