‘There’s a lot more to it’: docuseries goes behind the 2017 Weinstein exposé

Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes provides visual, striking context to the book and podcast series by journalist Ronan Farrow on the work and legacy behind the Weinstein reports

It is, by now, a familiar timeline: within five days of each other in early October 2017, the New York Times and the New Yorker published two separate, shocking exposés on film producer Harvey Weinstein’s predatory, abusive behavior. The horrific details of his violations, of his sprawling web of non-disclosure agreements, of his routine abuse over decades and the many, many people unable or unwilling to stop it, swelled into an outpouring of women’s experiences with sexual assault. Within days, the #MeToo movement was a full-scale cultural reckoning, though the hashtag was coined years earlier by activist Tarana Burke.

In the three and a half years since, #MeToo has morphed into a larger reconsideration of not just sexual assault but toxic workplaces, the legacy of trauma, and deference to those with money and power. The original Weinstein story has also expanded; two books published in fall 2019 – She Said, by the New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, and Catch and Kill, by the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow – detailed the madcap, dogged reporting behind their initial exposés. Farrow expanded Catch and Kill into a podcast that included interviews with key figures in the story – editors, other reporters and most importantly several of the women who went on the record with their stories of assault and forced silence by Weinstein. All the while, Farrow kept the cameras on; the subsequent footage has been restructured, with added visuals and context, for HBO’s Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes, airing this month.

“Even though this is a story that you may think you know, we’re saying, ‘Well no, actually, there’s a lot more to it than that’,” said Fenton Bailey, co-director along with Randy Barbato. “And it’s still a present tense story.” (Weinstein, 69, was convicted in February 2020 of rape and sexual assault, and sentenced to 23 years in prison; he will be extradited from a New York state prison to California to face trial for 11 more counts, pertaining to five different women, later this year).

Indeed, over six half-hour episodes, Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes grapples with both the difficulty of getting details of Weinstein’s predation on the record and the long shadow of going public with one’s trauma. The series rearranges and condenses the 10-part material of the podcast; episodes are delineated by role (“The Reporters”, “The Assistants”, “The Editors”), starting with an interview with Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, the Filipina-Italian model who assisted the NYPD in a sting operation after Weinstein assaulted her in 2015. Gutierrez’s wire tape, in which Weinstein menacingly attempted to coerce her into sex (“Five minutes,” he warned, “Don’t ruin your friendship with me for five minutes.”) and which Gutierrez surreptitiously saved after Weinstein’s lawyers wiped her devices as part of an NDA, formed the backbone of Farrow’s first New Yorker article.

A subsequent episode highlights another Weinstein survivor, Rowena Chiu, a former assistant for Miramax who took two years after the initial reports to speak publicly of her #MeToo story: the night Weinstein attempted to rape her at the Venice film festival in 1998, the settlement agreement that locked her into fear and silence for two decades, how Weinstein exploited the intersections of race (Chiu is British-Chinese), gender, seniority and money that trapped her.

The entire Catch and Kill enterprise catalogs numerous overlapping power systems which protected Weinstein for decades. “The book, the podcast, this TV series, they’re all about the increasing challenges of speaking truth to power,” said Barbato. “And that is so relevant right now, in the times we’re living in, where truth is so often co-opted by money and power.”

There’s Hollywood, as told by the longtime Hollywood Reporter writer Kim Masters and New Yorker writer Ken Auletta, both aware of misconduct allegations against Weinstein in the 90s/early 2000s but unable to substantiate them on record. (Auletta, for instance, knew of the settlement between Weinstein and Chiu, but could not obtain the hard proof to publish it.) There’s the New York prosecutor’s office, which declined to act on Gutierrez’s wire tape, much to her horror. (The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr, said in the New Yorker article, “after analyzing the available evidence, including multiple interviews with both parties, a criminal charge is not supported”; he defended his office’s 2015 decision after convicting Weinstein in 2020.)

Ronan Farrow and New Yorker writer Ken Auletta.
Ronan Farrow and the New Yorker writer Ken Auletta. Photograph: HBO

And then there’s the national media. In an episode with the former NBC news producer Rich McHugh, Farrow reiterates his position that NBC News, where he initially began reporting on Weinstein, killed the story under pressure from top executives concerned about Weinstein and spotlight on settlements paid to former employees who accused the Today anchor Matt Lauer of rape and sexual harassment. (Lauer was fired when, in the wake of #MeToo, those accusations became public.) The NBC News president, Noah Oppenheim, has denied Farrow’s claim, calling it, in a 2019 staff note, a “smear” that was “built on a series of distortions, confused timelines, and outright inaccuracies.” NBC News has claimed in previous on-the-record statements that Farrow had no named sources on the record when he left the network. Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes, goes long on Farrow and McHugh’s rebuttal.

In the final episode, Farrow interviews Igor Ostrovskiy, a private security operative hired to spy on him, and wades into the world of private espionage: a shadowy, almost too-thriller-to-be-believed cottage industry that increasingly targets investigative journalists around the world. “The more people that can see this,” said Barbato, the greater the potential “not only for more people understanding how difficult it’s become not just for whistleblowers but for investigative journalists, and how important it is to support these voices, and to speak out themselves.”

The anchors of the series, however, are the women who, for their own reasons and on their own timelines, speak publicly here. Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes provides not just additional, visual context to their stories but also roams into their backgrounds separate from Weinstein, reorienting the narrative away from the single bad man. “It’s really about them,” said Bailey. “It’s actually not really about Harvey Weinstein. He is the least interesting piece in this.”

With trauma, “it isn’t just them that is destroyed – it’s their loved ones, their families”, he added. “These things rip a giant hole in the fabric of our society. It’s not just isolated individuals, it radiates out.”

Both directors pointed to the presence of Gutierrez, Chiu, actor Rose McGowan and others – speaking conversationally, more dimensional than a name in an exposé – as a weight against the meticulously detailed, frustratingly resilient obstacles to justice. “On the surface, the story is so harrowing and depressing and dark, and yet for us, there is so much hope in this series,” said Barbato. That hope, he added, was “in hearing these voices – whether it is the whistleblowers, whether it is the investigative journalists – these brave individuals who are trying to move closer to the light and truth.”

  • Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes begins on HBO on 12 July with a UK date to be announced

Contributor

Adrian Horton

The GuardianTramp

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