“We are wondering: What’s the post-Harvey era going to look like?” said the Washington Post journalist Sarah Ellison on a panel at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which ended earlier this week. The festival itself, for one, looked different. In the 2017 edition, amid throngs of feminists clad in pink pussy hats, Harvey Weinstein proudly participated in the inaugural Women’s March in Park City. This year, following a wave of sexual-assault allegations by women in the industry, the former mega-producer was nowhere to be found. The spotlight was instead focused on 45 female directors with daring films that set the tone for the festival and, perhaps, for the future of Hollywood.
As festival-goers assembled for this year’s Women’s March (renamed the “Respect Rally”), one of the most powerful statements about the issues kicked up by the #MeToo movement was being delivered in a darkened theater nearby. There, viewers had gathered for the premiere of Jennifer Fox’s The Tale, an unflinching dramatized account of statutory rape based on the director’s own experiences: As a 13-year-old girl, she had a sexual relationship with her 40-year-old track coach.
Last month, my colleague Conor Friedersdorf argued that although reporting on the #MeToo movement is necessary to expose incidences of sexual abuse—especially those with ramifications in the public sector—fiction can play an edifying role in the private realm, probing the nuances and gray areas inherent in the conversation about consent and power dynamics. “Cat Person,” the viral New Yorker short story, is an example of how literature can leverage moral ambiguity to spark discussion. The Tale is cinema’s vital contribution.