Dahlia and Amy talk about the beginning of the trial against Harvey Weinstein in New York. Weinstein was first exposed in 2017 in part due to the investigative reporting by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey at the New York Times. The story of that investigation is documented in their book, She Said, and reveals all of the work that went into their story.
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AMY LAM: Hi, welcome to Backtalk, the feminist response to pop culture podcast. I’m Amy Lam.
DAHLIA BALCAZAR: I’m Dahlia Balcazar.
AMY: And each episode we start off by talking about our favorite pop culture moment. Dahlia picked one that is super relevant, and then I ended up that I am also very obsessed with this topic.
AMY: So, I think a very good pop culture topic to start off with.
DAHLIA: Yeah, I feel like we have, there’s just some explanation I have to do first. But this pop culture moment came onto my radar maybe a few months ago. It concerns the novel American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. I first read about it because the writer Myriam Gurba had posted online that she had been hired to write a review of the book for a feminist magazine. And then after turning in the review, an editor had told her that she lacked the fame to write something so negative, that they couldn’t publish it, but they could publish it if she wrote something, “something redeeming about the book instead.” So, Myriam Gurba declined and instead published some of, and more, of a review of that at TropicsOfMeta.com, which is a really great piece. So, I recommend reading that.
Then American Dirt sort of like drifted away from my radar. I haven’t gotten to read it yet. I’m on a very long line, a long queue for it at the library. But then recently, the New York Times published a scathing review of the book by Parul Sehgal. I don’t know. Like something in me, just like innerly delights. I don’t know. It’s kind of cruel. I innerly delight at reading scathing book reviews.
DAHLIA: They’re so pleasure-filled. [Laughs.]
AMY: Especially when they’re so well done. And Parul Sehgal is a very highly-respected critic and writer. And when she is tearing your work apart, she does it in a way that is so skillful and is doing in a way that is critiquing the work for the work and without any like, in a specific vacuum that she, that’s about the work and how whether or not it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. And there was just so many quotables that Parul wrote. I mean, after I read that review, I was like, I never want Parul Sehgal to ever read anything I’ve written. [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: The plot, loosely, of American Dirt is that a woman, a Mexican woman, and her son get caught up in cartel-related violence and have to flee Mexico and thus become migrants trying to get into the United States. And Jeanine Cummins, in 2016, helpfully for this conversation, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in which she said that she was white. Recently, she’s been saying that she has a Puerto Rican grandmother. However, neither of those make her a Mexican writer or a Mexican American writer. And a good deal of criticism of the book has been about this kind of brownface that the book engages in, that it’s from the perspective of migrants trying to flee violence in Mexico into the United States, and that that’s a perspective that this writer would know little about. And! Another layer of review is that Lauren Groff, again in the New York Times, wrote a review of American Dirt that is essentially like, am I, as a white person, the right person to write this kind of review? Is this person the right kind of person to write this kind of novel? And all of this is like this maelstrom of literary gossip and minor scandal, further compounded by the fact that just recently, this novel was picked as an Oprah’s book club book.
AMY: [Laughs silently.] That’s crazy! Because Jeanine Cummings has already received a seven-figure deal for the book itself. That’s before the book was even optioned. And the book has been optioned to be made into a film. So, you know Cummins will make money off of that. And now that Oprah is pedaling it as part of her book club, there will be many more readers who will buy the book and engage with it.
And I think that, as a writer, I’m less-so critical of the fact that oh, she’s not Mexican, but she’s writing about the Mexican experience. ‘Cause I think that as fiction writers, there should be space for people to write about experiences that aren’t necessarily part of their identity. But if you are going to do something like that, you must do it so well. You must do it in a way that is nuanced, is complex. It’s like telling a real story that isn’t a caricature, that doesn’t feel extraneous and weird and made for a white gaze. I think that’s one of the biggest critiques of this book, is that it’s kind of trying to, and I think that the publisher and the author said this, trying to sort of humanize this quote, “faceless brown mass” or something. I keep seeing that being quoted over and over again while talking about this book. And a lot of the reaction is that listen, we don’t need you to humanize this because we are already human. And this notion that we need, that a writer outside of our identities, especially, would quote-unquote “humanize” us is ridiculous. And I think that because then, that sort of contextualizes this idea that people who are fleeing to the border or trying to leave Mexico to come to the United States, that as a default, they’re not humanized and that we needed this specific piece of literature to humanize them. I think that’s one of the hugest part of this critique.
