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The Atlantic
Dolphins Might Have Elite Spice Tolerance
This article was originally published in Hakai Magazine.Fishers around the world are desperate for a reliable way to stop dolphins from plundering their catch. Dolphins’ net burgling—known as depredation—costs fishers income and also puts dolphins at risk of injury and entanglement. Proposed solutions, such as using noisemakers, have had mixed results. So researchers in Greece went back to the drawing board in search of the perfect deterrent: something so unpleasant that it would ward off dolphins and keep them away. They came up with fishing nets coated with a resin laced with capsaicin, the chemical compound that gives chili peppers their signature heat.Giving predators a spicy surprise might seem like a far-out solution, but capsaicin-based deterrents have proved successful on land with other mammals such as deer, squirrels, and rodents.Yet after five months of test-fishing with capsaicin-coated nets, the research team, co-led by Maria Garagouni, a marine biologist at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in Greece, came to a tough realization: Their idea didn’t work. The bottlenose dolphins that interacted with their nets were entirely unfazed.[Read: Where the ghost pepper stores its heat]Despite the disappointing result, Garagouni says she was wowed by how adept the dolphins were at pilfering from their nets. Garagouni began collaborating with fishers a decade ago to study depredation in the Aegean Sea; even so, the animals’ prowess surprised her. When dolphins come in for a netted meal, she explains, it’s more than a smash-and-grab job: In many cases, the animals run methodical missions into the nets until they’ve eaten their fill.“The initial shock for me was seeing it happen in real time,” Garagouni says. The first time dolphins interacted with the hot-sauce­-spiked nets, two individuals spent no more than 15 minutes tearing 217 holes in the gear.“And then the victory laps!” Garagouni says. “The play afterwards, when there were young calves in the group—after they’d get their fill of fish, the young ones would go off and do leaps in the air, almost as if to burn off all this new fuel. If this was our livelihood, I think it would be the most infuriating element to watch. But for me, obviously, it was amazing.”So does this mean dolphins could slurp down Da Bomb Beyond Insanity on their way to Hot Ones glory? Aurélie Célérier, a neuroscientist at the University of Montpellier, in France, who specializes in marine-mammal communication and was not involved in the study, says it’s too early to make that call. Although it’s known that many cetaceans, including bottlenose dolphins, lack four of the five primary tastes—they can only pick up salty—spiciness is registered by a different set of sensory cells through chemesthesis. This process, which signals sensations such as pain and heat, is little studied in the species. Other toothed whales do appear to have the hardware required for capsaicin detection, Célérier notes, but there’s a lot left to learn.[Read: The dolphins of Arizona]There could be something else at play in the dolphins’ triumph over spice: cetacean supersmarts. From corralling fish with plumes of mud to tenderizing tough prey by tossing it sky high, dolphins are known for a wide variety of intelligent feeding strategies. Their propensity to innovate, combined with the fact that they’re notoriously unfussy eaters, helps them survive, but it’s also partly what puts them in increasing conflict with fishers. The dolphins may simply have figured out a way to break into the spicy nets without making much contact.The capsaicin coating didn’t deter dolphins, but intriguingly, it did appear to affect another animal. An unidentified predator, possibly a sea turtle, seal, or shark, tore large holes in the scientists’ plain control nets but not the spicy nets.The research team is putting a pin in their red-hot research for now, but Garagouni hopes it will serve as a springboard for others on the quest to outwit dolphins. Even a study that fails, she says, offers helpful clues and leads to new questions.
