Louis C.K. photographed at the Toronto International Film Festival | Angela Lewis for The New York Times

Caroline Suh and Cara Mones on the Price Women Pay for Speaking Up

Sorry/Not Sorry examines Louis C.K.'s quick comeback after acknowledging perverse acts

/
20 mins read

“They were brave enough,” says Sorry/Not Sorry director Caroline Suh. “They don’t need to hear from us that there might be backlash because they’ve experienced it.”

Suh and her Sorry/Not Sorry director Cara Mones, speaking with POV over Zoom, credit participants Jen Kirkman, Abby Schachner, and Megan Koester for preparing them to get the film out into the world. The dynamic usually goes in reverse with directors and interviewees. However, these women know the drill having spoken up before.

Sorry/Not Sorry revisits the cultural shockwaves that rocked the comedy world when these women spoke up in a 2017 New York Times article that addressed allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Louis C.K. The article, as Sorry/Not Sorry recaps, tells how the man atop the comedy scene had a bizarre habit of exposing himself to women and masturbating in front of his female colleagues. Sometimes he did it over the phone.

The film looks at the allegations through the words of these women who share in startling detail how experiencing this actions from a king of comedy affected their professional and personal lives. Reading their words in an article is one thing, but seeing and hearing them recall the story is another as the emotional and psychological scars remain fresh. Suh and Mones add a chorus of concentric circles to the story as figures from the comedy world debate the Louis C.K. situation, as the comedian made an unusually response during the #MeToo and admitted that the allegations were true.

However, instead of becoming a fallen pariah, like Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K. briefly exited the spotlight and returned just a few months later. The film shows how he generally came back without missing a beat. Audiences could laugh along with him, especially since Louis would address the elephant in the room off the bat and win the audience over by milking his status as a serial public masturbator. He even won a Grammy for it.

But the film asks what it means to say sorry when the people affected by one’s actions can’t enjoy the same opportunities as the person who committed the harm. Suh and Mones structure the documentary around the women’s stories and show how they quickly went from being the headline to becoming the butt of a joke as Louis C.K. fuelled his comeback by exploiting the story. The film, which hits theatres after premiering at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, invites a provocative conversation starter about the consequences of speaking up, the fallacy of Hollywood’s reckoning, and why the entertainment industry is quick to protect problematic men.

POV: Pat Mullen
CS: Caroline Suh
CM: Cara Mones
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
POV: What is the difference between “cancellation” and “accountability”? What did making this film teach you about the distinction between the two terms?

CS: I don’t know what the relationship is, but I think people want accountability. My personal opinion is that he [Louis C.K.] said, “I did these things; these things are true,” so he was accountable in some way. But then in his comeback performances, he showed a different take on the story. I would be cheering him on if he addressed the issue in a thoughtful, smart way. For anyone who thinks that he was cancelled—which I think the film shows, he really wasn’t—he might have been welcomed back in a larger way.

CM: I personally want more accountability. Saying “cancellation” kind of flattens the conversation. It also ignores all of the individuals who are involved in these stories. It’s not just the person who’s accused—there are many other people who are involved [by] not speaking out or covering up behaviour. Ideally, if we can move towards talking more about what accountability looks like, that would be more productive.

 

POV: The film foregrounds the voices of the women who came forward, but also the different players who kept silent or defended Louis at certain points. Can you talk about the choice to structure the story around the different interviewees, especially Jen, Abby, and Megan?

CS: From the beginning, we didn’t want it to be a Louis biopic with the women’s stories wrapped around him. We didn’t want him to be the spine of the film because we were sensitive to the fact that we’re making a film about his story. We were thinking not about him, but all of us, especially the people were affected by him. We decided the way to do it was to split into chapters, so people had their own chapters and then tell the story. It was an effort to just give space for people to talk and tell their own story.

CM: We also wanted to lay out the facts of the story and see it unfold in the media. We all are familiar with bits and pieces of what happened, but bringing it all together made it easier for certain questions to rise up. Also, to see Louis’ statement after the 2017 article came out, and then soon later, see his early specials, was very striking. It is a simple structure, but I think that was very helpful for us.

POV: How does it work when you’re doing a production with The New York Times and you’re working with reporters who broke this story and work this beat? How do you know what to share if there’s newsworthy material? Or is there information you keep as exclusives for the film?

CS: First of all, they’re super helpful, and they were great guides through this whole process. Neither of us have made a film before about this subject matter, and it is the kind of reporting that these reporters at The New York Times kind of invented. They were helpful in terms of the ethics of telling a story like this, and how we should approach it. In terms of any new information, we would have shared it because our goal is for information to get out there. They all report on other beats also, so they’re not exclusively on this Louis story. In terms of new information, the women’s stories told in full is new. We felt we could share to the world something that was important and that people hadn’t necessarily thought about.

CM: The 2017 article was an amazing piece of reporting, but news articles have to focus very closely on the facts. There isn’t a lot of room to really meet each individual and understand their background and who they are. The film was an opportunity, like Caroline said, to really understand and hear at length from these individuals. We didn’t know what backlash the women had faced after that article came out. My relationship to the story ended after I read that article in 2017. I didn’t know anything about what it meant for them to come forward. I hadn’t considered those questions of what does this now mean and I didn’t think about that often when I was reading articles that were breaking the beginning of the #MeToo movement. Understanding the backlash that they faced for coming forward and telling their stories felt new.

 

POV: What are some of the ways that you work with survivors to share their stories without re-traumatizing them?

