Why Was ‘She Said’ a Box Office Flop?

That’s showbiz, baby!

What’s showbiz? Since the beginning of the 20th century, the film industry has developed its dog-eat-dog status. Aspiring young actors move to Los Angeles in pursuit of booking that dream role. Filmmakers have power: the power of storytelling, the power of money, the power of networking, and…

Harvey Weinstein, the co-founder of Miramax, exemplifies power off the deep end, and the irreparable damage such power can cause. In 2016, two New York Times reporters began uncovering a multitude of sexual assaults Weinstein was responsible for in the 1990s. The recently released film “She Said” recounts the writing process of their story, which spurred the #MeToo movement and emboldened victims everywhere to speak out about their stories of sexual assault and abuse in the workplace and otherwise.

As striking as this narrative appears, the film has yielded a dismal profit. Opening weekend, “She Said” made $2.2 million at the box office, according to The Hollywood Reporter. For reference, Market Scale states that “Wakanda Forever” made $180 million on its opening weekend. “Wakanda” was a massive success, so a better gauging point may be “Ticket to Paradise,” the recent romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney, which Forbes says yielded $16.3 million on opening weekend. Rotten Tomatoes shows that critics gave “Ticket to Paradise” a score of 57% on the Tomatometer, whereas “She Said” received an 87%. General audiences placed each film’s ratings in the 90% range. Despite these reviews, “Ticket to Paradise” still profited eightfold from “She Said.”

Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

$2.2 million for an opening weekend is unheard of. What caused this poor showing? Critics theorize that folks don’t rush to the theaters for somber stories, particularly in the wake of COVID-19 and its unearthing of general cultural pessimism. As I peruse films with similar tonality, genres, or plotlines, I recognize that they each possess a certain cinematic elevation I found lacking in “She Said.”

For example, “All the President’s Men” is a 1976 Academy Award-winning drama that similarly follows two reporters as they uncover the Watergate scandal. The storyline and sequence of scenes feel much the same, filled with phone calls and knocking on doors. However, the pacing and production feel a bit more artistic, and the purity of the reporters’ performances remains timeless. To quote my mom, a passionate fan of this film, “it’s like a world-class meal made of simple ingredients.” Somewhat contrastingly, 2020’s “The Trial of the Chicago Seven” offers a heavy story consisting of death, loss, and police brutality, but brazenly illustrates the empowerment of the defendants and the cultural movement at hand in the late 1960s. Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman expertly play comedic reliefs, nearly transforming their time on the stand in court into a stand-up comedy routine.

While it may lack the pizzazz of some of its sibling films, I admire the choice to veer in the direction of tastefulness in the case of “She Said.” The Netflix film “Blonde” recently received public backlash for its traumatic imagery and fetishization of Marilyn Monroe’s pain. This was a particularly controversial film because, though director Andrew Dominik and author of the source material Joyce Carol Oates acknowledged this, much of the plot is composed of dramatized or even entirely made-up events, as Capital FM states. Contrastingly, “She Said” never showed any of the actual traumatic events, but rather focused on allowing victims to verbally share their stories, with some footage of their emotional distress in the aftermath.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Nevertheless, some controversy has risen surrounding “She Said” outside of its cinematography. Firstly, the overarching concept of Hollywood making a film condemning the actions of Harvey Weinstein when Hollywood is responsible for structures that enabled him to behave as he did has struck viewers as tone-deaf. Many theorize that similar individuals and systems remain pervasive in the industry. Various commentaries claim that the film has merely been made too soon for it to be sensitive to its narrative.

Furthermore, Brad Pitt has been critiqued for his role as an executive producer on the film. The Daily Beast is one of several sources reporting that “the actor [Brad Pitt] confronted the producer [Harvey Weinstein] back in 1996 trying to protect Gwyneth Paltrow, his girlfriend at the time — but still worked with Weinstein after the fact.” Beyond that, Angelina Jolie accused Brad Pitt of domestic violence, particularly referring to an incident on a plane ride in 2016 during their marriage.

Despite the layers of issues surrounding “She Said,” I thought the film itself achieved its goals, accompanied by decent acting performances. The sense of anger and injustice was well expressed, in addition to the looming fear of retribution each victim and reporter had to navigate. In my opinion, the filmmakers could have been more creative in their story expression, as some scenes tended to lag, but in the interest of preserving the gravity of the subject matter, I understand why it was constructed as it was.

The national sexual assault hotline is 1-800-656-4673.

“She Said” is now playing in theaters.

By Risa Bolash

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