And yeah, it’s just kind of heartbreaking. And I do think that, like you’re saying, there’s this sort of insular literary Twitter bubble that’s going after this book and are talking about it. And then, so then when you see Oprah sort of highlighting and featuring this book on her Instagram, and then you see all these comments below being like, “I can’t wait to buy the book,” it does really show you how a lot of people aren’t in this insular [laughing] literary Twitter world. And that they will read this book uncritically. I think that’s what a lot of people are sort of bracing for.
DAHLIA: Yeah. So, it seems like there’s an author’s note in which Cummins writes, “At worst, we perceive migrants as an invading mob of resource draining criminals, and at best, as sort of—”
AMY: NO!!! [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: Sorry! This is what it says. “And at best, the sort of helpless, impoverished, faceless, brown mass clamoring for help at our doorstep. We seldom think of them as our fellow human beings.” And it’s like—
AMY: Who’s we?! Who is the we?! Yeah.
DAHLIA: And I think that approaching the publication of this book with this kind of prefacing of one step backward, two step forwards kind of a ham-handed apology. But then also even in that statement, who is we? Who is this book for? You couldn’t more clearly say, “This book is for white people.” [Chuckles.]
AMY: Yes, it’s for the white gaze. It’s for white understanding of a specific experience and to humanize these people that they don’t know. And that feels gross! That feels really disgusting. And I think it centers, obviously, it centers whiteness, and it doesn’t feel good for nonwhite people to read this. And especially like you’re saying, when you referenced the Parul review is that Parul’s thesis of her critique is that it’s just really poorly written.
AMY: [Laughs.] It’s just like not good writing. It’s just very, very bad writing.
DAHLIA: Here. I have a devastating quote to read from it: “The real failures of the book, however, have little to do with the writer’s identity and everything to do with her abilities as a novelist.”
AMY: Ha! Ha ha! [Laughs.]
AMY: And there’s also a part of the review that will always, will be embedded in my brain where Parul states that she kinda has to review this book because—
DAHLIA: Yes! [Laughs.]
AMY: Yeah. Because it’s part of her job.
DAHLIA: It’s her job.
AMY: She’s contractually obligated to do it. And also, she needs to review it because it’s been lauded so much. And I think She Said that it received so much rapturous and demented praise. [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: Demented praise!
AMY: [Laughing.] Demented praise! [Sighs.] And so, I think that in this instance, this is something where when something is super-duper hyped and everybody’s talking about it, everybody’s saying, “You need to go read this. You need to go see this. You need to go experience whatever it is,” that maybe it does serve the person receiving this information to pause and think a little bit critically about why perhaps, this is happening, why it’s receiving so much praise. Like I said, the publishing house that paid Jeanine all this money, they’re just trying to recoup the money they gave her in an advance, in her fee. And so, this is a huge marketing machine now to push this book, to let people read it. And a lot of people will read it. A lot people will buy it because they’re not in this literary Twitter world where they’re receiving all this gossip or a lot of this critique against the book, this very, I think, necessary critique of the book. So, this is, I think, a really good example of thinking or examining when things are being lauded so much, to sort of step back and think who is lauding it? Why would they be lauding it? Are they part of a specific machine that’s being paid to laud it? You know, I think there’s so many things that are going into the promotion of this book that the voices of people who are critiquing it aren’t being heard on the same level.