CS: Before we started really talking to people, they told us about their experience and certain sensitivities that we should keep in mind. Making a film like this, obviously, is opening up things for people that maybe they don’t want to think about. That’s an ethical issue, and I don’t have an answer to that. What is the right thing? You just hope the film is worth it.

Inevitably, there’s going to be backlash given the way things are right now. But you hope to be honest with them. We couldn’t say, “This is going to be purely great for you, and great things are going to come out of this.” The women in the film were willing to talk about it, so it’s kind of up to them. They’re more experienced and knowledgeable about the whole thing because they’ve been through it. They know emotionally what that’s like. There’s a great bite from Jen, which isn’t in the film, about what you need to do to prepare when you talk about something like this. You have to clear your schedule. You have to have five days with no work. When you get bombarded by hate mail, you’re have the space to prepare. It’s something that, unfortunately, they’ve had to learn to deal with.

Megan Koester in Sorry/Not Sorry | New York Times

POV: I remember the part in the book She Said when Ashley Judd went camping so she could be off grid when the Harvey Weinstein story broke, too. Did have face any backlash while making this film?

CS: I would say—knock on wood—no. I am not on social media purposefully, just in general before the film, but now I’d rather just get a summary of reactions.

CM: We haven’t as far as I can tell. Whatever people say about us cannot compare to what the women in the film have endured. If some trolls are upset…

CS: We did hear that, with some trailers on YouTube, people are very supportive of Louis.

 

POV: Just don’t read the comments! But also, you could have spiralled into so many different “comeback stories,” like how people were rioting in the streets of France when Roman Polanski won the César, or Johnny Depp opening the Cannes Film Festival. Was it a challenge to keep the focus on one story? Can you talk a bit about keeping it on track to look at the larger picture?

CS: I was a fan of Louis at the beginning and that’s why I wanted to make the film. There are certain things about his story that make it particularly interesting: it wasn’t technically a crime, he did admit to it, and yet there’s all of this debate after the article came out about whether he should come back or not. I think that’s where it’s interesting. There’s a big gray area: How are we supposed to deal with this behaviour? Whether this has happened to us, in particular or not, we can all relate to workplace issues, sexual harassment, or just in general, when you speak up when you hear a rumour. These are all because it’s this gray area. And because it wasn’t criminal—it’s not like Weinstein—it raises different questions.

CM: There are always new stories breaking and it was important for us to keep it close to this story. Like Caroline said, a lot of universal questions come up that continue to feel very relevant and applicable. It’s been almost a year since we premiered at TIFF. I wondered what it would feel like for this film to come out this summer, but it still feels very relevant to me.

 

POV: I saw this back at TIFF and it still feels relevant. I’ve been following the film since production, so can I ask how the shake-ups at Showtime affected the production?

CS: We’re not allowed to talk about it. We just forged ahead. It’s a story we’ve always believed in. People are curious about it. There are so many big shakeups in the industry that we’re just one blip among many, but we’re always worried about the people who’ve sat down and talked to you. You don’t want it to be a waste of their time. That’s the biggest concern. But other than that, I think we felt pretty confident that it would find a home somewhere.

CM: I’m very grateful that Greenwich came in and picked up the film.

 

POV: But kind of on that topic, were NDAs something were butting up against because I believe like that was really an issue with the Weinstein case, although there weren’t necessarily settlements in Louis C.K.’s case.

CS: I think people just didn’t want to disclose their opinions about it.

 

POV: If you had a chance to sit down with Louis C.K. for the film, what would you have asked him?

CS: Throughout the course of making the film, we assumed he wouldn’t want to sit down. But obviously, one issue with him sitting down is that you run into the danger of changing the film into a platform for whatever he has to say. It’s meant to be a conversation about these issues and not about him. It was supposed to be about everyone. One thing that the film points out, which I think we learned while making the film, is how he pivoted from apologizing and acknowledging this was a power issue and a workplace issue, to then framing it as a kink or sexual proclivity. It’s interesting that he chose to make that pivot. That would be something interesting to ask him about.

CM: So many fans loved Louis because they thought he was so honest about his life and just about human behavior. To see how he spoke about this in his comedy later is confusing to me. That would be an interesting conversation.

 

POV: What conversation do you hope the film sparks?

CS: In general, the film is about common values, like decency and meanness. It’s made us think a lot about our own lives, and when you speak up, when you try to do something, so a takeaway from the film is to bring these issues to the front of mind when you’re navigating through the world.

CM: I hope that the film can spark questions about why individuals face so many consequences for just speaking out, especially when we talk about cancel culture and #MeToo movement. This feels like a simple question. Why is that? Why are they facing backlash for speaking out? Is that changing at all?

There is a great line from [actor/writer/producer] Mike Schur in the film, where he says something like, “If it’s not my problem, then whose problem is it?” When Caroline is speaking about decency, when we hear stories like this, and we turn away in our personal lives, hopefully, we’ll think a little bit more about that. I know that I think about this all the time now. These issues of power dynamics come up in everyone’s day to day life. Hopefully, we’ll all think a little bit more about the role that we play.

 

Sorry/Not Sorry opens in select theatres on July 12 including in Toronto at the Carlton.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

Previous Story

Hot Docs and Netflix Support Five Canadian Docs through the Incubator Program

Next Story

Fantasia Film Festival Workers Strike for Fair Wages

Latest from Blog

DOC Atlantic Today

Voices from the Atlantic Chapter of the Documentary Organization and independent filmmakers from the region call

0 $0.00