Ashley Judd was the first actress to go on the record with New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who wrote the article that led to Harvey Weinstein’s downfall.
In their new book, She Said, the reporters reveal how daring Judd’s move was — explaining her reasons for coming forward with sexual harassment allegations against the movie mogul, and describing the powerful moment in which she counseled Dr. Christine Blasey Ford on handling other people’s criticism.
“I have to know the hill on which I’m willing to die. The equality of the sexes is that hill for me,” Judd said, according to the book. She was speaking during a group interview with Gwyneth Paltrow, another alleged victim, and other women, including Rachel Crooks, who accused Donald Trump of sexual assault (which he denied), and Ford, who testified against Brett Kavanaugh before he was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice.
Judd has always wanted to be an activist, and after she came forward about Weinstein, the rest of the world started to see her that way as well, the authors explain.
“Ashley broke a silence that had persisted in Hollywood for a long time,” Kantor tells PEOPLE in a joint interview with Twohey. “What’s remarkable about Ashley is her serenity. The way she made the decision to go on the record was that she went for a run outside and she prayed on it. She’s a Christian, and she decided that this was the right thing to do.”
Paltrow and Judd aren’t the only women who appear in the book. Based on three years of reporting and hundreds of interviews, She Said details the stories of numerous women who came forward about Weinstein. It also outlines how most of their voices were stifled for years by alleged intimidation by Weinstein and people working for him, as well as a legal system that encourages silence to be bought in the form of settlements. The book includes interviews with new sources like Weinstein’s brother, Bob Weinstein, and another alleged victim, Rowena Chiu, who had previously remained silent for 15 years.
While more than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual assault, harassment and other misconduct that goes back decades, Judd’s decision to go on the record in 2017 solidified the reporters’ findings.
“I said no, a lot of ways, a lot of times, and he always came back at me with some new ask,” Judd told The Times in October 2017. “It was all this bargaining, this coercive bargaining.”
Soon after the article ran, other actresses, including Paltrow, went on the record with eerily similar stories. The accounts of the actresses and dozens of other women caused Weinstein to be ousted from his company and fueled the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment.
Weinstein has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex and retaliation against women for refusing his advances. He is set to go to trial in New York City in January 2020 on charges of rape and predatory sexual assault related to the accusations of two women. (He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.)
Judd’s decision to speak out is one of many powerful moments in the book.
In the epilogue, entitled “The Gathering,” Kantor and Twohey reveal the poignant exchanges that occurred during the group interview. At one point, Judd and Paltrow advised the other women on how to “field public scrutiny and criticism,” according to the book. The women were especially concerned about Ford, who had recently testified while the whole country watched.
“Some people were very curious about [Dr. Ford] because she’d been through such a crucible on the public stage, going from being a private person to giving this very personal testimony,” Kantor recalls. “Everybody understood that the powerful political forces that had raged around that nomination. So I think that the other participants were eager to meet her and concerned for her well-being.”
Judd’s advice to Ford? “Stop reading about yourself online,” the authors recall.
“If an alcoholic can stay away from a drink one day at a time, I can stay away from the comment section one day at a time,” Judd said, according to the book. “I’m participating in my own self-harm when I expose myself to that material.”
Harvey Weinstein Settles Sexual Assault Civil Suits in Tentative $44M Deal: Reports
When Ford questioned if Judd really could stay away from the internet, the actress explained she’s avoided it for years.
“I’m completely abstinent from all media about myself,” Judd said, per the book, “and have been for probably almost twenty years.”
For the women, the group meeting was a space of love and encouragement after years of forced silence. (After the meeting, Rowena Chiu decided to go on the record with her own story.)
“We wanted to end the book with these women coming together to see how, no matter what their status, what their background,” says Twohey, “that they had all been dramatically transformed in the process of taking the brave step in coming forward.”