[cutesy bells ring]
So, the trial against Harvey Weinstein began early this month was jury selection in Manhattan. And of course, I watched the videos of him arriving at court. And of course, he appeared, when he was showing up to go there, using a walker to gain sympathy. And but like so many people who watched this clip of him walking to the courthouse using a walker— The walker was like the walker that all grandparents use with the little tennis, even with the two bright neon green tennis balls attached to it. But even though he was trying to get sympathy points, a lot of us saw right through it. ‘Cause it looks like he’s just trying to turn the tide against him, because everything that we’ve learned about him and his behavior points to his guilt.
And as recently as a month ago in December, his defense team had to reach a $25 million settlement with 30 women that were pressing charges against him. So, he’s already just reached a settlement so that these women won’t sue him in criminal court. And in fact, these women, some of them, they took the settlement, but some of them were kind of upset because the settlement was paid for by, I think, an insurance company. And it didn’t even come out of Harvey Weinstein’s own pocket. So he just keeps sort of like getting off without that much damage to him, to an extent. So that’s why now that this trial’s happening, a lot of us are watching it very closely.
And just actually, just as his New York trial began, he was also hit with the news that there are charges being filed against him in Los Angeles from alleged sexual assaults that occurred in early 2013. So, when I read that, it was just like when it rains, it pours! This is magnificent news. So, this case against Weinstein that’s being tried in Manhattan, it came about a year or so ago. And people were saying that he should just plead guilty and not waste taxpayers’ dollars. Actually, Mira Sorvino said that last summer. I saw a clip of her saying that when she was signing stuff, when a TMZ reporter came up to her and ask her like, “What do you think about this?” And she had come out with a story about how he was doing gross things to her and tried to solicit her to perform sexual acts with him. And she luckily was able to get out, but not before he touched her and tried to give her a massage and stuff. So, she’s experienced this firsthand. And she said that, “I don’t know why he won’t just plead guilty because he’s wasting tax dollar funds here so that everybody has to go to court.”
So, we wanna talk about this because when we first talked about the case or the allegations against Harvey Weinstein a couple of years ago, we did talk about how it was the result of very incredible investigative reporting that was first published around that time. And we wanted to not only talk about the case, but also this really great book called She Said that was published late last year in 2019. And so, the book She Said is written by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who are two reporters who broke the story of allegations against Harvey Weinstein in the New York Times in October 2017. And I think that in popular culture, a lot of us know about Ronan Farrow’s reporting and his name and how he helped to break the story in the New Yorker. But we are less familiar with the team at the New York Times. And so, that’s why I think that we should talk a lot about She Said, because it’s a must-read for people who want a deeper dive into the process of investigative journalism and how Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey worked tirelessly to gain the trust of women who were attacked by Weinstein and to get some of them to go on record. And by reporting this and getting women to go on record, it created a domino effect where more and more women were coming forward. And in fact, it ignited the movement that became the #MeToo movement that became the #TimesUp movement.
And I think that I wanted to talk about this because I just finished reading She Said, and it was such a moving book. To see all the little steps that both Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey went to get all their sources right, to make sure that they’re getting everything correct and that nothing is impeachable. Like all of their investigative reporting is truthful and can be fact-checked. And that all these allegations against Harvey Weinstein are true and factual. And their experience in reporting this and bringing this to light. And how they were also sort of fighting against time, knowing that Ronan Farrow was going to report this. But that how cumulatively that they both came together and were able to expose Harvey Weinstein and all of the heinous abuse that he perpetuated against women. And in fact, I think that not only is this shown as being a successful sort of reporting because it led to the #MeToo movement and #TimesUp movement, but that they also won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism because they did such an amazing job.
DAHLIA: I remember when we were first talking about Weinstein and #MeToo and #TimesUp. I feel like when we talked about them here on Backtalk, we sort of had to end our segments by being like, well, what’s gonna happen next? There will be a trial, and I guess we’ll see. And we’ll have to hope that this is fair and that’s fair. And I feel like maybe we had kind of like a glass half empty perspective on how the trial was gonna go. But I feel like it’s been interesting to reflect on what has and hasn’t changed. In the time since we’ve been talking about #MeToo and #TimesUp, Ronan Farrow has published a book about his reporting about sexual harassment in the workforce, and She Said is out. And so, not only did we have these big, explosive moments of lightning strike kind of journalism where everyone is paying attention, but there’s been all of this follow-up where they’ve been like, actually, here is more and more and more and more evidence of what we’re talking about.