theatlantic.com
We Still Don’t Know What Fundamentally Causes Canker Sores
A canker sore—a painful white ulcer inside the mouth—might be brought on by stress. Or the wrong toothpaste. Or certain foods: tomatoes, peanuts, cinnamon. Or an iron deficiency. Or an allergy. Or a new prescription. Or an underlying autoimmune disease.Even though millions of people suffer from them every year, researchers still don’t know much about what fundamentally causes these sores. This leaves doctors and dentists stuck playing detective with their patients—running down a checklist, trying to figure out which of more than a dozen potential triggers could’ve set off the gnarly little lesions.That list is long and spans different specialties in medicine. It includes trauma to the mouth, stress, diet, genetics, hormones, allergies, vitamin deficiencies, autoimmune diseases, and gastrointestinal diseases. Diana V. Messadi, a professor at the UCLA School of Dentistry, told me that canker sores are multifactorial, which makes them hard to study. Cold sores, by comparison, offer a much tidier story: They’re viral infections (herpes simplex) and thus are treatable with antivirals. (Cold sores are pimplelike blisters that usually form around the lips, whereas canker sores are white ulcers that occur inside the mouth.)[Read: The overblown stigma of genital herpes]Canker sores can be loosely sorted into two buckets. In Bucket A are the smaller, more common sores, the kind a person might get two or three times a year. These sores are bright, nagging, and painful, and they make eating and talking difficult. They usually aren’t life-threatening. In Bucket B are larger cankers, usually more than a centimeter wide. (Technically, a third bucket exists that includes herpetiform, or clustered, sores—but this type is rare.)Big or small, some sores are linked to an underlying disease, like Crohn’s, Behçet’s, HIV/AIDS, or celiac disease. In a way, these cases are better understood: The sores are a secondary effect of something else going on in the body—something a doctor can test for and identify.The human mouth is a weird place. Canker sores occur in what’s called the oral mucosa, which is doctor-speak for the skin (it’s not actually skin) inside your mouth. Even though the mucosa is tucked away inside your cheeks, it gets exposed to a lot. Salsa, notes Nasim Fazel, a former professor at UC Davis who started the college’s oral-mucosal clinic, “is a chemical irritant. You don’t rub salsa on your skin.” But people do eat salsa—and chips, nuts, and other foods that are spicy or acidic or sharp, and that can damage the lining of the mouth. Some of these wounds later develop into canker sores.Because the mouth is dirty, white blood cells like to hang out there; Andres Pinto, a professor at the Case Western Reserve University’s school of Dental Medicine, told me that this way, they can react quickly to a potential infection. But sometimes, this surveillance system fails, and the body can actually self-injure. This is thought to be part of what causes typical canker sores, Pinto explained: Immune dysregulation is the “common denominator” behind the ulcers. Inflammation can help the body heal, but too much inflation can cause the mucosa to break down, which is what we see when we look at the oval-shaped wounds.Beyond that, canker sores are still idiopathic, meaning doctors don’t really know why they happen. The body’s immune system is deeply complicated; as my colleague Ed Yong wrote in 2020, it’s where “intuition goes to die.” “The problem with all these immune-mediated conditions, oftentimes, is we still don’t know why they come,” Alessandro Villa, the chief of oral medicine at the Miami Cancer Institute, told me. “At the end of the day, it’s still a big mystery.”Another lingering mystery is why some people get canker sores while others live in ignorant bliss, free of their specific kind of torture. Genetics is starting to help solve that one. “Using sophisticated computers, we can actually detect which genes are associated with what we see in the mouth,” Pinto told me. “What I just said is a big step,” he added. “It took probably 30 years to develop that last sentence.”[Read: Paxlovid mouth is real—and gross]More research is needed to better treat patients, especially those with bad or chronic sores. Topical steroids can help, but they don’t address the underlying causes. A spokesperson for the FDA told me there are no available FDA-approved prescription options specifically for canker sores.Comparatively speaking, the United States does not have a lot of providers that specialize in this area. Fazel, formerly of UC Davis, is a rare combination of dentist and dermatologist who sometimes sees patients with debilitating cases. “I’m kind of using the same meds as I was using 10 years ago,” she told me. “It’s kind of sad.”Oral-medicine specialists are dentists with extra training in such ailments. But only about 400 practice in the United States, Pinto estimated. A representative for the American Academy of Oral Medicine told me the organization currently has 281 active members (although it noted that there may be additional nonmembers practicing). Fazel, for her part, thinks dermatologists are better equipped to treat canker sores, because dentists “can’t prescribe the big guns.” (The “big guns,” in this case, are medicines that modulate the immune system to calm inflammation.) Even if a patient does manage to see the right provider, that’s only the first step. They’ll still need to go through the checklist, trying to determine what their triggers are—while the bigger question of what actually causes the sores remains unknown.
