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Content warning: The following article contains details of sexual abuse that could be triggering. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at: 800-656-HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.

Credit: Universal Pictures


Premiering October 2022, five years after the investigation on Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual assault, abuse, and rape were published by “The New Yorker” and “The New York Times,” the film “She Said” (directed by Maria Schrader) recounts the endeavor of two journalists bringing dozens of women’s voices into the light. In the drama, two-time Academy Award nominee Carey Mulligan plays Megan Twohey and Emmy nominee Zoe Kazan plays Jodi Kantor, “The New York Times” journalists with a mission to end the decades of silence surrounding the film producer’s crimes against women. 

Rumors about Weinstein’s abuse of power abounded prior to 2017 but no one spoke up out of fear of retaliation. Over 80 women summoned the courage to finally speak up, igniting the #MeToo movement. Among them was Rowena Chiu, a former assistant at Miramax’s London offices over two decades ago. Rowena Chiu’s story is one of the many shared in “She Said.” Theater actor Ashley Chiu plays the younger Rowena Chiu and actor Angela Yeoh plays the older Rowena Chiu. 

Ashley Chiu: A Silent Portrayal of Rowena Chiu

In her early 20s, Rowena Chiu was accosted by Weinstein at the Venice Film Festival in 1998. When she confided in her coworker Zelda Perkins about the attempted rape, she and Perkins were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements about the incident, a manipulation tactic Weinstein frequently used to muzzle anyone he thought might reveal his behavior.

“Rowena’s journey with trauma has continued,” Ashley Chiu acknowledges, “That’s evident in the film from the beginning with the assault. But then she lived in Hong Kong for several years, isolated by herself. She attempted to take her own life twice.” Though the footage depicting her suicide attempts did not make the final cut of the film, Ashley Chiu notes that people who experience sexual assault face a complicated journey toward healing and continue to “grapple with the trauma in their daily lives.” 

For Ashley Chiu, a Broadway and theater actor, being cast in the role was an incredible and weighty experience. Aside from being her first film role, she told Mochi that it was the first role for which she didn’t know what she was auditioning; the description simply said it was a non-speaking part for a young Chinese woman who was Oxford educated. “[For the audition, they had me do] a scene emotional in nature that required no speaking, and the example that the audition gave was that you’re folding laundry and you pick up a sweater of someone who’s passed and you start crying and you hold it to your face,” she shares. 

Young Zelda Perkins (Molly Windsor) and young Rowena Chiu (Ashley Chiu) in a scene from “She Said.”
Credit: Universal Pictures

After she was cast, Ashley Chiu immediately started reading everything about Rowena Chiu, from the op-ed about the racialized aspect of the assault to the press that she did with Twohey and Kazan for their book. “Between everything she had written and sort of how traumatizing the experience was for her, I made the choice to not reach out to her at the time,” Ashley Chiu states. “Because I didn’t want her to have to relive it and retell it to me.” 

After filming, Ashley Chiu did meet Rowena Chiu. Ashley Chiu notes that Rowena Chiu doesn’t like to use the word naive when describing her younger self but rather that she “had a youthfulness and trusting nature.” She would go to Zelda Perkins and ask “How do I do this?” when she was responsible for things like waking up Weinstein at 6:00 a.m. He had a penchant for rolling out of bed naked in front of his assistants and tolerating not only sexual harassment, but also verbal and emotional abuse. 

“She was trying to do her job,” Ashley Chiu remarks. “That’s the most heartbreaking part of being young is that it’s so difficult to take a step back and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, something horrible has just happened. And maybe this is a job I shouldn’t be trying to do.’ This is a job where more people should be waving a flag and saying that no one should be doing this job because this is horrendous. It’s a gross use of mistrust, because she was so young.” 

Rowena Chiu: The Power of Storytelling 

Years after her assault, Rowena Chiu ended up leaving the film industry, moving to California, and starting a new life. She didn’t even share with her husband what transpired in Italy and continued her silence for over 20 years. Bound to an iron-clad NDA full of red flags, Rowena Chiu didn’t speak to Twohey and Kazan for “The New York Times” exposé, although she did speak to them for their book in 2019. 