And as all of that sort of evidence and momentum has been gathering, Harvey Weinstein has been like really nowhere except, Amy, you pointed out that he’s been showing up places with a walker to look sympathetic. He had some kind of back surgery in December, and he called up the New York Post and invited him to do an interview with him in his hospital room to be like, look, I really did have back surgery. And to listen to some of the, to read some the quotes from this interview, it’s really shocking thinking of what hasn’t changed is Harvey Weinstein’s perspective and attitude towards this entire situation. You know, early on he was sort of issuing these non-apology apology statements. But now, like a month before his trial—this an interview happened in December—he was saying, this is me just quoting him, “My work has been forgotten. I made more movies directed by women and about women than any filmmaker. And I’m talking about 30 years ago. I’m not talking about now when it’s vogue. I did it first. I pioneered it. It all got eviscerated because of what happened.”
And so, man! Like just to imagine that he’s trying to make this argument that he made good movies? So, like his good qualities, or not even, no, produced good movies and that his monumental successes are being forgotten because of the fact that he has been accused by more than 80 women of sexual assault or harassment.
AMY: I mean it’s unsurprising that he would use that line of logic to sort of protect himself or use that as a way to say, I’m incapable of this type of behavior. I’m incapable of harming women because I’ve highlighted and featured women. I’ve helped women to have very successful careers. But the issue with him saying that is that he’s used those same lines to attack women! [Laughs.] One of the revelations in the book, She Said, is that, towards the very end, because they were courting Gwyneth Paltrow, because they had heard that she had been harassed by him. But she was unwilling to go for it at the very beginning of the investigation, because she knew that it was just a lot to handle, lots happening. And especially because I think she was launching something with her company Goop, and she didn’t want the two things that get tied together. And I get it. Like, I’m a nobody, right? But I probably would be very scared to come out with allegations against Harvey Weinstein because he’s very powerful.
And one of the things that, after the stories came out, she did end up coming forward and telling her story about what happened. And at the end of the book, there’s this sort of post-revelation gathering that the two writers did where they got a lot of the accusers together, not just of Harvey Weinstein, but Christine Blasey Ford was also there. This worker who worked at a McDonalds who was experiencing sexual harassment was also there because she was leading and organizing a sort of movement to have places like fast food restaurants have more clear sexual harassment policies. So, they were all sitting in a room, and there’s only, I think there’s maybe like eight or 10 of them. And at one point, Gwyneth Paltrow admitted that she felt a great amount of guilt because as more and more of the stories were coming out, she had heard from some other female actors that Harvey Weinstein used Gwyneth Paltrow’s success as a way to try to coerce them to perform sexual things with him. You know, that he would say, like, “Well, how do you think Gwyneth Paltrow got to be a star? Why do you think she’s so well regarded now?” And insinuating that Gwyneth Paltrow had also done these very salacious things with him. So, therefore, these other women should do these things ‘cause he can help them. So, it’s so completely fucked up, what you’re saying about how he is mining his past of upholding and putting women on their platforms and celebrating women as a way to say that he has a good record, and he’s incapable of harming them. When in fact, he used those same lines to try to manipulate women and coerce them into performing sexual acts against their will. I mean, this is how much of a mindfuck this guy is and how far he is willing to try to clear his name when all fingers point to him being guilty.
DAHLIA: I think it’s also interesting to think about the many layers of professionals who are involved, who were and are still involved, in keeping Harvey Weinstein insulated and protected from the years of his violent behavior. Not only, of course, is he capable of extremely violent behavior towards others, but he also, he hired Israeli intelligence, a former Israeli intelligence spying agencies, to dig up dirt on his accusers, to spy on and dig up dirt on journalists who were covering him. And then another layer of professionals protecting Harvey Weinstein and people like Harvey Weinstein are their lawyers. And She Said really reveals in an interesting, really fascinating way how lawyers like Gloria Allred and Lisa Bloom profit off of sexual assault survivors when they reach settlements in cases against their accusers.