theatlantic.com
How Sexism Makes Economics Worse
Betsey Stevenson, a professor at the University of Michigan and a former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, told me that when she hit her mid-40s, she had an “aha moment.”“I was thinking, It’s so great having gotten to this stage of my career where I’m a little more established. It’s very freeing,” she told me. “And I realized: Oh, I think I just aged out of sexual harassment.” The leering, the inappropriate commentary, the talking over her—much of it had stopped, perhaps because she had become so accomplished, perhaps because she had reached an age where men in her profession did not automatically treat her as a sex object. “There was nothing like having babies to change the male gaze,” she added.Stevenson is one of many economists reflecting on the way they have been treated and the profession as a whole. Indeed, five years after econ’s first #MeToo moment, the field is in the midst of a new one. Once again, women are coming forward to out their colleagues, teachers, and co-authors as misogynists and abusers. Once again, women are noting how pervasive and persistent sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination are within the field. And once again, economists are asking how to make their subject area safer, more welcoming, and more diverse.[Read: The movement of #MeToo]This is not just an internecine battle for greater equality and opportunity within an elite profession. It is a battle to improve economics itself, and thus to improve our understanding of the economy, and thus to improve public policy, and thus to improve everyone’s lives. For such researchers to understand the world, they need to confront their own biases. And the testimonies of any number of women show how far the profession has to go in doing so.The most recent #MeToo furor began with serious accusations—of favoritism toward male students, of harassment, of groping—that spilled out from the profession’s whisper networks onto social media. Jennifer Doleac, an economics professor at Texas A&M University and an expert on criminal-justice policy, became a kind of clearing house for the controversy, receiving emails from people with stories to tell, directing them to journalists, connecting them with one another, and tweeting furiously through it all, as credible and corroborated accusations swirled about dozens of men.Two of those women spoke with me about their experiences. Both asked for anonymity, the first to avoid putting any of her male colleagues under unwarranted scrutiny and the second to avoid giving a serial harasser any reason to contact her.The first is an expert in global development working at a major Washington, D.C., think tank. In college two decades ago, she told me, she had aced a political-economy class taught by a public intellectual who is still prominent today. After the class ended, he emailed her to congratulate her on her final grade and offer to take her out to dinner. “I thought, I wonder if anyone else got this message,” she told me. “It seemed a little weird.” And it was. The professor made inappropriate comments throughout the meal. The next time they met, she arranged for it to be in a busy, public place. “He was disgusting. I literally cried the whole way home,” she told me. “He didn’t help me at all professionally. He very explicitly wanted me to sleep with him. And I just felt like such a fool.”The second woman graduated from one of the top 20 economics Ph.D. programs in the country a few years ago and is now an economist at a government agency in Washington. She told me her #MeToo moment occurred before even starting graduate school—at a campus event for admitted doctoral candidates, at which a fellow economics student groped her. (She enrolled, she recounted, because she believed the man planned to enroll in a different university, only to end up in the same program as him.) Both her male classmates and male professors regularly acted boorishly, she said. “All of the men around me felt that they were one woman away from having gotten into Harvard or MIT,” she told me. “As if a woman took their spot.”Five years ago, it became clear just how commonplace such stories are in economics. A series of investigations—some including major names in the profession—have been buttressed by a wave of new research analyzing discrimination within the profession and measuring the effect of such discrimination more broadly: In 2017, for instance, a paper by Alice Wu, then an undergraduate at the UC Berkeley, provided evidence that a popular academic economics web forum essentially had the gender politics of 4chan. Anonymous posters talked about male economists’ achievements and female economists’ bodies.As more and more stories, and more and more papers, began to pile up, leaders in the field decided to do something about it: In late 2018, the American Economic Association created a standing committee to assess diversity and equity in the profession. It surveyed tens of thousands of economists. The results of that survey were stark, if not shocking: Women were outnumbered 2 to 1, and just one in five women described themselves as “satisfied” with the climate in the profession. Harassment was pervasive. Discrimination was pervasive. “We treat women terribly. We treat minorities terribly. We’re really a discriminatory institution,” Stevenson told me, summing up the status quo in academic economics.