Angela Yeoh, a London-based actress who has not always been an actor, portrays Rowena Chiu in this period of her life. Like Twohey and Kazan, Yeoh previously worked as a journalist herself, with bylines in “The Wall Street Journal,” BBC World Service, and ABC. 

“My first passion was journalism. I was really interested in telling stories and understanding the world and getting at the truth. A journalist always needs to be observing and taking everything in,” she said. “But I also sometimes felt like I was really on the sidelines, as opposed to being engaged in the action. It’s important for journalists to be objective — to be outside the action as opposed to inside it.”

As a reporter, Yeoh has great admiration for Twohey and Kazan: “This is a story about the resilience of these reporters who kept going after this story, even though they kept encountering obstacles and closed doors, and also the courage of these survivors, with how difficult it was to be able to speak out, especially when you feel like you’re the only one. I hope that there are more stories like this, where we see women working together and being heroes.”

Yeoh recalls her first few acting roles, playing doctors and characters that seemed to revolve around the fact that they were Asian, and wanting to branch out. Playing Rowena Chiu was different from Yeoh’s other roles, as this was the first role where she was portraying a real person. 

Angela Yeoh portrays Rowena Chiu in “She Said”
Credit: Universal Pictures

Like journalism, acting is a way for Yeoh to tell a story that resonated with her in many ways. Angela Yeoh is a survivor of abuse herself, but admits, “I was terrified at the responsibility of playing a real-life living survivor and whether I could really honor her story.”

In preparing for the role, Yeoh felt a great responsibility to honor Rowena Chiu’s truth. Like Ashley Chiu, she watched and read many of her interviews. She also hired a voice coach and drew from her own experience of abusive dynamics. Cast members of “She Said” chose whether to meet their real-life counterparts or not, and Angela Yeoh did opt to meet Rowena Chiu prior to filming. Angela Yeoh found that they both shared “common experiences growing up in an immigrant household: navigating parental expectations, generational differences, cultural divides, and both painful and humorous misunderstandings.”

Racial Stereotypes and Asian Representation On and Off Screen

Rowena Chiu fought really hard for her story to not be whitewashed in this film, says Ashley Chiu. In film and entertainment, Asian women have been typecast as either an exotic or demure figure, with a racialized sexuality at play. It was important to make sure to cast actors like Ashley Chiu and Angela Yeoh to be accurate but also to show that these situations occur to Asian women because of these harmful stereotypes, however upsetting and difficult that juxtaposition is. 

“We should [and] do tell honest stories. Stories that don’t glorify, that don’t stereotype,” Ashley Chiu says. “Stories that are more authentic to our actual experience, which includes harassment in the workplace. It includes sexual assault and abuse. It includes trauma and fear and complications, and the highs and lows to all of it. It’s incredibly complicated.”

Likewise, Angela Yeoh states, “I’m aware I’m [portraying] the only non-white survivor who comes forward in the film so that feels like important representation. But there’s still a long way to go and I would really love to see more Asian men and women in a range of roles that aren’t just stereotypes.”

Angela Yeoh hopes that the film, with its focus on the courageous women speaking out against the systems in play that silence and diminish their voices, will spark conversations and be a catalyst for change, starting with individuals themselves.

“While it’s a film that deals with difficult subject matter, I feel like everyone has to take from the film what they need to take, whether it’s more empathy towards women’s experiences, or inspiration about the power of collective action when people stand together,” Yeoh shares. “Because there’s just so much that we can achieve when we work together, against even the toughest odds.”

“She Said,” released by Universal Pictures in October 2022, is available to watch on a number of streaming services, including Apple TV and Prime Video.

Cover credit: Erik Pendzich/Alamy Stock Photo

Authors

  • Giannina Ong is the Editor in Chief and Activism Editor of Mochi Magazine. During the day, she's a researcher, activist, and content creator. She holds a master's from University of Toronto's Women and Gender Studies Institute, and completed her bachelor's triple-majoring/triple-minoring at Santa Clara University. A spot-on Taurus (sun and rising), she is also a retired athlete, pasta-loving writer, and overeager editor.

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  • Jessica is in college, studying mathematics and creative writing. Her words have been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Reclamation Magazine, and Overachiever Magazine. In her free time, she likes tending to her (honestly excessive amount of) houseplants, and making really good turkey, fig, and brie sandwiches.

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