And Lisa Bloom was sort of positioning herself as a women’s rights advocate, as Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer really early on. And I remember reading, hearing really kind of like devastating reporting about that in the New York Times’ Daily podcast following up on the Harvey Weinstein case and just thinking about those levels, just the levels of financial transaction, of illegality, of corruption, and just the vast network of available spies and professionals that this criminal had in order to keep his decades-long sexual assault ring hidden. It’s just devastating.
AMY: I think devastating is exactly the right word. And no not-guilty person would go to such great lengths to protect himself. I mean, like you’re mentioning, the Israeli intelligence company called Black Cube, they literally sent spies out to sort of ingratiate themselves to Harvey Weinstein accusers, to befriend them, offer them exorbitant speaking gigs so that they can be friendly and then learn about what they were going to say about Harvey. Or the same spy who also went to talk to a journalist to see what kind of story he was gonna write. She was posing to be a potential source so that she could figure out what angle the journalist was gonna go after. Like that doesn’t come cheaply, to hire a spy company isn’t cheap.
AMY: And the thing about, I think, Gloria Allred and Lisa Bloom is that what’s so devastating about it is that these are two women who position themselves as attorneys who fight for other women, especially other women who have been harmed by men, in particular. And I think the thing about learning about their role in this in She Said is that, with Gloria Allred and how she helped survivors reach settlements–not necessarily settlements against Harvey Weinstein, but settlements against other people like Larry Nassar, and there was another person who I can’t remember at this movement—but the thing about reaching settlements it’s not that in a way where the survivors have then are victorious because they now have a financial gain from it. But oftentimes, in She Said, they go into this, these settlements come with a lot of rules that you cannot break that are aligned with the settlement. Like you cannot talk about the case ever. You cannot even mention you are even aware of a case. You can’t even have your name printed in the same sentence as your accuser from henceforth. And if you do, if that does happen, then you need to get your lawyer to go back and clarify that there’s no relation between to the two people. So, settlements on its face value seem kind of like, oh, well, you got something out of this.
AMY: But the true thing that these settlements do is that they end up silencing these women, and they end up silencing survivors because they are unable to talk about it, and they’re unable to then warn other women to not work with these people.
And in the case of Lisa Bloom, who is Gloria Allred’s daughter, you know, so she’s inheriting this reputation of fighting for women, there’s so much damning evidence about Lisa Bloom’s involvement with Harvey Weinstein. You know, there are all these emails that came up where you could see Lisa Bloom is courting Harvey Weinstein as a client. And not insignificantly, in these same emails, you could see how much she’s charging him for her time. So, it’s a lot of this is just straight up about money, you know. She, Lisa Bloom, sketches out ideas about how to position Harvey. And actually, now that I’m thinking and remembering the book, one of the things that she does suggest is for Harvey to come out strong and to talk about his work with women in the past, to say that, “I’ve uplifted women’s voices. I’ve actually helped make a lot of women stars,” as a way to show his record. So, I’m unsurprised then that Harvey came out and said that, how could I possibly harm these women? I’ve made them stars. Because this lawyer, strategically came up with these talking points that he can go back to, to sort of help him look like he could not possibly be guilty with these charges.
So I think that this is another instance where we can’t sort of just take everything in on face value. You know, like Gloria Allred and Lisa Bloom fight for women! But behind the scenes, they are negotiating settlements for women so that they’re unable to speak, so that their voices cannot be heard. And for both these women, you know, it’s come out that they actually tell their clients, “It’s not worth fighting. Just take the settlement.” And not only just not worth fighting, just take the settlement, but also sign this piece of paper that says you can never talk about the settlement ever again. Just take the money and shut up. That’s essentially what’s happening. And so, that was one of those things where you’re listening to this. And I was flabbergasted to learn that these attorneys who theoretically are fighting for the rights of women, literal rights [laughs] for women, are actually just in it to profit off of them. I mean, to hear that these women who have built their reputations and their careers on the backs of theoretically having women’s voices heard, and then to see that they’ve just been using these women to make it so that they have more clout, essentially, and that they can earn more money is just heartbreaking.