[Read: Beyond sexual harassment]The AEA responded in force, or at least tried to. It adopted a code of professional conduct. It created web fora to compete with the one Wu had studied. It set up a raft of committees on diversity and equity. It created a process for removing harassers from the AEA. And it hired an ombudsperson, to “take and permanently record complaints concerning harassment or discrimination in any professional context” and to investigate them.“The problem is that the AEA cannot protect the confidentiality of any victims or witnesses to come forward,” Doleac said. “They don’t have any sort of real investigative or subpoena power either. These investigations are really not productive in any way.” She added that the process left her feeling it did “more harm than good.” (The AEA did not respond to my request for comment.)Although the culture of and standards within the profession might have changed for the better, nobody I interviewed thought they had changed enough. “Economists are naturally disinclined to think this is a big deal or that it is even happening,” Stevenson said. “The fear of people being falsely accused is so much bigger than the fear of not outing people.” And the culture was and remains particularly toxic at the intersection of race and gender. “The reality is that women of color—in particular, Black, Native, and Latinx women—are treated the worst,” Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman, an activist who co-founded a nonprofit that promotes Black women in economics and related fields, told me. “It’s sexual harassment on top of racial harassment.”The broader issue is that sexism, misogyny, discrimination, marginalization, and sexual violence within the profession do not just affect the profession. “This is inside economics,” Stevenson said. “But this is also why economists are doing a shittier job with the economy than they should.”Relatively few women enter economics—and in particular very, very few Black women, according to the AEA. When female students do enter, they tend to not have their contributions acknowledged. They get talked over in the classroom. They get objectified in professional fora. They have to avoid professional events to avoid getting harassed. They are subject to high rates of abuse, in many cases from men who could make or break their careers by recommending them for jobs, refereeing their papers for journals, and helping them work on papers.[Read: The cost of balancing academia and racism]It grinds many of them down. “So many of the men in economics have a hard time seeing people as human,” Stevenson said. “They don’t really understand the cost of sexual harassment. They don’t understand the way it can sap your motivation. They don’t understand the way that can make you doubt your own abilities, question yourself. The derailment makes no sense to them. They think, Some guy put his hand up your skirt at a conference? Just get on with it. I think they really don’t understand the way that changes how women interact with lots of men in the profession after that.”As a broader point, women tend to silo themselves in certain parts of the field—labor economics rather than financial economics, family economics rather than public finance—in part because there is “safety in numbers,” as Stevenson put it. Those parts of the profession then get stereotyped as “soft” and less intellectually rigorous.Indeed, the two women who spoke anonymously told me that their experience of harassment had shaped their careers. “I gravitated to more nurturing environments, and thrived in them professionally,” the development expert told me. “Part of my anger is how close I came to not even being in public policy because of [my harasser]. I almost didn’t have this life I find so fulfilling. And my path could have been so much easier.” The new Ph.D. told me she had offers from both the government and academic institutions upon graduation. She took a government job. “I didn’t want to stay in academia. I think it’s a cesspool.”Ultimately the field is tilted to the worldview of the white men who dominate it. “What we study is very much tied to our identity, tied to what informs our worldview,” Opoku-Agyeman said. “If you are discounting my worldview, and using your worldview as a standard to determine whether or not I’m a productive researcher or someone who adds value to the field, that is fundamentally unfair.”That means our understanding of the world is warped too. Macroeconomics “absolutely would have made more progress if it had been more open to women over the last 25 years,” Stevenson said. “The profession values the study of investment in physical capital more than the investment in human capital, which seems like an awfully big blind spot.” And the policy consequences are profound. One obvious example: The United States’ labor force is hobbled by its lack of investment in child care and early-childhood education, a failure still somehow treated as a niche “women’s issue” instead of a calamitous, GDP-stifling flaw in America’s economic machinery. “If you called that an infrastructure issue, you’d get a lot of eye rolls today,” Stevenson told me. The oversights of American economic policy and the treatment of women in the economics profession are linked.
theatlantic.com
At Last, the Americans Have Arrived
Sometimes progress is measured in ties.
