When actor Sarah Ann Masse saw the initial casting announcement for She Said, her first reaction wasn’t to audition.
Instead, she set out to be sure the film— which chronicles New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twoey’s investigation into Harvey Weinstein’s pattern of sexual harassment and assault and came to help fuel the Me Too Movement— prioritized hiring survivors.
In 2017, Masse opened up to Variety about her own sexual misconduct experience with Weinstein.
Later that year, she began speaking up about the industry's habit of blacklisting survivors who came forward and then in 2019, she started using the hastag #HireSurvivorsHollywood. By February 2020, she formalized the hashtag into an organization that, as explained on the Hire Survivors Hollywood website, addresses “career retaliation against those who have been sexually violated (survivors) and those who have shared those details publicly (silence breakers).”
“I was not at all in the headspace of pitching myself as an actor,” Masse tells Los Angeles Confidential. “I was very much like, ‘Oh, this is such a good opportunity for a big, major studio to learn about this work and to do things the right way.”
Masse eventually tracked down one of the film’s executives who set her up with their equity, inclusion and diversity team. About a month later, she got an audition.
“I unfortunately haven't been in a lot of auditions the past five years since coming forward. Things have slowed down for me, which is one of the main reasons I started Hire Survivors, because I knew this was happening to a lot of people,” Masse says. “I sent off my tape and kind of didn't expect anything. Not only was I excited for myself as an actor, but I thought if they're auditioning me, I think that means they're auditioning other Weinstein survivors.”
She came to land her first role for a “big studio feature.”
In She Said, you can see Masse as New York Times journalist Emily Steel. Her 2018 reporting uncovered Bill O’Reilly’s history of sexual harassment and paved the way for other stories about sexual harassment in the workplace, namely in Hollywood.
Change in the industry has been evident. Masse points to how U.K. productions are starting to see more wellbeing coordinators and that intimacy coordinators are more standard on set. For She Said, a therapist was available over the phone at all times for anybody involved in the film.
“I think there's a lot more coming. We at Hire Survivors just published an industry-wide toolkit. It's completely free. You can download it on our website.” Masse says. “It covers steps that filmmakers at all levels can take from development through release to be inclusive of survivors, but also create a safer work environment for everybody.”
Read more below from our conversation with Masse.
There are multiple perspectives from which this story could be told. Why do you think this lens— watching Jodi and Megan's investigation— is a powerful way to do that?
I think what was interesting about this investigation is that as Megan and Jodi are entering into trying to report the truth on this story, there have been some stories that have broken just prior to this that paved the way. So obviously, Megan had been working on Trump reporting and working with some of his survivors to go on the record. Emily Steele had been working to tell the Bill O'Reilly story and she really followed the NDAs and the settlements to get the information that she needed to tell a story and that happened and he was fired. And I think seeing the context that leads up to the ability, after 30 years, to tell the story is really helpful. I also think that the film does a really good job of balancing the focus between these two journalists who are women, who are mothers, who are experiencing the world as women themselves, but also just really sticking to their journalistic integrity of just trying to tell the truth. They have no personal angle on this that they're trying to uncover. They just really want to tell the story. And then also seeing the survivors who are depicted in this first piece of journalism and really understanding what happened behind the scenes for them to decide to go on the record— the agony and the fear and the threats that go along with making a decision like this. I think the journalism from Jodi and Megan was brilliant. I think their book was excellent, but I think the film allows the audience to see what was really at stake. It's not just, “Oh, this is an awkward or embarrassing or vulnerable moment for my life. And I don't know if I want the world knowing about it.” [It’s,] “This is something that could destroy me to share. And I'm still going to do it anyway.”
It hasn’t even been a decade since Jodi and Meghan’s reporting was first published. Why is now the right time to look back on their investigation?
I think that there's never a wrong time to tell a story about the truth. And five years is both a very long time and a very short time depending on how you're looking at it. And we've seen a lot of progress made in the past five years; we have seen tangible change. But I think we've also seen a stalling of that and a sense that, “Well we fixed this now. We can move on to something else.” And I think it's really important to be reminded of where we've started. The Me Too Movement existed for well over a decade before the Weinstein reporting brought that concept to the forefront. And we have to remember that there's decades and decades and decades, if not longer, of work that goes into justice for women, justice for survivors of sexual violence unpicking this rape-culture patriarchy that we live in. And we have to understand the history of where we've been to understand how we can keep going. So to me, telling the story five years on reaffirms that this is something that still matters.
I think it's really easy to become desensitized to headlines or stories and forget these are individual human beings. We're not some faceless monolith as survivors. Each of us has a very real-world impact from what we've gone through with not just the assault, but the resulting trauma and the career damage and the health damage and the reputation damage and the fear.
True crime is very popular, and it often doesn't get questioned why we're telling stories about murders or kidnappings or other forms of harassment and trauma and betrayal. And what I think is odd is it's usually when the stories are told without the involvement of survivors that they're unquestioned. This film actually did it the right way and ensured that the people who were most impacted have a say and had benefit from the story being told, whereas other films that are maybe more sensationalized or other series that are more sensationalized that don't involve the survivors seem to get away with doing it without wondering, “Well, is it too soon? Is it the right time? And is it done in the right way?”
I truly believe that storytelling reaches people in a way that can change their hearts and minds. It acts as an empathy machine. It can be a hard story to listen to sometimes. There are definitely trigger moments and difficult scenes, but I think ultimately it's a triumphant film and it's an inspiring film.
Between your roles as a filmmaker and activist, you’ve dedicated so much of yourself to this industry. What do you love about acting and filmmaking?
I love getting to tell stories that make people feel things. Sometimes that's escapism and joy and hope. Sometimes it's, like I said, it’s empathy for people that they may not understand or experiences that they may not have had. And I like taking myself and bringing my honest self to a story or role and just shifting it slightly so it comes from my perspective. I think that's the gift that all actors and all writers and all storytellers have is we have these unique perspectives and lived experiences and depending on who puts on the coat and who says the words, that story just has a slightly different flavor and a slightly different texture and I love getting to transform while still being completely honest to who I am. It's just a really special gift and it's something I've loved doing since I was very little and I'm really blessed to be able to do it still, and hopefully this film will open up more doors for me to continue to work. And not just for me, but for all survivors who have faced any struggles in their careers. Ashley Judd says in the film as herself, “I still want to work?” That's all it is. We were just asking for a fair chance to do the thing that we're good at and to not be held responsible for somebody else's bad actions.
I'm really proud of the film and proud of the filmmakers for doing things the right way. I'm so thrilled that I got to share this journey with Katherine Kendall, who is a dear friend and a fellow survivor and just is so brilliant in the film. I just want people to know that it's not scary to do the right thing.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. She Said is now available on Peacock and to rent.
Photography by: Kate Butler