And another thing that I actually wanted to point out about this case of so far, because we’re talking about it, but the trial hasn’t really started yet. So, we’re just talking about sort of pretrial and jury selection. And one of the interesting things is that apparently, there has been one woman who was a novelist who’s been selected for the jury. And it’s interesting that she’s been selected because she has a book coming out soon that has been described as being about predatory men and their relationships with young women! And Weinstein’s defense team actually tried to get her removed from the jury, but they were unsuccessful because they ran out of like, I don’t know what the term is, but they ran out of—
DAHLIA: Mm, like objections for people.
DAHLIA: Yeah, yeah.
AMY: You can only get like 20. And then after that, you have to make a good case for it. So, his defense team was trying to say, like, well, obviously she’s biased ‘cause she wrote a book about predatory men. Which also like the fuck?! [laughs] This is not to say that you think your client is guilty!
AMY: But now she’s on the trial, and so my number one curiosity is who is this woman, and what is her book?!
AMY: But I think that that really goes to show how this trial is just even beginning. It’s already becoming so heated. And day one of arguments hasn’t even begun yet.
DAHLIA: Oh, man. Like already, in fact, the judge has yelled at Harvey Weinstein several times because Harvey’s doing stuff on his phone, and the judge is actually like, “How many times have I told you? Like I told you, you cannot have your phone out.”
AMY: Oh my god.
DAHLIA: And then Harvey Weinstein filed court papers accusing the judge of being biased. And then, in just truly astounding, is this real moment: the supermodel Gigi Hadid was selected as a juror in the jury pool.
DAHLIA: And she made it through the first round of jury selection before she got cut! Apparently, I was reading that lots of people were trying to get cut from jury duty. And in fact, one juror had been like, “Oh, I can’t be fair, because one time I saw Harvey Weinstein, and he was having a phone call and he looked very angry. And because of that, I am biased.”
DAHLIA: And the judge was like, and the judge yelled at him, and he was like, “No, that’s not an acceptable reason.” But Gigi Hadid actually said, “I believe I can be unbiased, and I would like to remain in the courtroom.” But unfortunately, they did cut her. [Chuckles.]
AMY: And this is gonna be such a highly watched case.
AMY: And who knows how long it’ll take to try. So, I can’t imagine all the pressure that comes with it, and then what will happen post-trial if you choose to reveal your identity. I mean, as a writer, I kinda think this novelist has got a good gig going on.
AMY: You know, she could use this as a talking point when she goes out to promote her book. But yes, this is a case that I’m really keen to keep an eye on, to see how Harvey Weinstein’s defense will spin this so that he doesn’t look like a completely deranged, awful human being who was predatory toward women and used his status to force them to do things.
And, you know, another thing that I was thinking about that was so heartbreaking for me was to realize that it isn’t just about Harvey Weinstein. It isn’t just about Miramax. It isn’t just about the staff at Miramax who all knew this was happening. But that it is about an entire industry who knew about his behavior. Yet, they were willing to let him slide because his quote-unquote “producing great work.” Because in the book, She Said, they even talk about how Harvey was a great ally to Hillary Clinton, and she took advantage of that. And she used that to help her campaign. But when it came out that maybe this is a bad idea to have him around anymore, we need to cut our ties with him, which they did. But in doing that, I’m thinking, wait a second. Hillary’s people knew that there were allegations against him, which were probably very credible enough to where they cut their ties with him, but nobody did anything. So, you know, I think that this case with Harvey Weinstein isn’t just about him, but it’s really about a culture, and not even just about an industry. It isn’t just about Hollywood, but I think a culture where we allow powerful men to get away with heinous shit just because they’re powerful. And people are scared to speak out against them.