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theatlantic.com
Empires of Soccer
This is an edition of The Great Game, a newsletter about the 2022 World Cup—and how soccer explains the world. Sign up here.Day six of the World Cup and it’s the United States versus England, big Satan versus little Satan in the great battle of the evil imperialists. At stake, a place in the next round of a competition that would likely never have existed without the soccer-spreading British empire, taking place in a country that is unlikely to have existed without it either. And yet the very fact that it is taking place in Qatar has become one of the great symbols of our age—not as a marker of Western cultural power, but of the challenge to its global supremacy. How’s that for irony?In fact, I find it hard to think of a global event that could be more à la mode than this World Cup, a tournament so deeply steeped in contradictions and challenges. Here we have a great global bonanza for a onetime British sport hosted by a onetime British protectorate that has now insured its independence by becoming the host for the new military superpower, the United States.One way to understand this World Cup is as another chance for this tiny and vulnerable Arab nation to showcase its independence in a dangerous region of wannabe hegemons (read: Saudi Arabia). Yet, in the face of mounting Western hostility to the very fact that the tournament is taking place in Qatar, the event has become something of a symbol of Arab unity against the old Western imperialists who are once again trying to impose their values where they shouldn’t. Hence the spectacles of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, waving the flag of Qatar before the host nation’s opening match and the emir of Qatar reciprocating by clutching the Saudi green during his neighbor’s famous win over Argentina.Nothing has come to embody the clash of values more than the dispute over the LGBTQ Pride rainbow. The England captain, Harry Kane, had wanted to wear an armband bearing the symbol during the tournament to showcase his opposition to the laws in Qatar that criminalize homosexuality, but was dissuaded from doing so by a threat of sanctions from FIFA. The American team had gone a step further, redesigning its national crest to replace the red-and-white stripes with rainbow colors. This was banned. The German national team then got around this problem by posing with their hands over their mouths ahead of their match against Japan on Wednesday, signifying their anger at what they saw as their freedom of expression being silenced. Even spectators with multicolored hats have been told to take them off.In response, some have said the World Cup should never have been allowed to go ahead in Qatar. Others have said the players should have ignored the authorities and worn their rainbow colors, regardless of the consequences. My own view is that the decision to hand the tournament to Qatar is the greatest absurdity in the history of the sport, because the country is so spectacularly unsuited to hosting the event.Yet the charge of moral imperialism is not entirely without merit. Qatar is a Sunni Arab monarchy that bases its laws on Sharia—which makes it hardly surprising that the country is not as liberal on matters of sexuality as New York, Berlin, London, or Paris. Even in the West, LGBTQ rights remain contested. Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the great icon of liberal internationalism, voted against gay marriage as recently as 2017. Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act as U.S. president, which blocked the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. The point is that attitudes toward gay rights, let alone transgender rights, have developed at an extraordinary pace in the Western world. The last time England hosted the World Cup, in 1966, homosexuality was still illegal. When the U.S. hosted the tournament in 1994, gay men and women could serve in the miltary only if they didn’t tell anybody about their sexuality.I’m struck that the symbol of protest the West has chosen to foreground in Qatar is one so central to the debates still taking place in its own societies. Western nations’ players are not wearing symbols to protest Uyghur concentration camps or Russian butchery in Ukraine. They are not wearing green in support of the women of Iran currently being killed for daring to uncover their hair. Nor, indeed, are they doing anything to protest the treatment of women in Qatar, where, just as in Saudi Arabia, they cannot leave the house without a man. These players are instead choosing—for perfectly defensible reasons—a symbol that has reemerged as a contentious issue in their own countries, principally because of arguments over trans rights.But what price are Western soccer players prepared to pay to defend their values? How many of these players unhappy about Qatar, I wonder, nevertheless take holidays in similarly repressive Dubai? Not a single Western team has gone ahead with a show of support for LGBTQ rights after the organizers of the World Cup said that doing so would be met with the mildest of punishments—a yellow card—a penalty equivalent to that often imposed for a foul such as a clumsy tackle.No Western player has made any gesture that could result in real-life consequences for them or their families comparable to the action of the Iranian players who refused to sing their national anthem ahead of their game against England. The contrast is sobering.None of that is to say that the English, American, or German players are shallow or hypocritical people. In my decades supporting England, I have never seen such a group of evidently decent, well-rounded, socially responsible people—more likely to talk about the challenges of poverty, mental health, and gay rights than to disgrace themselves in a strip club or voice reactionary views.Soccer used to be laddish, even boorish, and marred by booze-soaked hooliganism. Now it is woke.I’m not sure this is a bad thing. Obvious, though, is that today’s generation of Western soccer stars are utterly of their own time and place: the products of a society in which a very culturally specific idea of moral virtue is to be not only praised but demanded, and that seems saturated in whatever debates are currently foremost in the U.S.Occasionally, this can be jarring. Ahead of Iran’s game against England, while the Iranian players solemnly refused to sing their national anthem, the English players concentrated on taking the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter. For England’s young, multiracial squad, this has become an important declaration of who they are and what they stand for, ever since the movement sparked by the murder of George Floyd in 2020. And why not? Many in the England squad are Black and have suffered racist abuse themselves; they have every right to show their anger.Soccer might be a legacy of the British empire, spread around the globe via shipping lanes and commercial interests, but we are now very much in an American world. The United States, not Britain, now projects its values around the world. One paradox of the situation is that this is happening in soccer, the global sporting obsession that still faces some resistance in the U.S. itself.Today, we may well have the confounding spectacle of the English soccer team getting down on one knee to support a movement that began in the United States, while the American team stays standing, waiting to get on with a game that began in England but has now become the property of the world—even as the Arab countries of the region, and many other nations besides, look on with little interest or mild antipathy.What is so troubling for many about this World Cup in Qatar is how unavoidable the fact that although soccer might now be the undisputed global game of our era, no undisputed set of values can unite us all. The way we handle this fact will play a big part in the century to come.Listen to staff writer Franklin Foer on a special episode of “Radio Atlantic”:Subscribe here: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Google Podcasts | Pocket Casts
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theatlantic.com
What She Said Understands About Investigative Journalism
Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize–winning exposé of the producer Harvey Weinstein was undeniably consequential. Their investigative reporting for The New York Times helped kick-start a cultural reckoning over sexual harassment and abuse across a wide range of industries. In 2019, the duo chronicled their work in the book She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement. They wrote about sifting through court settlements, nondisclosure agreements, and memos; agonizing over their wording in texts and emails to sources; and chasing, for three years, crumbs of information. The densely detailed narrative is riveting but inherently uncinematic.Yet when it came to adapting the material for the big screen, the director Maria Schrader and the screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz considered the meticulousness of Kantor and Twohey’s process the point. Schrader knew the sheer amount of dialogue they’d have to include. “But I was never nervous about that,” the director told me. “The more you learn about all these steps … the more you [realize that they were uncovering] a nightmare.” After all, Lenkiewicz told me, their relentless reporting revealed the story’s sensitivity, which the best films depicting journalism should also do. “It wasn’t just about the journalism,” she said about Spotlight, one such movie she admires. “It was about voices that are not heard.”She Said, as a result, isn’t a triumphant film about the rise of the #MeToo movement, but rather a clear-eyed, measured depiction of why that first article struck a nerve. Such a cool touch has made the movie a hard sell to audiences, as last weekend’s paltry box-office earnings reflected. Yet She Said is a valuable entry in the journalism-movie genre. Kantor and Twohey’s thoroughness offered a model not just of journalism, but of compassion. Schrader and Lenkiewicz approached their adaptation the same way, tracking the emotional reality of the reporters’ experiences. The film shows how Jodi (played by Zoe Kazan) and Megan (Carey Mulligan) went from collaborating as colleagues to depending on each other for support, and how hearing about trauma repeatedly took a toll on both of them. She Said is concerned less with reenacting Weinstein’s harassment and abuse than with showing the value of active listening. Take away all of the headlines that have emerged around #MeToo, the film urges, and the movement becomes a study of care. As Lenkiewicz put it, “Although there is such darkness in the story … there is a lot of beauty and light about women finding each other.”