So, I think that this case is like a microcosm of how do we deal with people in power who abuse people who have no power and take them to task about it. And I think that it could be said, well, this is just like a case about really rich people harming other really rich people. But I don’t think it’s that insular. I think it’s actually a microcosm that reflects our culture at large about how powerful men, in particular, wield their power against women who have no power or other marginalized people who have no power. And what does that say about us as a culture, and how do we seek retribution for the harm that they’ve caused?
DAHLIA: I think it also speaks more to what kind of logic or what kind of rhetoric we accept in our culture as valid around sexual assault and sexual harassment. Like Amy, a few minutes ago, you were posing the question, how is it that his lawyers are going to frame him in a way that doesn’t make him seem like a monster? And the answer is that we got a little preview of that, because in court pretrial motions, the two teams were arguing about what evidence could be admitted. And we have learned that one of the tactics the defense is gonna use is they’re gonna submit emails and letters from women that have accused him of assault, sort of saying like, well, would they be nice to him in an email? Would they say this nice thing to him in this letter if he had assaulted them? And I think, just again, that we’re hearing in our culture this narrative that responses to sexual assault are rational, rather than accepting that sexual assault is a very disturbing, in that it disturbs everything about someone’s life, and a very violent crime. And that these kinds of like, well, if Harvey Weinstein was such a bad guy, would he be making these progressive movies? Would people write him nice emails if he was such a bad guy? That those kinds of narratives, it should be clear that those kinds of narratives are unacceptable in our culture still. And yet, we know that they’re gonna pop up and be reported everywhere in just a few days.
AMY: Right. And I’ve also heard the same thing where they’re gonna be trotting out pictures of Harvey Weinstein posing with these women who have accused him, like why do they looked so friendly in this picture? You know, look at the way she’s leaning into him! Why is she smiling if she’s just been sexually assaulted by him? But this completely ignores how power plays into this position of these women have just been victimized. Like, what are they gonna do? Flip him off on the red carpet? No! That’s not how it works. And I think that the fact that his defense is relying on something like that really just shows how weak his defense is. And I just hope to God that the jury will also see through it, see through the entire performance of who Harvey Weinstein is and how this idea that his entire career has been about uplifting women has been a sort of a mask that he’s used so that he can harm them.
And I did wanna read this quote that I found in She Said, and it’s from Zelda Perkins, who worked at the Miramax offices in London. She also had to deal with Harvey Weinstein’s bullshit. And this quote just made so much sense and so much so encapsulated who Harvey Weinstein is. And so, She Said, “He was pathologically addicted to conquering women.” And I think that just says so much about his personality and how he just did not care about what he was doing and to whom as long as he got his way. And so, we’re just gonna keep an eye on this case and hope that he gets his real big fat comeuppance ‘cause [laughing] I cannot wait to see what happens!
[cutesy bells ring]
And we wrap up each episode with talking about our favorite read, watch, and listens. And I have the read pick this week, and it is The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. So Sigrid Nunez’s novel actually won the National Book Award. I believe it was last year. And it is so good. It is sort of epistolary, which is like a letter written to somebody. And in this case, the novel is written to a friend who has just died, so the narrator’s friend. And the narrator’s unnamed, and so is her friend who has died. And the narrator’s friend who had died has died by suicide. And so, the book kinda follows the narrator’s journey with dealing with the grief and also how she’s going to live with this new inheritance. So when her friend passed away, he left behind a really big dog, this gigantic Great Dane named Apollo. And the dog had nowhere to go, so the friend took him in. The narrator took him in. And so, it’s also about living with a dog and living with sort of this like unconditional love. And also, the book is about being writers—because the narrator and her deceased friend are both writers—and what it means to be a living writer and the sort of things we that we have to navigate in thinking about writing.