[Read: In the valley of the open secret]To make that message clear, the movie’s creators needed to get the journalism right. In one of the strongest scenes, Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton), a former Miramax employee, meets with Jodi for an off-the-record conversation about why she left the company. But before she tells her story, she explains the terms of the NDA she signed. A lesser film might have glossed over the finer points or tried to amp up the tension with a showier performance. She Said, though, lets the scene run for nearly 10 minutes. The NDA’s particulars are as important as Zelda’s memories of the workplace culture; they illustrate how harshly Weinstein’s cohorts acted in response to her allegations. Schrader said that she and Lenkiewicz prioritized accurately depicting the way sources discussed their experiences. They believed that these conversations warranted as much time on-screen as they did in the book—that if these journalists paid such close attention to the context, so can the rest of us.She Said the book contains its share of shocking material. As an Oscar-winning mega-producer, Weinstein built an extensive network of powerful people, some of whom helped the Times’ investigation and some of whom hindered it. Kantor and Twohey describe acquiring a copy of a damning memo from a source who went to the restroom while they were meeting at a bar and deliberately left his phone for Kantor to access. The authors also recall getting panicked messages from Gwyneth Paltrow when Weinstein showed up at her Hamptons home, and being targeted by operatives from the Israeli intelligence firm Black Cube.Any one of these moments could have been sensationalized, and the film does allow for a few theatrical flourishes: A black SUV appears to crawl after Jodi as she leaves a restaurant, and Megan tells off a man who won’t leave her and her female colleagues alone at a bar. But such scenes are brief; Lenkiewicz told me their intention was to underline the pressure that came with the investigation. “There’s been this wave of anti-journalism [sentiment] … You know, Can news be trusted? Is news valid?” Lenkiewicz said. “I think it’s very important for people to know that there are journalists out there who are unstoppable in their seeking of the truth.”The film doesn’t just re-create the journalists’ day-to-day life; it also captures the book’s solemn and matter-of-fact tone. Lenkiewicz turned flurries of emails and texts into realistic, expanded conversations, illustrating how sources went from hesitating to trusting the reporters. Schrader, meanwhile, contrasted the cool, restrained shots that accompanied survivors’ voice-overs—such as that of an empty hotel hallway—with the clamor inside the Times offices. In the newsroom, the constant chatter between editors and writers is marked by an obvious, shared respect. The glimpses of Weinstein’s operation, however, are distressingly quiet—set in inappropriate spaces, captured in montages of hastily rearranged hotel rooms, half-eaten meals, and abandoned purses. The presentation of these different working environments is subtle, but intensely effective.[Read: #MeToo has changed the world—except in court]The most important move the film makes is also its riskiest: She Said delves into the journalists’ home lives, an element that doesn’t appear in the book. The movie depicts Megan coping with postpartum depression and Jodi’s shock when her elder daughter first asks her about the word rape. These sequences expand our view of the journalists beyond their occupation, grounding them as characters themselves. That way, Schrader said, when they’re seated across from survivors, asking them questions, audiences aren’t just watching an interview; they’re understanding how the duo connected with the women they met. Kantor and Twohey’s subjects had to stay off the record, which meant they couldn’t be quoted or have anything they shared attributed to them. But they spoke anyway, because they’d been waiting for the right person to listen. “It would be so much more narrow if we were just seeing two bigger-than-life heroines going after the villain,” Schrader explained. The reality is “much more complex.”She Said doesn’t end with Weinstein’s arrest or with the collapse of his company; it ends with the publishing of the exposé. Instead of fast-forwarding to a neat epilogue, the film suggests that the #MeToo movement, at that point in 2017, faced an uncertain future. Five years after the events depicted, that remains the case. Yes, the reporting led to the producer’s conviction, as well as countless conversations about misogyny, abuse of power, and the systems that protect perpetrators of sexual harassment—but other abusers have evaded penalty. Efforts to enact industry-wide solutions, such as Time’s Up, have stalled, while questions linger over what accountability should look like, especially for Hollywood’s most influential figures. The film’s credits are a reminder of this fact: One of the executive producers, Brad Pitt, faces allegations of abuse from his ex-wife, Angelina Jolie. (Pitt’s lawyer released a statement denying the allegations.) Schrader demurred from commenting on Pitt’s involvement, noting that she’s never met him. But she explained that she intended for the film to “not shy away from the complexity and complicity and the question How much are you already involved?”In other words, She Said is not self-congratulatory; it’s a reminder that empathy can require immense effort, and that even then, such effort might not lead to certain success. In one of the film’s most compelling scenes, Megan accepts a meeting with Weinstein and his coterie of lawyers; she needs to give him an opportunity to respond in order to publish the piece. Team Weinstein is obviously riled up. As the camera zooms in on Megan’s face, the audio fades. Mulligan turns in a subtle performance as she sits opposite this human wall of deflection and denial. She looks determined, then bemused, and then wary. A flicker of resignation crosses her face, as she seems to realize that they care more about the well-being of the Weinstein Company than the well-being of the women who work there. There will always be people on the other side of the table, the film posits. But those worth hearing are the ones who don’t have the power to claim a seat at all.
2 d
theatlantic.com