So this book had so many things going on that I just was floored by how it all worked. It’s just beautiful and funny and witty and insightful. It just, I think it really goes to show how knowledgeable Sigrid Nunez is, not just about writing, but about writer life and about writers. I just loved it. And then there were also passages in the book about dogs, [chuckles] about living with dogs, about loving dogs, and about sort of I guess knowing that one day, you’re going to outlive your dog and what that means. And I was so sad reading that part because I just had a dog die a few years ago, and I still think about him all the time. And the passage where she talks about how there’s an inevitability of you outliving your dog and how utterly heartbreaking that will be. It’s just such a fun yet serious yet heart-touching book. I don’t know how else to talk about this book! But I think it’s definitely worth reading. It’s just beautiful, and I’m so glad that Sigrid Nunez wrote this book.
DAHLIA: Oh, man. That sounds so good.
AMY: Mmhmm. I think you would really like it.
DAHLIA: My watch recommendation is a bit old, but we were on Backtalk hiatus while it was on. It is Watchmen on HBO. Watchmen is based on a comic book from the ’80s. And I will say for me personally, I have a kind of a low tolerance for superhero in general, just any kind of superhero stuff, low tolerance.
DAHLIA: But Watchmen does not, you do not have to have read the comic book or seen the movie. ‘Cause there’s also a Watchmen movie. Although in a really fascinating way, after you’re already in it, then it starts sort of shooting tentacles back into the past of the comic book and bringing things in, in a really interesting way. But I recommend it. The acting is so good! Regina King is in it. She plays the lead. She’s amazing. Also, bizarrely, Jeremy Irons is in it.
DAHLIA: And Tim Blake Nelson, who is one of the three guys in O Brother, Where Art Thou? He’s so funny in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and so different in Watchmen. But because Watchmen is about sort of like, loosely, vigilante justice and superheroes and police officers and soldiers, it’s really about who can administer justice? Is everyone corruptible? And then as if those questions weren’t important enough, there’s also some time travel and also some superhero stuff weaved in. The showrunner is Damon Lindelof, who also worked on Lost and The Leftovers. So, it definitely has that kind of like, I don’t know, very intense, mysterious worldbuilding going on. But I really, really liked it even for someone like me with such a low superhero tolerance.
AMY: And it is so fun to watch. Same. I’m the same as you about superheroes. It’s a whole other world. But I think that what the show is successful at is it also sort of grounds us in our world and in just regular people life. [Laughs.]
AMY: And also, the acting is so amazing. The writing is fun. And I think because it has that weird mystery thing where you kinda don’t know what’s going on, you’re just waiting for things to get revealed, it pulls you in, in a successful way where you wanna keep watching instead of being frustrated, being like, I don’t know. I don’t understand what’s happening, so I’m gonna stop watching. But the way the show is made is that it makes you keep wanna watch so that you will find out how everything’s connected, all the different storyline are connected.
AMY: So, that is a good rec. So, I am definitely gonna finish watching that. I can’t wait ‘cause I think Regina King is so good in it too. You are super correct about that. And I have the listen pick. My listen pick is “Hit Reset” by The Julie Ruin. So, this is the title track off the most recent album by the band that’s fronted by the legendary Riot Grrrl, Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna. I thought this track was appropriate for this episode because of its chorus, which is, “I don’t think you’re sorry at all.” And the song is a song about an abusive man and about how he’s not sorry at all. So, it reminded me of [laughing] Harvey Weinstein. It’s a very melancholy yet cathartic song. So, this is “Hit Reset” by The Julie Ruin.
[“Hit Reset” plays]
♪ “Deer hooves hanging on the wall/
Shell casings in the closet hall/
Drunk from a mug shaped like a breast/
Punishing the people he loved best/
Slept with the lights on, on the floor/
Behind a chair that blocked the door/
Watching from bedroom to plate/
Stability just words of hate/
Shell casings in the closet hall/
Drunk from a mug shaped like a breast/
Punishing the people he loved best/
Slept with the lights on, on the floor/
Behind a chair that blocked the door/
Watching from bedroom to plate/
Stability just words of hate/
DAHLIA: Thanks for listening to Backtalk. This show is produced by Emily Boghossian. Bitch Media is a reader- and listener-supported feminist nonprofit. If you wanna support the show and our work, please head over to BitchMedia.org and donate.
♪ “Little girl don’t call my name….” ♪